Friday, April 11, 2008

Fatal Flaws-By Laurie Schnebly Campbell

What fun to be with a bunch of great writers -- and readers!

A few weeks ago a friend asked me why her hero needed a fatal flaw. Wouldn't an ordinary flaw be good enough?

And I realized that it IS misleading to call these flaws fatal...because how often, at least in a happy-ending book, does the hero wind up dead?

(Okay, we won't count the gorgeous vampires.)

But unless we're writing about James Bond or someone else where the action matters more than the character, every single person we write about will have some kind of flaw.

Why? Because real-life people HAVE flaws. And it’s those defects, or the desire to overcome them, which can lead to our characters’ motivation.

The fact is, virtually everyone -- in fiction as well as in real life -- is doing the best they can with what they’ve got.

A serial killer? Yep. A cheating spouse? Yep. A compulsive spender? Yep.

As writers, we can make those people every bit as easy to understand as the tax-paying, lawn-mowing, child-loving characters. (Maybe they’re one and the same.)

That doesn’t surprise anyone who knows that even the darkest villains have some plausible motivation for whatever they do.

It's only natural. After all, none of us ever does ANYthing without a reason.
(If you just crossed your legs, you had a reason: your body was uncomfortable in the old position. If you move to Antarctica, you have a reason: maybe you got a job there, or someone you love got a job there and you’d rather be with this person in Antarctica than without them somewhere else. We don’t always think about our reasons for whatever we do, but no matter what we do, there’s a reason.)

So every character, just like every real-life person, is doing whatever they think will work best for them at this point in their life. Holing up in an ivory tower. Partying all night. Nurturing everyone they can get their hands on. Worrying about terrorism. Everyone picks what seems like the best way of getting along in the world.

And what they pick is a clue to their personality type. Which, again, is something that EVERYONE has.

We don’t care much about the cabbie who drives our hero to the train station, so that cabbie doesn’t need any special personality type or motivation...nor any fatal flaws. He doesn't need to overcome any problems in his life or his personality.

But every major character has to overcome something in order to evolve during the course of the book. And that’s why we writers need to know our characters’ fatal flaws.


It’s handy that enneagram theorists have already identified a flaw for each of the nine personality types. "Ennea" (ANY-uh) is the Greek word for nine, and enneagrams are handy for counselors and personnel managers who want to understand the people they're dealing with. Which makes them handy for writers as well!

Of course each type has its own special strengths as well as its own particular weakness. And our characters -- just like all of us -- manage to overcome their flaws most of the time.
But stress can bring out the worst in people.

We already know that stress, or conflict, is what keeps a story interesting. So our characters are going to come up against situations that reveal the worst of their flaws...which will give them the opportunity for a triumphant change.

No matter which type they are.

Each type's name gives a clue to their strength, and their flaw is what happens when that strength is taken to extremes:

Perfectionist One: Anger when they (or anything else) isn't perfect
Nurturer Two: Pride in being needed by everyone around them
Achiever Three: Deception to keep up their outstanding facade
Romantic Four: Envy because other's lives seem MORE glorious
Observer Five: Avarice for more privacy and greater knowledge
Skeptic Six: Fear of possible danger to their loved ones (or self)
Adventurer Seven: Gluttony for every possible new experience
Leader Eight: Lust for power, to be in control of their surroundings
Peacemaker Nine: Sloth, keeping life comfortable and decision-free
See the possibilities? That's only the beginning!
(circle diagram)


I've talked enough, here, but if there's anything you'd like to know about your characters or their types -- or the types of anyone else in your life -- I'll be checking back for questions all day.
Bio: Laurie Schnebly Campbell has spent 20 years writing ads, her Master's in Counseling thesis, and romance novels for Silhouette Special Edition -- including one that beat out Nora Roberts for "Best of the Year."

Now she writes about finding people's best traits, and balancing those with traits that'll create conflict...not only BETWEEN credible characters, but also WITHIN them. Today she'll share techniques for creating your hero's (or any other character's) fatal flaw, and you can find out more in June when she teaches a month-long class at .


Mackenzie McKade said...

Fantastic article! Would love to hear more.

CJ Lyons said...

Laurie, Wow, this is great stuff!!!

I'm an eight (no surprise, given my day job as an ER doc--pretty much the definition of "control freak") and I find that I do give my hard-hitting, independent 8 characters that same fatal flaw....that's easy.

But how to explore the fatal flaws of the enneagrams most foreign to your own? For instance, I have to work hard to write believable 4's, they're just so unlike me....


AJ said...

Fascinating article. Enneagrams must be a great tool for finding all kinds of traits for characters, as well as the Fatal Flaw.

Vicki Gaia said...

C.J. Lyons had a great questions - how to put ourselves in another person's shoes (sorry cliche!) - to find out their fatal flaw. I'm working on fleshing out my characters for a new story. Choosing their enneagram type will help with their fatal flaws! My difficulty is choosing the perfect type -

Stephen D. Rogers said...


Thanks for the reminders.

The part that resonates most with me is "doing the best they can." That perspective has allowed me to create richer characters.

Why is she doing the best she can? Because she's trying to overcome feelings of insecurity that flare whenever she's out and about.

That colors both how she treats that taxi driver and how she reacts to the cabbie's response.

Or so I hope. :)


Charlotte Raby said...

I love reading about this every chance I get, and Laurie - you're the best at explaining it all! Thank you! writing with the flaws in mind helps make more sense of my characters and why they're together or doing what they're doing.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


Creating characters whose personality types seem downright foreign can be a real challenge. What helps is that we all have some of each type in us -- not necessarily very much, but just a tad here and there.

For instance, if Fours seem hard to comprehend, try remembering a time in your life when the most important thing was emotions. It might have been your first crush back in junior high, or the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one, or the betrayal of a friend...but for that one moment, however fleeting, FEELINGS were everything.

Then imagine what it'd be like to feel that way more often. It's not necessarily comfortable, especially for an Eight (grin), but it's the same as writing about murder. You can imagine doing it well enough to get it down on the page!

And of course, the other -- still perfectly workable -- option is just avoiding characters whose type seems incomprehensible. There are still plenty of other ones who'll work just fine. :)

Laurie, who could've sworn there was a moment of Four-ness from Gina in LIFELINES

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


Oh, boy, is there EVER more -- I'm off to work but will keep checking back today. So feel free to ask anything you'd like to know about...this is such fun stuff, I love chatting about it!

Laurie, who had to get up early this morning just to see if anybody would actually post (and, boy, am I glad you did :)

Julia Mozingo said...

Oh, wow! What a treat to find an article from Laurie Campbell. I love Laurie's classes and lectures. I'm still working at understanding the enneagram information. Thank goodness I have Laurie's book to help. Laurie, it's great to read you here.

Lyle Scott said...

Really nteresting insights!

Lori Wilde said...


I'm so happy you're spreading knowledge of the Enneagram. I remember when I first discovered it. A lightbulb went off in my head and I knew I'd found a terrific shortcut for creating compelling characters. Thanks for your article.


Julia Mozingo said...


Oops! I got so excited I forgot my question.

What happens if I have an equal number of characteristics from two enneagram groups?


Lori Wilde said...

CJ--LOL. I'm a four and I NEVER use a four as my hero or heroine. I find it's simply too personal.


Nancy said...

Laurie, great blog today - thank you!

I need to take your upcoming class to get a better handle on enneagrams. What fun that will be!

La Vida Vampire

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Laurie! Gina's a three, so yeah, she stretches out into four territory....

Lori, LOL! My current main character (Amanda, the med student from LIFELINES, getting a book of her own) is a four, so I've definitely wandered into foreign territory!

Lots of fun visiting there, though!!!

Susan Macatee said...

Great post, Laurie!
It's like a refresher course.
I've taken Laurie's Fatal Flaws class and as a result, all my hero's and heroine's have some flaw that keeps them from finding the HEA until the end when they work their differences out.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic. Identifying the fatal flaw this way helps to make sense of the GMC in a story. The hero or heroine becomes their own obstacle and knowing their flaw helps me, as writer, focus on that obstacle as well as on helping my character learn how to side step it in the end. Excellent as always, Laurie! Thanks for this!

Meri L said...

Laurie - great blog.

After taking your course, it's been so much fun to not only analyze characters in my manuscripts, but also in books I'm reading.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


It's absolutely true that enneagrams are a great way to find all kinds of traits beyond just the fatal flaw.

Because when you take any fatal flaw and look at its good side, a whole bunch of traits come to light.

Say if somebody's a Two who takes pride in being needed...we can bet this person will be the type everyone runs to for help and reassurance. "Can you watch my kids?" "Can you fix my car?" "Can you walk in on my date at 10:52?"

Of course the requests will be different depending on the story and character -- or the real-life person. But just knowing we've got someone who takes pride in being needed, someone who loves looking out for other people, gives all kinds of clues about what this person is like.

That's part of the fun of enneagrams!

Laurie, suspecting there's a lot of that going on with those Civil War vampires :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


It can be kind of intimidating, thinking "I have to identify which of the nine will be THE right one for my story, or else the whole thing will collapse."

But there are a couple of ways to get around that.

If the story's already in progress and you have an idea what this person MIGHT be, browse around. See which traits seem most like him or her. See what'll cause the most trouble. :)

If you're starting from scratch, see which personality type seems like the easiest to understand and appreciate. (Yes, it MIGHT be your own, but not necessarily...for instance, I've never done a main-character Five.) See what resonates, and imagine how such a person could develop.

Either way works -- and no matter which type you pick, there are sure to be surprises as you write. :)

Laurie, eager to see what you come up with

Robin said...

Wow, thank you for this great information! I'm about to start writing a new story and this will really help with my character development.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Why is she doing the best she can?
> Because she's trying to overcome
> feelings of insecurity that flare
> whenever she's out and about.

What a great combination...very cool! This could be ANY enneagram type, because they'd all have a reason for wanting to overcome those feelings of insecurity.

One: it's WRONG to feel insecure
Two: I could be so much more helpful
Three: don't reveal any imperfection
Four: I can't stand in my own way
Five: gotta focus on what WORKS
Six: never let 'em see you're afraid
Seven: gotta let go, gotta have fun
Eight: I can and WILL overcome this
Nine: things could probably be better

So focusing on why she wants to overcome her insecurity is a great way of identifying her type!

Laurie, hoping she manages it by the end of the book :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Writing with the flaws in mind helps
> make more sense of my characters and why
> they're together or doing what they're doing

People sometimes ask why characters ARE together, from an enneagram standpoint: "Are there certain types that go well with certain other types?"

I'm always relieved to be able to say "nope, ANY types can have a fabulous relationship or a dreadful relationship with any other types."

On the surface, it might sound like some are destined for harmony while others are destined for discord. But that's just on the surface. You can take any two types and make them beautifully suited to each other or make them woefully wrong.


There we get into wings and arrows, which is a whole 'nother part of enneagram theory. But the short version is, you can make ANY types work together...same as you can even if you've never heard of enneagrams!

Laurie, wondering if marriage counselors would say the same thing (grin)

Kris Tualla said...

I took your online class on enneagrams and it was SO helpful in cementing my hero and heroine's characters! What a great tool! THANKS LAURIE!

Kris Tualla

Patricia said...

Hi, laurie

Wow! I wish I'd taken your course before I "developed" my characters, but I'm surely going to get a copy (like today) to help guide my revisions. Perhaps these story people will take me on an entirely new direction. Will check back later since your answers are always the BEST.

Cheers from Pat in Sunny Sacramento
whose life is now being controlled by a 4-month old chow chow pup. I must try to figure out what his (Ben) number is - ROTL

Dawn Atkins said...

Can I just say how helpful your book is in not only looking for consistency in my characters, but devising diabolical new twists on their personality that I know will resonate with readers? What a rich resource! (You AND your book)
Daphne Atkeson
w/a Dawn Atkins
NO STOPPING NOW, Blaze, April 08

Amber Scott Dayne said...

This topic is so enlightening for me. It not only has helped my writing, but my life relationships as well. My sister, for example, is a nurturer to the extreme. I've had to set up stiff boundaries to keep her from insinuating herself into my life in the name of being helpful. And we live in separate states!
How much further detail does your book on this go into? Can there be crossovers and blendings? Can a person be one thing in certain aspects of their life like work and then another with say family?

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> What happens if I have an equal number of
> characteristics from two enneagram groups?

That actually happens to a lot of people...although some have ties between three or even four types. It's the only problem with a quick quiz, and it's why some people like taking the long version over at

But another tie-breaker, which I actually like better, is just reading more about each of the types that sounds like you. The more you read, the more "true" one type will sound.

And if you never can quite make up your mind, that's okay! You don't NEED to know which type you are in order to have a happy, fulfilled life. It's like knowing your astrological sign: makes reading horoscopes a lot more entertaining, but not something you need to get out of bed every morning. :)

Laurie, who's never chosen Scorpio or Saggitarius because I like using whichever has a better horoscope for the day!

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> A lightbulb went off in my head and
> I knew I'd found a terrific shortcut

Lori, this is funny -- that's the reaction _I_ had when I heard about your "Got High Concept" workshop!

But I'm wondering how you can say you'd never do a Four hero or heroine, when Elysee is SUCH a great Four?

Laurie, who could easily see her starring in her own book

Mona Risk said...

Hi Laurie,

Great blog. Enneagrams are sure cool.

I tried with my hero in TO LOVE A HERO. My General Sergei is an alpha hero, a Leader Eight: Lust for power, to be in control of their surroundings. Absolutely, that's why he's upset when the heroine disregards his order and proves too independent.

This is a lot of fun and a sure way to add internal conflict.

Thank you.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I need to take your upcoming class
> to get a better handle on enneagrams.
> What fun that will be!

Nancy, I'm always SO impressed with busy people who find time for classes -- it'll be a treat having you in there! I think they're doing registration already, at

Laurie, hoping you'll have time to catch up on life after guest-ing next week on AskAnAuthorPro :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> flaw that keeps them from finding the HEA
> until...they work their differences out.

Boy, I couldn't ask for a better description of fatal flaws in action. Not only do they complicate life for the characters, but overcoming them is the perfect setup for a happy ending.

We know, of course, that the flaws won't STAY overcome for long...not if the people are true to life. (grin) But overcoming some aspect of the fatal flaw is exactly what we need for a satisfying conclusion to the book!

Laurie, who likes problems that can come back as often as necessary to keep recurring characters interesting

Nan said...

Thanks, Laurie! Great stuff.

Marilyn Johnson said...

Laurie, I'm so excited I just have to share this here. I've been using Enneagrams to help create characters ever since I took your course, but recently a light bult went off. My H/H are both Sixes, each with FFs of fear. I kept sitting in front of my computer, going hmmmm, borrrrrring. Sure, they could both be anxious and therefore controlling, etc., etc., etc. But they just weren't different enough. Then I looked up their Wings and Arrows. Presto! Got it! They express their fears in different ways -- instant conflict. Phew! I can't thank you enough for being such a good teacher -- and for writing your book. It's an amazing resource.

Robin Allen said...

Sedona was named after your grandmother??????????????????? Tell all. THAT is my kind of trivia!!!

That why I like your book, and the examples. I think I sometimes avoid writing certain "types"--they are soooo far from what I am, I think I'd have trouble creating a believable character of that type. This helps give an understandable perspective. THANKS.

Josephine Damian said...

Laurie: Looks like you have lots of blogger peeps showing up for the party.

I'm here on campus between classes! One more week till school is over! Yay!

Like CJ, I'm an eight.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Identifying the fatal flaw this way helps to
> make sense of the GMC in a story. The hero
> or heroine becomes their own obstacle

Ooh, I like this! The idea of the h/h as their own obstacle is a lovely way of explaining what's so cool about fatal flaws...especially for people who just HATE to make their characters suffer.

(I'm not the only one who feels that way, right?)

Writers who are drawn to romance tend to believe in Happy Endings (no surprise there) and as such, sometimes have a tough time seeing beloved people suffer. And yet we HAVE to see 'em suffer if there's gonna be any action in the book.

So letting the characters be their own obstacle is a great way around that problem. We don't have to see 'em tortured by villains or in-laws or misguided friends or flat tires or anything beyond themselves!

Laurie, figuring there can be enough trouble right there to satisfy even the most kindly writers (who still know there's gotta be SOME problem to keep readers happy)

Josephine Damian said...

Laurie: I'm noticing, especially in crime fiction, a trend toward the mostly flawed hero.

Seems like the guy who's mostly bad but with a touch of good is more popular now than the guy who is mostly good but with a bit of bad.

I wonder if this trend is making its way into romance?

Off tpoic, but have you seen the ad for Louis Vuitton luggage running on CNN? Stunning. Made me wanna go buy some of those suitcases. Very effective ad.

Misty Evans said...

Hi Laurie! Great job putting your article into such a concise nutshell. I can't decide what I am...some days I'm a nurturer and other days a leader. Ha. Maybe I better stick to figuring out my characters instead... they're much easier!

Or, maybe like Nancy, I better sign up for your next class.

w/a Misty Evans

Lynn S. Light said...

Hi Laurie,

love the article and always love your classes. I always learn so much. Looking forward to future classes.

Donna Hatch said...

I'm totally a five. I actually handed that chapter to my husband and said, "See, this explains why I'm so difficult for you to understand!" He agreed, but I still thin I baffle him. Poor guy.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I'm surely going to get a copy (like today)

> Can I just say how helpful your book is

Wow, thanks! Both to those of you who already like the book, AND to those of you who plan on getting it.

For those who plan on getting it, I didn't think to provide a link for when you click the cover on today's blog -- but you can get a link when you click the cover on my website:

Laurie, reminding myself to always provide a link when I send a blog -- amazing the things we learn from mistakes, huh?

Darlene said...

Laurie, what a wonderful reminder of creating characters. I'm still working on my characters -- including a second villain -- so I'm thrilled with any new perspectives I can learn on enneagrams. They are amazing and, best of all, they really work.

Do you come up with the fatal flaw from the character's personality (that you think you want) or do you look at all the fatal flaws, choose one and design the character from it? Which might work best?

How do you differentiate between two characters who are the same number (e.g. villains who both might end up being 5's).

Great blog. Would love to have more sometime.


Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I've had to set up stiff boundaries
> to keep her from insinuating herself
> into my life in the name of being helpful

Ooh, good example of how beautifully most of us can get along in life even WITHOUT knowing about enneagrams! It's fun matching them to types when we see the types, but it's sure not like we need these in order to function. :)

> How much further detail does your book go into?

Quite a bit, because today's post summarizes part of the first chapter...but there are ten more chapters as well.

Nine of 'em go into detail on the nine types -- for instance, if you're raising a Three child or working with a Five or married to a Seven, it's handy to know what makes 'em tick. And the final chapter is all Q&A, like today's, except that it focuses more on writing than on personal relationships.

It's a toss-up, though, which of those areas is more interesting!

Laurie, now wondering what it'd TAKE to summarize the other 230 pages

Anonymous said...

Laurie, I took your class and was happy to read this discussion because it serves as a neat reminder of all that I learned and starts me thinking about how I will incorporate FFs into my new book.

Since I'm a mystery writer rather than a romance writer, I found myself very interested in Josephine's question about romance heroes perhaps coming to resemble some recent heros of thrillers or mysteries who are written as "mostly bad" except for one or two good traits. I'd never considered this development before but her insight seems to be right on, not only in books but also in film (think In Bruges, a well-reviewed art film about hit men that I believe was first a novel, where one of the leads actually ends up with the girl!) Not being too familiar with the romance field, I was wondering if this "spill-over" effect has occurred.


Mary E. Burt

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> My General Sergei is an alpha hero, a
> Leader Eight

Eights are always popular with romance writers, because they add up to a classic hero. And yet an Eight can be a wonderful heroine, too -- CJ's is one example, and I bet we've all seen Eights we love.

Does that mean they're the best type for a book? No, absolutely not. They're one of NINE best types.

Some people might say "but I can't imagine a great hero who's a Two, or a Five, or a Nine, or whatever." That's just because they haven't yet come across that type...but once you've met a hero you love who belongs to any of the nine categories, it's amazing how appealing his type becomes.

Laurie, remembering that in the 70s, supposedly EVERY hero was an Eight and EVERY heroine was a Two -- amazing how far we've come :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> they just weren't different enough. Then I
> looked up their Wings and Arrows. Presto!

Oh, COOL -- isn't it fun to find something that works?

Wings and Arrows are getting into a whole new area, but they're a great way of creating distinctions between characters who might otherwise seem too similar.

For that matter, so are subtypes. But I'm NOT gonna let myself get into that here...these pesky advertising clients are expecting me to work on their stuff!

Laurie, thinking it's pretty rude of them to want that on a Friday :)

Jordan Summers said...

I saw myself in several of those examples. I'll let you guess which ones. *ggg* Great entry. :)

Lori Wilde said...


Elysee is the first four I've ever done, period and she's a secondary character. Now a four hero I might be able to swing. I keep thinking of Marlon Brandon as the ultimate masculine four.


Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Sedona was named after your grandmother?

Shoot, this'll bore anybody who's lived in Arizona for a while...but that's the cool thing about blogs going out everywhere; we've got non-Arizonans here too. :)

Yes, Dona Schnebly came out to Arizona Territory with her husband, Carl, at the turn of the century. They had to leave Missouri because of the scandal of their "mixed marriage" -- all the townspeople were horrified at the idea of a Presbyterian and a Methodist!

Anyway, they settled in this beautiful red-rock country and because they had a good-sized house, when newcomers arrived they'd stay with Carl & Dona. So when the settlers decided there oughta be a post office, Carl wrote to the USPS and was told "Nope, sorry, we can't establish a post office with the name of Schnebly Hill Station because that won't fit on our cancellation stamp."

Carl's brother, Ellsworth, suggested that since they needed a shorter name, they oughta name the town for Carl's wife. So, voila, that did the trick.

Their first child was named for Ellsworth...and HIS first child, Larry, is my dad. Who likes to brag that he's the only person in the world with a grandmother and a granddaughter both named Sedona.

Nobody knows where the original Sedona's name came from -- her mom had sons with ordinary names, and daughters with names like Sedona Arabella, Lillie Victoria, Goldie, Azallea and Pearl. (Hmm, maybe she should've been a writer?)

Laurie, whose sister is the family historian -- just Google "Lisa Schnebly Heidinger" for books on Sedona history

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I'm noticing, especially in crime fiction, a
>trend toward the mostly flawed hero...wonder
> if this trend is making its way into romance?

Wow, I haven't noticed that in romance -- but that could be because I haven't been watching for it. Any romance readers / writers notice such a trend?

If you've written or read such a character, please holler because this would be fascinating to know!

(Okay, there's my research-nerd Five side showing up...)

> seen the ad for Louis Vuitton luggage

For anybody wondering what ads have to do with enneagrams, the scoop is that they're connected with a DIFFERENT class -- coming up in August at, on how to write your synopsis. (And, yep, there's my day-job side showing up!)

Laurie, who can tell I'd better go get some lunch before those other unrelated sides start popping up all over the place

Petrina Aubol & Karen Van said...

Wow Laurie! My head is spinning from all the great info you are posting. You're always a wealth of information. I took your Plotting through Motivation class and I can't tell you how much it has helped my writing. Now I can use your enneagram tool too!


Karen Van

Anonymous said...

Wow! This IS much cheaper than therapy. I just got a lesson on building complex characters and the history of Sedona, AZ. I had heard most of this information, but it's always good to have important material reinforced. Thanks for being such a fascinating teacher, Laurie. I love the way you always manage to inject the lilt of your voice into your writing. What a gift.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

The character is their own obstacle. Hmmm. That gives me some idea where to take my WIP.


Anonymous said...

Gee, I'm part 1, 3, and 9. I knew I was screwed up. Thanks for posting this wealth of information for us Laurie. I hope you had a good lunch.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I can't decide what I am...some days
> I'm a nurturer and other days a leader.

Actually, those two link to each other, so it's logical that you COULD be both.

It's also possible that the times when you feel like a nurturer or a leader, you're responding to the situation at hand -- but it's not your most essential type.

For instance, ALL of us become nurturers when we have a new baby or a sick child or a frightened spouse or whatever. It brings out the nurturing side of us no matter what type we are, because we naturally care about the people we love.

But someone who's a Type Two isn't that way JUST with a new baby -- they're that way every minute of every day. It's not a situational pattern; it's a lifelong pattern.

And the same is true for every other type, as well. We all have some of each in's just a question of how often we show it!

Laurie, just back from lunch and embarrassed at having already forgotten whether I mentioned this

Anonymous said...

Hiya Laurie!

My Smoky Mt. Romance Writer's chapter has a question of the week: Have one of your characters tell all about you, the author. So boy oh boy did we ever go over the fact that she's a perfectionist, and I'm a nurturer. Funny what came up since my dh is also a perfectionist.

You know I hate to be anonymous, but that's the only way these blogs will let me on!!!

Cheers from Pet in TN where it sounds like a tornado is kicking up outside. Only a nurturer would ignor that!

Roxy Rogers said...

Hey Laurie,

Those are great examples of what can go wrong when strengths are out of alignment!

Enneagrams are fascinating. I was born wanting to be a four, forced into being a two during childhood by an unbalanced parent, and emerged a four-five in adulthood. Enneagrams are as critical as archetypes in helping a writer build good GMC.

It was great to see you at Desert Dreams and finally get to meet your hubby! Dennis is hoping to come up with me for the next one.


Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I actually handed that chapter to my husband
> and said, "See, this explains why I'm so
> difficult for you to understand!"

What a cool idea! My parents have been married 50-some years and Mom is a marriage counselor, but she swears "we never understood each other until we learned about enneagrams."

(She's a Four and my dad is a Nine, so you can imagine how exuberantly she announced that and how cooperatively he agreed. :)

But it IS handy getting a new window on loved ones -- at least for those who enjoy such things. For those who think "I know all I wanna know, thanks," it's probably not worth bookmarking anything!

Laurie, who asked my husband "which section of your chapter do you want me to read out loud?" -- those of you who know Pete won't be surprised that he replied "is there a section on sex?"

Anonymous said...

Great Article Laurie,

As usual, I'm taking notes. Considering how many of your classes I've taken, yet I still find something new.

Thanks again!
Sher LeScott

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Can a person be one thing in certain
> aspects of their life like work and then
> another with say family?

They sure can. That doesn't mean their essential type has changed, just that they're showing whatever personality facets are best suited to the situation at hand.

We all do that, with or without enneagrams. We use different styles of talking to our grandparents and our grandkids, our editors and our critique partners, our bosses and our spouses. (Wait, that sounds like we have LOTS of spouses!)

So playing up whatever aspects of ourselves best fit the situation is easier when we can slip in and out of various enneagram types -- and that's another reason we all have EACH type somewhere inside us.

Are there some that never show? For most people, sure. Are that some that show nearly all the time? Again, sure. But no matter how easily we adapt to fit any situation, our core type is still solidly there.

Laurie, thinking it'd be pretty grim if all we could master was one type having only one outfit apiece :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Do you come up with the fatal flaw you
> want, or do you choose one and design the
> character from it? Which might work best?

I could make a case for either way, and have always thought it'd be fun to get a group of writers together and draw numbers out of a hat, then say "Okay, we're ALL gonna write a scene involving a Three and a Seven."

We'd come up with as many scenes as there were writers -- well, duh -- but it'd be a great illustration of how much fun it can be to start with nothing but a number. (Or a flaw.)

That said, it's not the way _I_ work -- I start with a person and then figure out what type they are, based on what I know of them. Same as if you have a character already in mind, then discover that they're originally from doesn't change their existing personality, but it sure adds an intriguing new dimension.

Still, I know authors who start with a number-type-flaw, as well as authors who figure that out later, and both kinds create wonderful books!

Laurie, moving down the list but coming back to the differentiation question

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I saw myself in several of those examples.
> I'll let you guess which ones. *ggg*

Ooh, the mind reels!

But this is a great place to mention something I forgot to address earlier -- there's a very cool enneagram traditon that says nobody is allowed to tell anyone else their type.

Er, THEIR type. That is, I can tell you my own type but I can't tell you yours. (Whew, making sense at last.)

It's really tempting, at times, to tell a friend "you sure seem like a ___ to me," but it's completely against the rules of enneagram tradition.

The cool thing, though, is that there aren't ANY rules about fictional characters. We can make them be whatever type we want them to be, by golly, and it's fun to exercise that kind of power over SOMEbody.

Even if we can't do it to anyone else we know.

Laurie, off to Girls Poker Night later with visions of making everyone into a nurturer who wants ME to win the game :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I keep thinking of Marlon Brandon as
> the ultimate masculine four.

Okay, no sooner have I said that nobody's allowed to tell anyone what type they are than I come across Lori's observation -- which raises the question of why THIS is okay when it's not okay to tell my husband what type HE is.

And the answer is that speculation is fine. We can all envision people we know as being certain types, and feel absolutely certain that we're right in those assumptions.

We just can't tell THEM "Sweetie, you're a ___ if ever anyone was."

So if anybody runs into Marlon Brando tonight, you -- aw, who'm I kidding? You'll have MUCH better things to think about than remembering not to tell him what type he is!

Laurie, who has all kinds of fun speculating about people in the news, in books, in the dentist's office...well, no, maybe not so much there...

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I took your Plotting through Motivation
> class and I can't tell you how much it has
> helped my writing.

> I love the way you always manage to inject
> the lilt of your voice into your writing.

Oh, wow, thanks!

I can't really add anything in the way of a plug about my voice (more's the pity) but I can sure add something about the Plotting Via Motivation class...which I know some of you have already taken.

We had a marathon, back in February -- the biggest class I've ever taught at, which made me realize "gotta set a cap on enrollment from now on." But knowing that massive numbers didn't spoil the learning experience is wonderful!

Laurie, who'll be teaching it again NEXT February (to a smaller group) followed by an advanced version -- the first one ever -- next May :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Gee, I'm part 1, 3, and 9. I knew I was
> screwed up.

Okay, now I've GOTTA touch on the wings-and-arrows business, because I'd hate for anyone to go home feeling screwed up!

Remember that diagram on this morning's original post? It shows all the numbers going around in a circle, and lines connecting some of 'em?

You'll notice that the Nine is connected to the Three, and it sits right next to the One. That means Nine has a Three arrow and a One wing...which means that somebody who's a Nine is likely to have elements of One and Three in their personality as well.

Not across the board, not all the time -- you might be a Nine who spends more time in Six or Eight or neither -- but it's just this whole extra dimension that explains why we can have so many facets.

(I almost said "fascinating facets" because it sounds so cool, but that got me into this musical "fascinatin' rhythm" riff and now I can't get the phrase out of my head -- aaack.)

Anyway, don't worry about being screwed up even if your numbers DON'T look like they belong together. It's just fun when they do, seeing how they all connect!

Laurie, who has a whole separate Q&A on "what if my heroine is part Two and part Seven?"

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> My Smoky Mt. Romance Writer's chapter has
> a question of the week: Have one of your
> characters tell all about you, the author.

Wow, does THIS sound like fun! A nice variation on the counselor-style interview that sometimes turns into a conversation when characters flat-out don't WANT to talk about themselves.

And I'll bet I can imagine how each type of character would think when describing their author:

One: Is she doing the job right?
Two: Gotta give her all the help I can.
Three: I hope she makes me look good.
Four: More emotion, please, more emotion!
Five: Hmm, interesting role reveral here.
Six: I'd better not screw this up.
Seven: Can we go do something else?
Eight: Okay, here's the person you are.
Nine: Does this work for you?

It's a treat, thinking of all the possibilities...what a COOL idea!

Laurie, all set to go give my characters a new assignment :)

Anonymous said...

Phew. Thanks for clearing that up.:) Now I can have a great weekend! Of course I'm going to thoroughly enjoying screwing up my characters though.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> I was born wanting to be a four, forced into
> being a two during childhood by an unbalanced
> parent, and emerged a four-five in adulthood.

Wonderful example of adapting to suit the circumstances -- and yet STILL retaining the core personality type!

Because here we've got a Four with elements of Two and Five, right?

Fours (duh, obviously) have wings of Three and Five. So when left to their own devices, they'll show signs of being a Golden Boy/Girl with a fabulous image, OR signs of being an analytical observer, or some of each...neither option is better, it's just a queston of which way they go.

Caring for a parent will naturally bring out the nurturer, but the WAY someone cares for a parent will be different depending on their type.

And Fours go to (when someone has an arrow of a certain type, we say they "go to" that type) One and Two. So a One might show caring by tackling whatever's wrong, while a Two might show it by hand-holding and comforting.

Again, neither is better; they're just a matter of personal type. Someone else in the same household might've cared for their unbalanced parent in a whole different fashion, or not cared at all -- again, everybody does the best they can with what they've got.

It's just so cool to see that illustrated by real-life people!

Laurie, thinking I've been talking long enough here...but I'll check back again later in case I missed anyone

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


Oops, I almost forgot this one -- and now I'm headed off to Poker Group, but I'll check back tomorrow in case anybody has any last questions! (Unless I win a fortune, in which case...nah, what could be more fun than talking enneagrams? :)

> How do you differentiate between two
> characters who are the same number
> (e.g. villains who both might end up being 5's).

Good question! And Marilyn touched on this earlier, when she mentioned having two Sixes who each expressed their fears in a different way.

But it's a safe bet that no two people are gonna be alike even if they share the same type...just like no two Texans, or firstborns, or redheads, or dancers, are gonna be alike. Sure, they'll have SOME traits in common -- but not enough to make them confusing.

(Okay, the exception might be if you had two firstborn dancing Texas redheads, but probably not even then.)

With two villains who are each a Five, we know they have in common a preference for logical, analytical thinking at the expense of emotion or action. But one of them might be just a TAD more willing to consider feelings, while the other might be just a BIT more inclined to action. Voila, enough of a difference to keep them separate.

That's all it takes. Not much. Because there's so much else TO their pesonality besides just their number type!

Laurie, who loves it as a tool but not as the entire prescription

ElaineCharton said...

Great article, I'm looking forward to learning more on enagrams. I tend to make my characters a lot like me and am trying to do things differently.

Kathryne Kennedy said...

I love your Enneagram book, Laurie! It's a springboard for my characters!

Anonymous said...

Great article, Laurie. I'm glad I found this blog. I definitely can't afford therapy ;)
-Vicky L

Carrie Weaver said...

Great stuff, Laurie! It's fun looking in retrospect at my character's and seeing how their fatal flaws propelled the story and threw up obstacles. Very cool!

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Great blog, Laurie. I always use enneagrams to help me understand my characters. I find it helps me add depth to the personality in a way that is consistent with the character.

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


Oh, gosh, it's fun to see more comments on here -- how cool!

Elaine, good luck with your not-like-you characters...I'm looking forward to seeing your next book.

Helen, it's a treat to hear from another great writer (and wonderful TitleMagic blogger) who believes in enneagrams. :)

Kathryne & Carrie, thank you both for letting me use your books at the Personality Types workshop (coming to RWA National this summer) -- amazing the difference in what each of you did with a Two and an Eight.

And Vicky, congratulations on finding MuchCheaperThanTherapy -- there are more fascinating blogs coming!

Laurie, who just got back from an actual baseball, different way to spend a Saturday :)

Cheryl said...

Excellent presentation, Laurie. Clear, concise, informative. Thanks!

And what and interesting blog MCTT is. I plan to visit again.

Cheryl Reavis
The olio-enneagram (a little of this, a little of that...)

Ashley York said...

I am becoming more and more intrigued with enneagrams, Laurie! No wonder your book made Tina LaVon's list of favorite books on the craft of writing!

My main character's fatal flaw is that she "needs" to feel safe. I never thought of her as excessively prideful; but, as it turns out, pride causes her to do and say many things over the course of the novel.

I assume that she is a Nurturer Two...

Is the need to feel safe always a result of excessive pride?

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> Cheryl Reavis, The olio-enneagram (a
> little of this, a little of that...)

That's a good sign of having managed to integrate all nine types into your personality!

Because, remember, we DO all have some of each within us. We tend to hang out more in just a few of 'em, but the more you bring each type into play -- duh, obviously -- the more well-rounded a person you are.

Does that apply to the flaws as well as the good traits? Sure...but even so, it's better to have a little bit of everything than just a single giant helping of one.

> And what an interesting blog MCTT
> is. I plan to visit again.

Boy, coming from the founder of that means a lot -- how cool!

Laurie, figuring I'd caught up with all the comments and glad there were more :)

Laurie Schnebly Campbell said...


> main character's fatal flaw is that she
> "needs" to feel safe / Is the need to feel
> safe always a result of excessive pride?

Actually it sounds like she might be more of a Type Six, whose fatal flaw is fear. Not necessarily fear of vampires or muggers or fire or germs, but fear of being inadequate in whatever situation comes up.

It's possible, too, that with her Three arrow this heroine is very conscious of projecting the right image at all times...her pride might be more in Being Admired than in Being Needed.

But if she DOES strike you as a Nurturer, whose primary goal is to take care of everyone around her and make sure she's essential to their well-being, then she sure is a Two.

And regardless of which type she is, you can bet she's headed for trouble...because that's what makes for a great read!

Laurie, who could even make a case for her being mainly a Three with a Two wing and Six arrow and -- aaack, getting in way too deep :)