Drawing on personality systems is a great way to craft dynamic characters. The Enneagram works especially well for this because it dives into people’s motivations and fears. Understanding the way your character thinks can help you choose how they respond to the stressful situations that come up in your story. It can also help you craft dialogue full of tension.
In this blog series, I’ve been going through each number and pairing it with a Marvel hero. Today is all about Type Eight, known as the Challenger or the Protector.
“Higher, further, faster, baby.”
—Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel
Motivations and Fears
Eights want a sense of control over their lives. They dislike asking others for help and strive to prove they are strong and not weak. They are most afraid of being controlled by others, which is partly where their domineering, self-reliant tendencies come from. According to the Enneagram Institute, “Eights do not want to be controlled or to allow others to have power over them… whether the power is psychological, sexual, social, or financial.” If your character is an Eight, consider these different types of power to hold over them and watch them try to struggle free.
The entire plot of Captain Marvel revolves around Carol Danvers fighting against aliens trying to control her. The Kree have a psychological hold on her because they suppressed her human memories and made her think she was one of them. Danvers has to confront the lies told to her by those she thought were friends and allies.
What makes Danvers’ story so compelling is that so many people try to hold her back from her true potential. As a child on Earth in the 60s, she loves sports even though her father tells her they are unsuitable activities due to her gender. When she joins the Air Force after turning eighteen, she has to contend with the misogyny of a male-dominated career, fighting for respect every step of the way. Then, after she gains powers from absorbing Tesseract energy, she’s kept in check by the Kree’s lies.
Eights can make great leaders because they are often charismatic people who have the ability to inspire others to follow them. Throughout the movie, Danvers gains incredibly loyal allies, including Nick Fury and her best friend in the Air Force, Marie Rambeau. Her passion, strength, and dedication to combat injustice inspire others to help her.
To create conflict in your own story, put something in your Eight’s path that causes them to doubt their own abilities and makes them feel trapped. Give your villain some sort of power over them, perhaps even a personal relationship that causes the Eight to stumble in her quest. Give them loyal sidekicks who inspire them to fight. Present opportunities where the Eight needs to stand up for themselves or die trying.
Obstacles and Desires
These are descriptors commonly used to describe Eights:
Use these traits to create conflict between the Eight and other characters. Eights are often quick to anger and slow to trust others. They may lash out at friends without thinking if they feel threatened, especially if someone insinuates they’re weak or pushes them to be vulnerable when they are not ready to be. Other characters may feel threatened or overwhelmed by Eights’ dominating personalities.
Eights’ deadly sin is lust, but not in the sexual sense. They desire intense experiences, which is no doubt why Carol Danvers chose to join the Air Force and become a test pilot for Project P.E.G.A.S.U.S. Out of all the numbers in the Enneagram, Eights have the most energy; they burn hot or not at all. This doesn’t mean they are always extroverts or always quick to speak—they are more defined by the energy they exude and by tackling the many challenges life throws their way.
Danvers isn’t afraid to speak her mind, but she also doesn’t talk incessantly. She is incredibly focused and channels her energy into doing good.
When Eights are stressed, they behave like unhealthy Fives, becoming detached and high-strung. They may struggle with insomnia or become self-destructive. We see this in Danvers at the beginning of Captain Marvel as she wrestles with strange dreams and doesn’t know what to do with her pent-up energy.
Yon-Rogg: “Do you know what time it is?”
Carol Danvers: “Can’t Sleep.”
Yon-Rogg: “There are tabs for that.”
Carol Danvers: “Yeah, but then I’d be sleeping.”
She wants to unleash her full powers, but also wants to make wise choices, which is why she listens to the Kree’s deceptions.
When Eights feel secure, they may behave like a healthy Two, unselfish, altruistic, and compassionate. They are less concerned about walling off others to protect themselves and more willing to be vulnerable, listening to others and valuing their perspectives instead of only pushing their own agenda. They are able to see good in others and let vendettas die. They may even choose peace over combat.
My favourite scene in Captain Marvel is at the end when Yon-Rogg challenges her to beat him without using her powers. Danvers replies, “I have nothing to prove to you.” While this may seem anticlimactic to some, it is a testament to Danvers character and the wisdom she has learned throughout the movie. Men had constantly been forcing her to “prove” her worth throughout her life, and here she is saying no. She doesn’t have to. She can be exactly who she is, using the full extents of her abilities. She has nothing to prove.
Danvers becomes a wise, compassionate character because she doesn’t allow others to control her but still listens to what friends and allies have to say. She lets herself be vulnerable, even though it is difficult for her.
The Enneagram includes descriptions of what a type looks like at healthy, average, and unhealthy levels. There are nine levels of development (not to be confused with the nine different types of personalities)—one to three being the most healthy, four to six being average, and seven to nine being unhealthy. This progression is useful for writing fiction because it can help you plan character arcs.
When Danvers ends up on Earth without her Kree “allies,” she behaves at a most unhealthy level by destroying everything that gets in her path. She is reckless, and defies any attempt at others controlling her (ironic, because she is being controlled by the Kree at this point). It is through her friendship with Nick Fury and Marie Rambeau that she begins to see things from other perspectives. When she discovers the Skrulls are not terrorists after all and unravels the lies surrounding her past that she begins to move to healthy levels, becoming a merciful, courageous, and just leader.
If you start with an Unhealthy Eight and move towards positive development, you can achieve character growth by making the Eight question their morals or convictions. Put them in grey situations where they have to confront their own delusions about their power or invincibility. Force them to see perspectives other than their own and accept that others aren’t always out to get them. Bring them to a place where they fight for justice and for others instead of out of fear in order to protect themselves.
If you decide your character is a Challenger, I hope my thoughts on Enneagram Eights and Captain Marvel help you in your character development. Use this tool to consider not just what they do, but why they do it. For further research, check out The wisdom of the enneagram by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.