I asked Jeff – a friend and colleague who is doing amazing work teaching writers how to use the Enneagram in their stories way beyond character development – to write a blog about how to do this, and here it is. Jeff conducts workshops on how to do this, and has one coming up at the end of this month (Oct. 26/27) in Berkeley, California. Information about Jeff and how to contact him can be found at the bottom of the blog!
All writers and storytellers face the same problems when developing new work: how do you make characters ring true; how do you develop plots that are believable; how do you seamlessly connect all the pieces of a story so everything makes sense; how do you find the right, true, and natural structure of any story?
Traditionally, writers and storytellers familiar with the Enneagram have approached these problems with the only tools they knew: Enneagram typing and breaking down characters within stories by core styles, wings, subtypes, etc. This is not new news; Enneagram practitioners who are also writers have been using the Enneagram to develop characters for novels, plays, and screenplays for many years.
While these long-established approaches may have helped develop multi-dimensional characters, they were never meant to solve the problems associated with developing a story from scratch, or fixing one in desperate need of a rewrite. And this is because writing detailed characters is not the same as developing the full structure of a story from inciting incident through final climax. The reality is that conventional Enneagram techniques (typing, etc.) cannot stand alone in solving the big problems faced by all storytellers. They must be part of a bigger methodology, one that leverages the power of the Enneagram as well as the power of another system: story structure.
But, historically, there has never been such a methodology. If a writer was experienced enough to know story structure, odds are they had never heard of the Enneagram, or if they knew about the Enneagram, then they didn’t know story structure from a steak sandwich. Even if a lucky few were familiar with both systems, there was no obvious connection between the two that offered a workable methodology for transcending mere typing exercises into full-blown story development.
The Rapid Story Development Methodology™ (RSD) bridges the gap between classical story structure principles and the diagnostic power of the Enneagram. Beyond mere typing, beyond dismembering characters to identify styles, wings, and subtypes, the Rapid Story Development Method™ solves the essential problem of how to get from premise idea to fully formed story. Because the central problem is this: how does a storyteller cross that space between the idea of a story and reach across the abyss of story development hell to find a fully formed story? Typing characters alone won’t get you there; nor will character breakdowns, spreadsheets, or sketches. The storyteller needs a map, something that connects the implicit ideas present in any new story idea to the explicit components every story possesses that gives it form, function, and final dramatic expression (i.e., story structure).
The RDS method is that map, and it guides the way across the gap like no other tool. It shows a writer how to connect plot to character and character to plot. It reveals the main character’s traits, quirks, and flaws that spawn the perfect opponent, the right supporting characters, and the essential story milestones necessary to move a story along its right, true, and natural dramatic path. This process doesn’t just pay lip service to the idea that a good story begins with character; it shows you why this is true and then how to use that idea to execute a solid and entertaining story.
But, if the RDS Method is a map, what exactly does it map? This answer is worth several blog posts all by itself, but the essential answer is: story structure. Remember, rapid story development combines the power of the Enneagram to reflect human motivation and this thing called story structure. Just as the Enneagram is not a human invention, neither is story structure. No one person created the Enneagram; the Enneagram exists because we exist. And because we are smart monkeys, we recognized the patterns of our own existence, and found this metaphor to represent those patterns and called it the Enneagram. We are not the Enneagram; it is us. The same is true for story structure. Every story has a structure; every story must have a structure. If it doesn’t, then it’s not a story; it’s something else. Stories have structure not because I or you say so; they have structure because they are a natural force of nature, like the wind or electricity. Stories are not about things; stories are things. Every story consists of these seven components:
Definition | A human being at the focus of the idea of the story; this is about someone, not some thing
Definition | The person at the focus of the story is constricted in some way; some “problem” haunts them, drives them, and motivates them
Definition | There is desire and it is human desire; it is not God wanting love in the world, or Nature wanting to heal; no, the person wants something
Definition | Stories are conversations, not monologues; no character exists in a dramatic vacuum; the person in this story will move through it with someone, some “other;” there is another person in this conversation
Definition | More than the earlier constriction, there is also the sense of serious, external pushback; something opposes the desire-seeking of the person; this force creates dramatic friction
Definition | Entropy is defined as the tendency of all things to move toward disorder and chaos; this is what has to happen in the middle of every good story; the center of the story cannot hold; this is the adventure
Definition | The exact endpoint of the story may not be clear, but you can sense that your human will not end up where he-she began; nothing stands still, life either moves forward or backward; the same is true for fictional characters; this person will change
If this all sounds abstract and difficult to wrap your head around, good, because this is how story ideas come, abstractly, in an almost gestalt (whole) experience. These seven components don’t “drop in” as some neat list of bullet points. No, they come all at once, blurry and confusing as a ball of undifferentiated information.
This is what the Rapid Story Development Methodology™ helps you unravel. By using the Enneagram, any writer can take this ball and, with some skillful use of the Enneagram, work loose the ball to validate if it is, in fact, a story or not. The map looks something like this:
Story Structure and the Enneagram Map
Character maps to the core Enneagram style that best represents the “problem” driving the constriction
Constriction maps to the Enneagram Achilles Heel (the main avoidance that causes the biggest constriction, reactivity) for the core style
Desire maps to a tangible representation of the deepest desire of the Enneagram core style
Relationship often maps to either Enneagram wing for the main character’s (protagonist’s) core style
Resistance maps to the protagonist’s Enneagram stress point behavior (the lowest behavior of the type to which the main character’s arrow points toward), personified as the opponent
Adventure/Chaos maps to the Enneagram conflict, communication, and group interaction behaviors common to the Enneagram styles of the characters composing the core relationships (this is the scene-level action)
Change maps to the integration or actualized movement that resolves the protagonist’s previous stress-point behavior
There is much more to it than this in actual application, but the above description represents the essential function of how to map the Enneagram to the basic structure of any story. If the idea for a story is, in fact, a story, then this mapping will be possible and the writer will have saved himself or herself days, weeks, or months of story development time hunting and pecking to find these critical story structure pieces. This is the “rapid” in Rapid Story Development Methodology™.
The natural relationship between story structure, storytelling, and the Enneagram is obvious when you think about what the Enneagram is in the context of human development. Consequently, using it as a story development tool, and not just a character development tool, it is a natural application of the Enneagram!
Jeff Lyons is an Enneagram professional, working screenwriter, story consultant, and teacher. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit his website www.storygeeks.com. Information about the October workshop in Berkeley can be found at: www.rapidstorydevelopment.com.