Marveling at Enneagram Nine to Write Better Characters

As an editor, I love helping writers build believable characters. One of the tools I use to do so is the enneagram. The enneagram is a system that divides personalities into nine types. People study it to understand their own habits and tendencies in order to improve themselves. I appreciate it for character design because it focuses more on the “why” than the “what.” Understanding your character’s motivations is key to writing believable arcs.

In this blog series, I’ve been going through each number and pairing it with a Marvel hero. Today is all about Type Nine, known as the Peacemaker or the Mediator. Type Nine is my own personality type, and I had difficulty finding an MCU character that fits, because Marvel just really likes Type Eight personalities (especially for their female characters). I was originally going to talk about Black Panther as a Nine (hurray for POC representation), but as I was working out his character motivations, I realized that he, too, is an Eight. In the end, I went with Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. As it turns out, his character fits the Nine personality to a tee.

“You’d better call it, Coulson, ‘cause I’m starting to root for this guy.”

—Clint Barton, Thor

Motivations and Fears

Nines are fascinating because they are a little bit like every other number on the enneagram: “Nines can have the strength of Eights, the sense of fun and adventure of Sevens, the dutifulness of Sixes, the intellectualism of Fives, the creativity of Fours, the attractiveness of Threes, the generosity of Twos, and the idealism of Ones” (Enneagram Institute).

Healthy Nines are able to form trusting relationships and are incredibly accepting of others, motivated for a desire for inner peace. They are deft at understanding opposing perspectives and able to imagine themselves in others’ shoes.

Clint initially bonds with Natasha Romanaff (Black Widow) because he sees potential in her. Though she was an assassin making trouble for S.H.I.E.L.D. and he was assigned to kill her, he talked to her instead and recruited her into S.H.I.E.L.D.—a Peacemaker moment if there ever was one. Even when the two are on opposing sides in Captain America: Civil War, Clint still preserves their friendship, jokingly responding to Natasha’s comment, “We’re still friends, right?” with “It depends on how hard you hit me,” and pulling his punches as he’s fighting her.

Clint is the chillest member of the Avengers, generally going along with and supporting whatever plan Tony Stark and Bruce Banner come up with to save the world. Though he seems like a less “important” member of the group, his wisdom and support is invaluable—something Clint’s wife comments on in Avengers: Age of Ultron:

Laura Barton: “I see those guys… those gods…”
Clint Barton: “You don’t think they need me.”
Laura Barton: “I think they do, which is a lot scarier. They’re a mess.”

Due to their incredible empathy, Nines can adopt the characteristics and ideals of others without thinking about it. This often makes it difficult to understand their own desires, needs, and opinions. They want to avoid conflict. Sometimes, this means they avoid expressing their own opinions or agendas when they oppose someone else’s. They are afraid that asserting themselves will cause conflict, and conflict will intrude on their inner peace. Why bother speaking up when you could take the path of least resistance?

Unhealthy Nines may react to conflict by attempting to disassociate from it, becoming neglectful and numb. Their biggest fear is of loss and separation. This fear comes to life for Clint in Avengers: Infinity War, when his wife and children disappear after Thanos’s snap. In response, Clint becomes a vengeful samurai, hunting and murdering anyone he thinks deserves it in Endgame. This is his way of numbing himself to the loss, running from the people who care about him (even Natasha). Staying with the Avengers would be a form of conflict, because he’d have to face his losses and deal with them. Instead he acts in a Nine-ish way, disengaging from life and becoming a tool with a sword.

If your protagonist is a Nine, create tension by putting problems in front of them that they don’t want to deal with. Make them lose something valuable to them, or put the fear of loss in them and watch them freeze with indecision. Nines like to keep things as they are, so throw change in their path.

Obstacles and Desires

These are descriptors commonly used to describe Nines:

  • Easy-going
  • Flexible
  • Calm
  • Inclusive
  • Complacent
  • Unmotivated
  • Avoidant

These characteristics can be used to create conflict between the Nine and other characters, or to bolster the other characters. Others may get frustrated with the negative characteristics, wanting the Nine to just get up and do something when they’d rather avoid it. Nines can be stubborn, digging in their heels in response to attempted motivation.

The Nine’s deadly sin is sloth, but not necessarily the physical kind. “Average Nines are disconnected from the passion and motivational drive necessary to rise up and live their ‘one wild and precious life,’” write Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile in The Road Back to You. “Nines are out of touch with the good side of anger, the part that inspires, drives change, moves things along and gives them courage to stand up for themselves.” They avoid letting themselves feel or act upon intense emotions because that might upset their inner peace. But if they figure out what they want in life, what they are passionate about, if they act upon their emotions instead of suppress them, their lives may be fuller and healthier.

Clint avoids intense emotions by running away from them; even when Natasha finds him and tells him the Avengers have a plan to get his family back, he initially rejects it out of fear. He doesn’t want to feel hope because it might be taken away later if their plan fails. In the end, it is simply their deep friendship that convinces Clint to hope again.

Stress and Security

When Nines are stressed, they may behave like an unhealthy Six (the Loyalist), becoming anxious and full of self-doubt. This can make decision-making even more difficult, though this may also cause them to react to choices rashly without thinking about them instead of doing nothing at all. Clint’s decision to becoming a vengeance-driven assassin was rash, uncharacteristic of his usual wisdom.

When Nines feel secure, they may behave like a healthy Three (the Achiever)—self-accepting, competent, and goal-oriented. They have less trouble making decisions and experience genuine peace with themselves and their value in the world. When Clint is sent back in time to when his family was still alive, he feels hope again, and this moment brings him back to a more healthy state for the rest of the movie.

Character Development

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.

Clint is a healthy character for most of the films (probably due to focus on other characters and the fact that he never gets much of an arc until Endgame). He takes on a calm, benevolent, supportive role, becoming something of a big brother to Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch). He “rescues” her from Tony Stark’s house arrest in Civil War, but this rescue doesn’t involve overpowering anyone, even though he does take a few shots at Vision. Instead, he motivates Wanda to act on her own behalf and free herself from Vision’s imprisonment. He uses words, not weapons, to encourage her, challenging her to make amends for her mistake by doing something instead of sitting around doing nothing.

Clint dips into Unhealthy levels and back up to Healthy in Endgame as he loses his family and finds hope again. Even though he loses his best friend, he honours her sacrifice by dealing with his grief instead of running with it and being present for the family that was returned to him.

If you start with an Unhealthy Nine and move towards positive development, you can achieve character growth by converting their tendency to run from conflict into a choice to stay. Bring them to a point where they face, and even embrace, their strong emotions, and use their empathy as a power for good.

If you decide your character is a Peacemaker, I hope my thoughts on Enneagram Nines and Hawkeye 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 Sleeping At Last podcast by Chris Heurtz.

< Read “Marveling at Enneagram Eight to Write Better Characters”

Read “Marveling at Enneagram One to Write Better Characters” >

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