We all dream of creating the perfect hero. And giving him the perfect heroine. In fact, our hero and heroine are going to be the best, most wonderful, most courageous, most gorgeous, most
No, wait a minute. They can't be.
Because if both your main characters are a hundred percent fearless
and beautiful and honest and kind and everything else, not only will they
seem unbelievable, but there won't be any conflict in their relationship.
And we've got to have conflict. Not just the external conflict of
the situation at hand, like the corporate takeover or the kidnapped child
or the Civil War raiders, but the internal conflict that keeps each
person from being perfectly happy within themselves.
Because if you have a hero who's completely satisfied with himself
and his life from page 1 on, and completely satisfied with the heroine
from page 2 on...well, you might still get a nice corporate-takeover
story, but you're not gonna have much of a romance. For a great romance
novel, you've got to have conflict between and within your characters.
And to me, because I'm a counselor, the most intriguing conflicts
are the ones that come from within people's own personalities. What is
it, within your hero's and heroine's personalities, that keeps them from
falling in love and getting married the minute they meet? That's what
makes your story fascinating!
Sure, you need the external conflict between your characterswhatever's keeping them apart on the surface, like their feuding families
or buried treasure or coveted godchild. But you also need the internal
conflict within each character...the fatal flaw they have to overcome so
they can grow and learn and change during the course of the book.
Fatal flaws are essential, because these characters have to suffer
if there's going to be any kind of triumph at the end of the book. (I
used to resist that, giving my people a problem in Chapter One but
solving it in Chapter Two, and my critique partner would keep warning me,
"You're acting like a counselor again, trying to fix these people's
problems. You've gotta make 'em suffer!"
She was right. And for the best suffering, you need a conflict that
comes not just from the situation, but from the characters' own
personalities...from the kind of people they are.
In the Psychology of Creating Characters workshop on this website,
there are some tools for determining what kind of people these characters
are. But when it comes down to the actual creation, it's not enough to
simply know what types the hero and heroine are. We need to make sure
they're the kind of people who will come into conflict not only with each
other...but also with themselves.
One tremendously useful tool for that is the enneagram (pronounced
ANY-a-gram). "Ennea" is the Greek word for "nine," so you can guess how
many types there are within the enneagram system! And although it's not
evenly divided with 11.111% of the world population in each type,
everybody is one of the nine.
People have their basic enneagram number, but they also have traits
of the numbers they're connected to, and of the numbers on each side of
their own. If you'd like to see which type you areor your character
isyou can take the enneagram quiz on this website, or see The Enneagram Made Easy by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele.
Okay, so what are the types?
THE NINE TYPES
Type One is the Perfectionist, the Improver. These are the people
who have very high standards for themselves and for the world. They know
how things ought to be, and they do their best to make sure they (and the
rest of the world) live up to it. There's never any question about what's
right and what's wrongno gray areasand there's never any question
that they'll constantly try to do and live for what's right. Their motto
is "I work toward perfection in an imperfect world," and their greatest
desires are to avoid criticism and to be right.
Now, this can be a very heroic character...always willing to stand
up for what he or she believes in, very aware of what's right and wrong.
It's interesting that Ones are hardly ever overweight, which again is
that sense of perfection. Their most outstanding character trait is moral
courage...but of course they've also got a fatal flaw, like everyone
else. (We'll come back to the flaws after the rest of the types and
Type Two is the Nurturer, the Helper, the Giver, who loves taking
care of other people and feeling needed. They'll go out of their way to
nurture everyone around them, always focusing on what others need more
than on what they need. In fact, they'll frequently neglect their own
needs and wind up feeling kind of hurt because, "With all I do for
everyone else, what thanks do I get?"
Two's motto is "People depend on me," and they live to be needed. An
example might be Beth in Little Women, or Rachel in Susan Elizabeth
Phillips' DREAM A LITTLE DREAM, where she was starving herself to feed
her little boy. Twos are constantly giving, giving, giving.
Type Three is the Achiever, the Succeeder, the Performerthese
people are very aware of the right image. They're always onstage,
projecting whatever the situation requires. Success, career and
achievement are important to them...no matter what's going on around
them, the Threes will look really, really good. They go around believing
(and this is their motto), "The world values a champion...I must avoid
failure." So you can imagine the internal conflict when you get a Type
Three who's faced with the prospect of failure.
At their worst a Three will embody charm without substance, at their
best they embody excellence with a heart. Oprah Winfrey might be a
real-life Three; Jay Gatsby might be a fictional one. Threes are often
the oldest or only child in their family, because the firstborn is almost
always oriented toward being the best and performing the bestand
that's what Threes do.
Type Four is the Romantic, the Artist, the Individualist. These are
people who love drama and tragedy and falling in love. They have BIG
feelings, and they don't like feeling ordinary because that's too flat.
Nothing is ever quite grand enough, long enough...they dream about the
perfect love, and they're the best at offering wholehearted sympathy when
you're feeling low. They make good teachers, actors, counselors, what Tom
Condon called "translators of humanity."
When I did an enneagram website survey, looking for literary
characters who fit each type, I was amazed at the responses for who's a
Type Four. Somebody said Scarlett O'Hara, who devoted her whole life to
pursuing the love of Ashleyin terms of romantic drive, Scarlett was
definitely a Four. Somebody said ALL the Anne Rice characters, because of
their huge, vast, sweeping emotions...big ups, big downs.
Type Five is the Observer, the Thinker, who'd rather be behind a
book than out there involved in the world. They like to keep back, keep
to themselves, study like crazy but always from a distance. They tend to
"compartmentalize" their lives: work here, family there, one friend
here, another group over there.... They're proud of getting by with very
little, and they're very careful about guarding their time and their
privacy and their personal space.
Sherlock Holmes sounds like a Five, because he's not involved in the
world except on an intellectual level. Real-life Fives might be Albert
Einstein (your classic ivory-tower professor), Greta Garbo ("I want to be
alone"), and George Lucas (who dreamed up the whole Star Wars universe).
Fives are out there in this whole other dimension, and it's mainly a
world of the mind.
Type Six is the Defender, the Trooperthese are the people who
get the job done. They're very aware of any possible threat to their
well-being or the people they love; they're very aware of the rules and
determined to always keep them...or to always break them. (That's the
counter-phobic Six, the James Dean rebel type.) Either way, Sixes are
very loyal, steady, always on the lookout for danger, good to have on
It's interesting that in America there are more Sixes and Threes
than any other type. Threes are flashier, Sixes are more steady and the
Six hero is probably more a beta than an alpha male. I remember a Nora
Roberts book where the heroine thought the hero didn't love her because
as a special present he gave her a set of tires for her car, and a wise
observer pointed out that there was PROOF he loved herhe wanted to
keep her safe.
Type Seven is the Adventurer, the Enthusiast...they want to keep
having new experiences, try whatever there is. They're interested in
everything and everybody, at least at first glance, and they love to plan
things, plan trips, plan new activitieswhether or not they actually
carry out those plans. They like to keep all their options open rather
than settle for just one of anything.
Sevens are charming as all-get-out...maybe not so good over the long
haul, but boy, they're wonderful to have dinner with. When they aren't
all mentally healthy and together, it's usually because they've
deliberately avoided being alone with themselves. Sevens who let
themselves examine their feelings become more realistic, more generous;
and they're almost always cheerful, curious and open to new experiences.
Either way, they're fascinating to be withfun, intriguing, delightful
Type Eight is the Controller, the Aggressor, the Chiefthis
person is a self-confident, natural leader. They're used to taking
charge, getting things done, making sure everyone gets a fair shake. They
go after what they want, always keeping an eye out for the people they
care about; they're strong individuals who take it upon themselves to
defend the weak...kind of a Wild West sheriff mentality.
An Eight's motto is "I defend the innocent in an unjust world." And
this is incredibly heroicexcept that not everybody agrees on what is
innocence and what is justice, so you might have some people who think
this Eight is a real jerk! Scarlett O'Hara might be an Eight, considering
how she went back to Tara and bossed everybody around and saved them from
starvation. Some of the family resented her for it, but she was
determined to get her way and make sure everybody at Tara survived...this
take-charge attitude is what makes an Eight heroic.
Type Nine is the Peacemaker, the Mediator. They want everyone to get
along and everything to be nice. They don't like conflict; they don't
like having to pick sides...even picking chocolate or vanilla. They tend
to go along with the flow, whatever that might be, and instead of
exploring their own preferences, they kick back with TV or food or
whatever's comfortable. There's usually some anger back there, but it's
completely denied. Nines are excellent at ignoring their own feelings.
They're the ones who'll be just kind of sitting back, letting
everybody else flap around them. A few years ago there was a survey as to
what types are most attractive to other types, and more women want to
marry a Nine than any other type of man. (More men want to marry a Two.)
So from a thumbnail sketch of all the types, you can see how each of
them has good and bad traits. It's not like God said, "I'm gonna make a
handful of wonderful people and they're all gonna be Ones. Then we'll
have those scuddy Twos and loser Threes and so on." Each type has
innately wonderful traits...which, taken to excess, can be bad. And
that's a good thing, because we need there to be some conflict between
our perfectly wonderful heroes and heroines!
If you met Sherlock Holmes and Greta Garbo in an online chat loop,
you wouldn't have any trouble telling them apart. They're both Fives,
yes, but no two matching enneagram types are alike anymore than two
matching astrological types are alike.
One reason is because of the subtypes: Self-preservation, Intimacy,
and Social. Everyone values each of these in different amounts. When
you're holed up studying for the final exam, that's self-preservation.
When you're on a dinner date talking for hours, that's intimacy. And when
you're in a crowd of fans all cheering for the home team, that's social.
We all do all three.
Ideally you have them all weighted equally in your life, but most of
us tend to hang out more in one area than in the others. And of course
that area is going to be a source of great strength because we're good at
it, and it's also going to be a source of great weakness because we've
left the others alone. But great weakness is a fine thing when it comes
to creating characters! So see which subtype sounds like your hero or
heroine (or yourself and your real-life hero).
The Self-Preservation subtype person is concerned with exactly that:
self-preservation. Does their household have enough water to last
through a nuclear winter? How are they gonna pay their kid's tuition? Is
there anywhere they can get some privacy? Where can they find their
favorite kind of soda? These people are concerned with basic survival
issues...survival of the body or the spirit or both. If they were
stranded on a desert island with plenty of survival gear, they'd be fine
Now, howin a romancecan this self-preservation trait work?
It's not what you'd expect from a typical romance character, right? An
adventure thriller, yes, you want your hero or heroine to save the
sinking boat and elude the Nazis...but on an emotional level, this
self-preservation can be a wonderful character trait for building
internal conflict. Imagine someone who's trying to preserve their
well-being, their sanity, their heart, by not falling in love. Imagine
the tension as they find themselves falling in love, and resisting, and
falling, and resisting.... Self-preservation is a great trait for a
romance novel character!
The intimacy-subtype person is someone who's concerned with
one-on-one relationships. Not just their lover, but every individual
friendship. They want to spend time alone with everyone they care about,
just the two of them, talking as intimately as they can: "What's going
on? How're you feeling? Here's what's new with me." If they were on that
desert island, they'd want one other person with them. Just one...who'd
be just as involved with the relationship as they are.
Now it's no good for a romance if your hero and heroine are both
intimacy subtypes who wants the same intimacy at the same time, because
then all you have is two people kissing and holding hands for chapter
after chapter. But suppose one character wants this intimacy with not
ONLY the lover, but also with the friend next door and the brother across
town and the boss and the waitress and the lover's grandmother...there's
going to be some conflict, right? I remember a great book where the hero
was a social worker who gave himself wholeheartedly to the individual
kids at his youth shelter that needed one-on-one contact, and when it
came time for the romantic dinner with the heroine while a kid is in
crisis...okay, more conflict. So you can see how an intimacy character is
great for a romance novel!
Finally, the Social subtype. This person is concerned with the
community as a whole. They're not so much interested in what's going on
within themselves, or what's going on within a particular person, as they
are with what's going on in the whole group. That group might be their
church, their co-workers, their RWA chapter...whatever it is, these
people love being part of the group. They want their entire gang on that
desert island, and they want to do their part for the whole group...for
the whole social structure.
Already you can see the conflict for a romance novel, right? My dad
is a social person, while my mom is an intimacy person, and they've been
married for forty-some years. But on Tuesday nights, when she wants him
to go with her to ballroom dancing class, and he wants her to go with him
to the church prayer group.... Conflict.
Now, keep in mind that none of these subtypes is better or worse
than any others. Everybody needs to be concerned with the Me, the We Two
and the All Of Us in order to have a truly well-balanced life. But there
can be conflict between WHATEVER subtypes your characters are, and
(fortunately for us writers) that conflict leaves room for growth.
Because growth has to happen for these people to reach their happy ending!
Now, the growth can come in two ways. One is that the couple can
learn to compromise (like my mom and dad, who agreed they'd spend six
Tuesdays at dance class and then the next six Tuesdays at prayer group.)
The other way is that they can each overcome something within
themselves...and that's fascinating to watch because it gives the reader
something to root for in addition to the happily-ever-after.
However, this kind of individual growth can't happen unless a person
has something they need to overcome. They need some fatal flaw to be
interesting, and we need our characters to overcome something to deserve
the happy ending.
It's easy to find ideas for the fatal flaws our characters will have
to overcome, because the enneagram theorists say that each of the nine
types has a deadly sin within them. Although the math is off, because
there are seven deadly sins and nine enneagram types, so they made up two
more sins which fit the types.
ONE's fatal flaw is Anger. These are the perfectionists who get
angry when they or anyone else doesn't strive for perfection. Picture a
hero whose life has been about upholding what's right and good,
maintaining the highest possible standards for himself and everyone
around him, being kind of righteous about it and fuming when people don't
live up to his standards of perfectionbeing especially upset when he
doesn't live up to his OWN standards of perfection. He's going to be
angry at himself when that happens, and of course it's going to happen.
So you'll get this wonderful growth as the hero realizes (maybe with some
help from the heroine, maybe on his own) that he has to let go of this
anger and be more tolerant, more forgiving of the imperfection that's in
himself and in everyone else.
TWO's deadly sin is Pride...these are the nurturers who take pride
in being indispensable to those people they care for. So far every
heroine I've done has been a Two, and every one of them has had to face
that truth. She's had to quit knocking herself out trying to create the
perfect world for her loved ones. And while this woman who spends her
every waking hour nurturing others might sound like a doormat on the
surface, in fact she can be a tremendously powerful character to watch.
Seeing her overcome that pride in being indispensable, watching her
realize that she can let go and the world won't come to an end, is a huge
triumph. When she can finally stop doing for others as a way of fitting
in, she's discovering her true power...and from then on, her nurturing
comes from the strength of love rather than the weakness of pride.
THREE's fatal flaw is Deception. These are the performers who put on
a front for the world and for themselves in order to look just right.
This person will have to overcome the habit of deception...to quit
putting on a perfect face and discover his or her true self. Imagine the
impact of someone coming to realize that his or her whole life has been a
series of performances, of trying to be the best at whatever comes up, of
doing whatever will present the best facade to the publicand for the
first time actually looking at what's really inside him or herself. This
is a great chance for the lover to help out, to help this person discover
that they can be loved for themselves...that they don't need a perfect
facade in front of everyone in the world. That's a wonderful road to a
happy ending for the Three.
FOUR's deadly sin is Envy. These are the romantics who feel like
everyone else in the world has a more rich and satisfying life. They'll
have to let go of envy and appreciate that what they've got is pretty
darned goodand this is hard for the Four. Someone whose life is about
drama and tragedy and falling in love doesn't WANT to give up all those
big up-and-down sweeps, all the glory and pathos and angst and feeling.
But what's wonderful is that they don't have to! They can still have that
larger-than-life, creative, artistic flair...as long as they let go of
the self-pity. Again, this can be with the help of someone who loves
them. This someone can show them how to laugh at themselves and the world
around them, bring them down to earth while still letting them fly high
with their own creative passion.... Watching a Four come to appreciate
what they've got in their life can be a joyous, sparkling thing.
FIVEs need to overcome Avarice. These are the observers who are
greedy about their precious time and their own personal space. In order
to overcome their deadly sin, they'll have to quit being greedy about
their own private selves and learn to share. Someone who spends their
whole life wrapped up in solitude will have a really hard time letting a
lover into their world. You're going to get some pretty intense conflict
and crackling tension as this unfolds. Picture an ivory-tower professor
leaving his library door open a crack when the heroine is nearby. Then
slamming it shut. Opening it another crack... Picture someone who never
talks about their feelings, opening up to a lover for the first time.
It's exhilarating, watching a Five realize they can share their private
world with someone else...that they can finally open the door and let
SIX's fatal flaw is Fear. These are the defenders who are always
aware of possible dangers and worrying about how to handle them. The Six
will have to let go of fear and realize you can't always guarantee
absolute security. You can imagine a character who lives in fear, right?
Not so much a woman-in-jeopardy heroine, afraid of the dark baron up in
the Gothic tower, but someone who's driven by the quest for security. It
could be financial security, it could be emotional security, but whatever
it is, this fear keeps them from living life to the fullest. And now here
you have the lover offering a new kind of life...and the Six hesitating,
afraid of taking any kind of risk. "What, jeopardize my comfortable life
and the security of my heart to fall in love? I can't do that." But for
the right love they CAN risk it, and when they do, it's wonderful to
watch the payoff.
SEVEN's deadly sin is Gluttony...these are the adventurers who want
every possible new experience, one right after another. Here's someone
who'll have to learn that permanent freedom isn't so great; commitment
has its own rewards. And you can imagine the struggle they'll go through
to avoid learning this lesson. You've got a character who's the life of
the party, ready to go anywhere anytime...and now all of a sudden they're
in a situation where they have to slow down, move beyond the good-time
surface and really come face to face, heart to heart, with another
person. They're gonna resist that with everything they've gotstay out
later, party harder, run away to some other distractionand yet
suddenly, this freedom isn't so attractive unless the loved one is part
of their life. But only when they make the commitment to love will they
realize that now, finally, this is what they've been missing...what
they've been searching for all along.
EIGHT's fatal flaw is Lust. These are the leaders who lust for
power, to be in control, to run the show and get things done their way.
This person has to step back and share control, to let go of that lust
for power. Here's someone who's spent their whole life running the show,
making things happen, getting things done their way, and all of a sudden
somebody's expecting them to give up control? Most types wouldn't have
much problem sharing control with someone they love, but Eights didn't
get to where they are by compromising on anything. So they resist. And
maybe the lover walks away. And they try everything they CAN to win back
this personthey want to give the lover everything, but they want to
do it their wayand only after they give up this lust for being in
control will they realize that here's the key to a kind of success
they've never known before.
And finally, NINE's is Sloth...because these are the peacemakers who
want to just sit back and have everything be nice and comfortable. This
person is gonna have to give up the comfort of neutrality and make some
kind of a stand. Here they've has spent a lifetime taking things easy,
not getting worked up one way or another, refusing to take action,
refusing to get involved on either side of anything. Now here they're
faced with having to come down on one side or another...they're gonna
have to declare themselves: this is what I want, this is what I believe,
this is who I am, take it or leave it. (And maybe in a romance they're
worried that the lover will leave it.) They've never let that happen
before, they've never put themselves in a position where they have to
take a stand...but now they HAVE to take some kind of action, make a
stand for something, and it'll open their eyes to a whole new way of
So you can see how all nine types have their own deadly sin. And you
can see how, even with these fatal flaws, none of these people is a jerk.
Each of them is someone we can sympathize with and root for, because
they're ALL people with tremendous potential to learn and grow and
change. And because all nine of these deadly sins can be overcome, the
readers can put the book down satisfied: "Ah, another happy ending."
Each one of us could sit down and write nine books where the heroes
and heroines learn those nine thingsovercoming anger with tolerance,
pride with relinquishment, deception with honesty, envy with
appreciation, avarice with sharing, fear with risk, gluttony with
commitment, lust with compromise and sloth with actionand you can bet
that we'd each come up with a different happy ending. But even those nine
lessons aren't the best part of enneagram theory. Its greatest value for
writers is in letting the personality types, subtypes and fatal flaws
inspire ideas...which is the whole fun of romance writing.
I wish that kind of fun for each of usand I'll look forward to
reading how all our characters overcome their fatal flaws!