9 Character Types That Will Improve Your Story

Story comes from character.

But where does character come from?


In my last post, I discussed the 9 Fundamental Fears that Motivate Your Characters.

As I mentioned in that post, these nine fears create the nine character types, which are symbolized by the Enneagram:


If you are completely new to the Enneagram system, it will help to read my previous article.

Now let’s dive deeper into each character type…

1. The Reformer

Reformers are perfectionists. They want to be right. Reformers fear being bad, corrupt, or imbalanced. They need to be able to justify their actions, and they can easily become critical, judgmental, and self-righteous.

In the workplace, Reformers are efficient and organized. They like to finish what they start. You will often find them in law enforcement, management, and science careers. They may enjoy community service and humanitarian causes.

At their worst, Reformers are neurotic and unmercifully cruel in their fight against “evil,” however they choose define that.

At their best, Reformers are realistic, self-disciplined, and inspiring.

Reformers in history:

•    Joan of Arc
•    George Bernard Shaw
•    Mahatma Gandhi
•    William F. Buckley
•    Sandra Day O’Connor

Reformers in film:

•    Gregory Peck in Moby Dick
•    Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy
•    Kevin Costner in The Untouchables
•    Helen Mirren in The Queen
•    Harrison Ford in The Mosquito Coast

The Mosquito Coast movie trailer:

2. The Helper

Helpers want most of all to be loved. They are people-pleasers. In an effort to get love, they give it first, fully expecting love in return. This bargain remains assumed and unacknowledged until the issue is forced to the surface by the Helper’s growing resentment. No one but another Helper can match their giving nature, so they often feel used, surrounded by a world of heartless takers. This is when their personality can pivot toward vindictiveness.

While Helper characters can be women or men, in film they are almost always women, and sometimes they appear in the role of intimate villains. To paraphrase the playwright William Congreve, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

Male Helpers in movies are often portrayed as effeminate. Perhaps this is a reflection of our society, which seems to encourage Helper traits in women more than in men.

In the workplace, Helpers favor professions such as teaching, counseling, and nursing. Many executive assistants, receptionists, and sales people are Helpers.

At their worst, Helpers are possessive, manipulative victims.

At their best, Helpers are generous, caring, and insightful.

Helpers in history:

•    Mary Magdalene
•    Mother Teresa
•    Archbishop Desmond Tutu
•    Florence Nightingale
•    Leo Buscaglia

Helpers in film:

•    Anne Baxter in All About Eve
•    Tom Courtney in The Dresser
•    Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction
•    Nathan Lane in The Birdcage
•    Kathy Bates in Misery

Misery movie trailer:

3. The Achiever

Achievers are go-getters and social climbers. Because they fear being worthless, they expend a great deal of energy to appear valuable to themselves and to others. Their lives are a public performance. Achievers are eager to impress, and so they look for ways to distinguish themselves. Ambitious status-seekers, they can be vain, superficial, and competitive. Prone to feelings of humiliation, they are intensely afraid of failure. Narcissism is quite common for this character type.

In the workplace, Achievers are drawn to business, law, banking, and politics. You will find them in any career that creates celebrities, such as broadcasting and the performing arts.

America has a very “type three” culture. The drive and industriousness of Achievers is highly regarded in the United States, where the self-made billionaire is a national fantasy. Achievers are very often the main characters in big-budget Hollywood movies, which tend to be produced by real-world Achievers.

At their worst, Achievers are deceitful, hostile, and psychopathic.

At their best, Achievers are optimistic, confident, and charitable.

Achievers in history:

•    Bill Clinton
•    Barbara Streisand
•    Jane Pauley
•    O.J. Simpson
•    Tony Robbins

Achievers in film:

•    Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct
•    Nicole Kidman in To Die For
•    Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men
•    Christian Bale in American Psycho
•    Charlie Sheen in Wall Street

Wall Street movie trailer:

4. The Artist

Artists are individualistic, idealistic, and romantic. While they have great empathy for others, they fear losing their own identity, and are searching for their true selves. They express their feelings through beauty and creativity, and have a rich interior fantasy life. Warmhearted and intuitive, they yearn for true love. But they are prone to self-indulgence, addiction, and emotional breakdown.

Careers in the arts are a natural fit for this character type. However, Artists can be found supporting themselves in almost any mundane job, and can thrive in those jobs so long as their creativity is expressed in some area of their lives. Other likely careers include teaching and counseling.

At their worst, Artists are tormented, self-hating, and self-destructive.

At their best, Artists are creative, inspiring, and transformative.

Artists in history:

•    Maria Callas
•    Martha Graham
•    Rudolf Nureyev
•    Joni Mitchell
•    Tennessee Williams

Artists in film:

•    James Dean in East of Eden
•    Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck
•    F. Murray Abraham in Amadeus
•    Meryl Streep in Out of Africa
•    Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures

Heavenly Creatures movie trailer:

5. The Observer

Observers want to appear competent and are afraid of looking foolish. They push themselves to master systems of knowledge. They are self-sufficient investigators and keen conceptualizers. Emotionally distant, they can seem cold and arrogant. Unwilling to descend from their ivory tower, they can be reclusive, eccentric, and schizophrenic.

In the workplace, they excel at intellectual pursuits, tending to thrive in scientific and technologically challenging fields. Their analytical skills make them great problem solvers. Independent thinkers, they prefer to work alone. Observers can become excellent writers and musicians.

At their worst, Observers are nihilistic, psychotic, and suicidal.

At their best, Observers are insightful, inventive, and wise.

Observers in history:

•    Charles Darwin
•    Emily Dickinson
•    Georgia O’Keeffe
•    Bobby Fischer
•    Stanley Kubrick

Observers in film:

•    Peter O’Toole in Goodbye, Mr. Chips
•    Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club
•    James Spader in Sex, Lies, and Videotape
•    Juliette Binoche in Blue
•    Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network

The Social Network movie trailer:

6. The Loyal Skeptic

Loyal Skeptics need security and guidance. They often find this within an organization: working for the military, for the justice system, in the corporate world, or in an academic institution. Their sense of insecurity prods them to seek the approval of others. And yet, as skeptics, they test other people. Their distrusting nature can lead to paranoia.

This character type has two basic strategies for dealing with anxiety. Depending on which strategy they use, Loyal Skeptics fall into one of two subtypes:

•    phobic
•    counterphobic

The phobic subtype is outwardly anxious. They keep a low profile and turn to authority in order to ease their anxieties. They avoid confrontation because they fear abandonment.

The counterphobic subtype openly confronts their fears. They are rebellious, even bellicose. As anti-authoritarians, they tend to be self-employed. Their personality can resemble a type eight character, the Leader. The difference is that the confrontational style of Loyal Skeptics is mere bluster. They lack the inner confidence of a Leader. Instead, they attack others to hide their own weakness.

At their worst, Loyal Skeptics are controlling, defensive, testy, and unpredictable.

At their best, Loyal Skeptics are responsible, practical, and compassionate.

Loyal Skeptics in history:

•    Robert F. Kennedy
•    Princess Diana
•    Johnny Carson
•    J. Edgar Hoover
•    Oliver North

Loyal Skeptics in film:

•    Jack Lemmon in The Apartment
•    Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters
•    Diane Keaton in Annie Hall
•    Ellen Barkin in The Big Easy
•    Bill Murray in What About Bob?

What About Bob? movie trailer:

7. The Adventurer

Adventurers seek excitement to avoid suffering. Happiness is their goal. The most extroverted type, they have a lust for life and are hungry for new experiences. This is an escape from their inner selves. But when they finally exhaust their manic resources, they find that they can no longer hide from their festering anxieties.

In their careers, they look for travel opportunities. Flight attendants, pilots, and outdoor photographers are typically Adventurers. They avoid repetitive jobs, and are often successful as entrepreneurs.

In their free time, they may be adrenaline junkies who flirt with danger by rock climbing, sky diving, or race car driving.

At their worst, Adventurers are impulsive, manic, and self-destructive.

At their best, Adventurers are fun-loving, spontaneous, and enthusiastic.

Adventurers in history:

•    Epicurus
•    Mozart
•    John F. Kennedy
•    Elizabeth Taylor
•    John Belushi

Adventurers in film:

•    Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
•    Michael Caine in Alfie
•    Ruth Gordon in Harold & Maude
•    Jeff Bridges in Tucker: The Man and His Dream
•    Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King

The Man Who Would Be King movie trailer:

8. The Leader

Leaders are self-reliant and self-confident. They fear being controlled by others or by circumstances. They trust their gut, and can be impulsive. They are quick to assert themselves, sometimes trampling over others in the process. They may obsess over the acquisition and maintenance of power, ignoring their emotional needs in favor of conquest. They have a will to power, and can be ruthless, vengeful, and even sociopathic.

In the workplace, Leaders need autonomy. Many choose to be self-employed. Leaders are often entrepreneurs, executives, and lawyers. They thrive in positions of responsibility and authority, and love to tackle tough challenges.

At their worst, Leaders are controlling, domineering, and aggressive.

At their best, Leaders are confident, energetic, and protective.

Leaders in history:

•    Niccolo Machiavelli
•    Richard Wagner
•    Indira Gandhi
•    Martin Luther King, Jr.
•    Barbara Walters

Leaders in film:

•    George C. Scott in Patton
•    Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seduction
•    Julia Stiles in 10 Things I Hate About You
•    Ellen Page in Hard Candy
•    Denzel Washington in Malcolm X

Malcolm X movie trailer:

9. The Diplomat

Diplomats avoid conflict. They can see the world from another person’s point of view. This bridges interpersonal differences, and improves communication and understanding. But in mirroring someone else, Diplomats may lose themselves.

In the workplace, they are drawn to the helping professions. They make great mediators and counselors. They function well in bureaucracies.

At their worst, Diplomats are judgmental, stubborn, and passive-aggressive.

At their best, Diplomats are peaceful, generous, and empathetic.

Diplomats in history:

•    Abraham Lincoln
•    Joseph Campbell
•    Princess Grace of Monaco
•    Queen Elizabeth II
•    Gerald Ford

Diplomats in film:

•    Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment
•    Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves
•    Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy
•    Ed Norton in Fight Club
•    Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski movie trailer:

In future posts, we’ll explore each of these character types separately, and examine their character arcs in detail.

We’ll also dive deep into various subtypes, combinations, and interactions.

Next: 9 Stages of a Compelling Character Arc

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