How to Write an Enneagram 3 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, this one focusing on Type Three.

Threes want to be the best.

Threes are known as “the achiever” because they’re frequently striving for advancement and trying to be the best. It doesn’t matter what they’re the best at—Threes have a wide variety of interests—but whatever they’re doing, Threes are going to try to be the best at it. Not only, though, do they want to be the best, they want everyone else to know they’re the best. Other types (like One or Five) might be content to quietly know they’re the best and avoid the limelight, but Threes thrive on external validation.

Threes seek affirmation.

Everyone wants affirmation from others to some degree, but Threes live and breathe the praise and admiration of others. This can lead them to change who they are and how they present themselves to garner more affirmation and validation. It can also lead them to be unnecessarily competitive and combative, arguing and competing with anyone about anything just to prove that they’re the best and get that external affirmation. They don’t necessarily need to be liked, they just need to be validated somehow—whether through fear or respect or adoration or affection.

You’ll often find Threes in fiction with crowds of adoring fans or at the head of a gang or an angry mob—whatever will get them the most praise and affirmation.

Threes motivate and empower others.

While Type Threes want to make sure they themselves are the best, they also want the people around them to be the best, too. A Three’s friends reflect back on them, so they’ll push and encourage “their people” to also be the best—or at least appear that way. But there’s a limit to this: no one else can outshine the Three, and the Three’s values are always right, no matter what other characters want.

So how do you write an Enneagram Three?

In fiction, Enneagram Threes are most often full of themselves and toxic to anyone and everyone around them. No one will stop them on their climb to the top, and they have no remorse over who they have to crush to get there. Their way is the best way, and everyone else is stupid. Threes have big goals and will stop at nothing to achieve them, making sure people along the way know about their success. They’re the Tony Starks and Don Drapers and Rachel Berrys of the world—neither hero nor villain, just self-serving and ambitious. Great for moving the plot forward.

The important thing to remember when writing an Enneagram Three is that even if their outward appearance and interests may change, their motivations most likely won’t. A good character arc for a Three involves going from being out of touch with their own feelings and seeking too much external validation to being self-assured with high self-esteem, or going from cruel and superior to gracious and benevolent. But with either of these arcs, the Three character will continue to want to be the best, will continue to seek validation, and will continue to compete—just hopefully in a healthier and less toxic way.

A good way to let a Three character shine without giving them relationship conflicts is to put them in a plot revolving around competition, where they can be the best and gain affirmation and adoration in a healthier way. A Three not in competition with someone will create competition so that they can win. Usually that doesn’t turn out so well for other characters.

To avoid stereotypical Three characters, give your Three a couple of people that they care deeply about and work to help succeed. Think Tony Stark after he adopts Peter Parker or Rachel Green helping her friends make good impressions.

You can also let your Three not care about things. Draco Malfoy wouldn’t care about being the best humanitarian, and Rachel Berry wouldn’t care about being the best hot dog seller in New York. Threes aren’t just blind ambition machines—like anyone, there are things they care about and things they don’t. But once they have even the slightest reason to care about something, you can bet they’ll start figuring out how to win at it.

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