How to Write an Enneagram 1 Character

One of the hardest things about writing characters is making sure they’re different enough from each other that a reader can tell them apart. There are multiple ways to do this: base them on real people, give them qualities of different animals or elements, use a personality typing system, make it up as you go and hope it works. 

The Enneagram personality typing system is one of the easiest ways to effectively differentiate characters because it’s based around motivations, and motivations in characters create conflicts. In this series of articles, you’ll find high level tips for how to create characters based on Enneagram Types, starting of course with Type One.

Ones fix the world.

Type Ones are known commonly as “the reformer,” because they have a strong sense of right and wrong, and that often leads them to advocate for some kind of change. Ones know in their soul what’s objectively “good,” and they’ll work toward making that come about, trying to make their world a better place. Of course, “better” is subjective, so your One’s idea of “better” might actually venture into supervillain territory, or it could just be the social machinations of an opinionated meddler.

For good or evil, Ones have a vision for how the world should be, and they’ll do what they can to make it happen.

Ones are perfectionists.

Because Ones are always striving to be better—whatever that means to them—they’re generally purposeful and perfectionistic, trying to control both themselves and the people around them, often successfully…at least until they burn themselves out, which is a real danger for Ones. They’re hyper-critical of both themselves and others, and even if they’re ultimately in the right, their criticisms are bound to cause relationship conflicts.

Ones are afraid of failure.

If you flip a One’s desire to be good, you end up with a One who’s terrified of being corrupt or defective. Ones are constantly seeking integrity in all they do, and they’re often very good at justifying their actions and opinions. Most Ones have a goal to be above criticism from their peers, though they know they’ll never be above self-criticism. And though it may seem counterintuitive, Ones will criticize their peers in order to make everything that reflects back on the One be above criticism as well. They’re often the most useful and most annoying parts of group projects. They will do and redo something until it’s perfect.

Ones don’t make mistakes—at least not if they have anything to do with it.

So how do you write an Enneagram One?

In fiction, Enneagram Ones are often either stick-in-the-mud moral champions like Ned Stark or Hermione Granger, or they’re unstoppable go-getters like Leslie Knope or Mary Poppins—though all those characters have elements of both moral champion and go-getter. The morals that fictional Ones champion aren’t always benevolent, though: Thanos is an Enneagram One with a twisted moral plan to fix the universe the way he sees fit, even if it involves dissolving half the population. On a much smaller scale, Mr. Darcy is also an Enneagram One fixing the world as he sees fit, this time in the form of breaking up a couple on account of differing social standings.

The important thing to remember when writing an Enneagram One, whether hero or villain or barely mentioned side character, is to keep them consistent. Their words and actions should always be in harmony with their morals and values, unless you’re trying to write a seriously stressed One.

To avoid stereotypical One characters, try to give your One hobbies outside of reforming the world. Let them apply their perfectionism to interior decorating or running an Etsy shop or some hobby that ostensibly has nothing to do with their Type One tendencies.

Unless you’re trying to purposely make your Enneagram One a faultless mentor character or stereotypical big bad, let your One be both right and wrong. Make them confront a belief they’ve always clung to that might not be as morally sound as they thought it was. Let them be the voice of reason in one situation and the voice of madness in the next. No person is right all the time or wrong all the time; we’re all just trying to figure it out as we go. Ones just spend a little more time stressing about figuring it out the Right Way™.

For more information on how to write an Enneagram One character and a deep dive into what it looks like to have an Enneagram One in a story, check out To Trope or Not to Trope’s episode on writing Enneagram One characters, available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and anywhere you listen to podcasts.