While this personality style's passionate creativity, emotional depth, and profound desire for authenticity can be gifts, this narrow focus of attention can also create the fear of being ordinary. Because mundanity is anathema, these characters constantly seek new ways to perceive the world. Paradoxically, seeing the everyday world as banal means always feeling like an outsider, so there's constant tension between wanting to belong and wanting to be different, between feeling special or feeling flawed.
As a young art student, photographer Diane Arbus would look at a model and draw what none of the other students saw. She later said, "I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them." Though famous for her photos of marginal people (transvestites, nudists, circus performers--anyone whose normality seemed surreal), she felt that anything she did easily could not be good. "I didn't want to be told I was terrific. I had the sense that if I was so terrific at it, it wasn't worth doing."
Arthur Lubow, in his 2016 biography Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, describes an affinity for symbols that's characteristic of the Individualist: "She was drawn to the things that would be true in any time and place, the customs and rituals that notwithstanding their individuality, were emblematic, oneiric, mythic."
Note Lubow's description of an honors humanities seminar paper Arbus wrote during her senior year:
"She reconfigured the assigned reading into patterns as personal as the whorls of her thumbprints. Through her eyes the Western classics were transformed into personal meditations--on the differences between men and women, the ways in which people succumb to their fates, and the allure of death to those who are unable to inhabit their lives. The light she cast on these works of literature was idiosyncratic, but more than just reflection of her own complex personality, it was, like a flare in a dim room, eccentrically and unevenly illuminating" (p. 24).Arbus committed suicide in 1971, when she was only 48 years old. Though somewhat a surprise and certainly a shock to those who cared for her, there had been depressive periods throughout her life. Lubow suggests her anguish was due in part to self-doubt. During a relatively happy year in Europe with her husband Allan Arbus, for example, "she had been felled by recurring spells of despair, of feeling 'gloomy and haunted with guilty echoes of what I should be doing and why I am not.'"
Biographies, memoirs, and other forms of creative nonfiction are more engaging to read when self-descriptions, sample works, others' observations, characteristic dialogue, and internal thoughts expand our understanding of the subject's personality. The same is perhaps even more true when writing fiction, because we want readers to connect in some way with characters we introduce.
Certainly this is true of Sarah Woodruff in John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman. A psychological study as much as a romance, this novel highlights Sarah's individualist character, her basic isolation and self-awareness as someone who can't be defined by conventional roles. Fowles creates an unforgettable image of Sarah, dressed all in black, standing on the edge of a cliff:
"We knew she was alive a fortnight after this incident, and therefore she did not jump. Nor were hers the sobbing, hysterical sort of tears that presage violent action; but those produced by a profound conditional, rather than emotional, misery -- slow-welling, unstoppable, creeping like blood through a bandage" (page 103).Charles Smithson's initial impression of Sarah further paints her isolation and mournfulness:
"Standing at the center of the road, Charles watched her black back recede. All he was left with was the after-image of those eyes -- they were abnormally large, as if able to see more and suffer more. And their directness of look -- he did not know it, but it was the tract-delivery look he had received -- contained a most peculiar element of rebuffal. Do not come near me, they said. Noli me tangere" (page 96).Sarah's own thoughts show her struggle between feeling special and feeling flawed:
"I did it so that I should never be the same again. I did it so that people should point at me, should say, there walks the French Lieutenant's Whore--oh yes, let the word be said. So that they should know I have suffered, and suffer, as others suffer in every town and village in this land. I could not marry that man. So I married shame... I knew no other way to break out of what I was... What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other women... sometimes I almost pity them. I think I have a freedom they cannot understand" (page 185).Neither of these authors is likely to have knowingly used the Enneagram to inform their work. But its application is popular among filmmakers, playwrights, novelists, and memoirists because the nine personality descriptions capture in depth what the best writers depict through their own genius for understanding what makes people tick.
So, let's say a protagonist you're creating matches the Individualist personality and you want to show a believable character arc. Angela Quarles suggests combining an Enneagram style with Larry Brooks' Three Dimensions of Character Development ("What the world sees, even if it's all a smoke screen for dark and deeply hidden secrets, is an amalgamation of their best and worst essences"):
- First, show your character's surface traits, quirks, and habits. Individualists have a self-image as someone who's basically flawed, with a focus on suffering, emotional sensitivity and empathy, aesthetic sensibility, and a push-pull pattern in relationships (idealizing the lover, until reality sets in). These characteristics are quite evident in the early pages of The French Lieutenant's Woman, with Sarah Woodruff's sobs "creeping like blood through a bandage."
- Second, provide the back story and your character's inner demons; what prompts, explains, and motivates this character? Enneagram style Fours nurture a "story" about not being sufficiently loved, and focus on what's missing or lacking. ("What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other women.")
- Third, how would this personality style's true character emerge through choices made when something important is at stake? By the end of The French Lieutenant's Women, Sarah Woodruff is different from many women and unafraid to be so. An assistant and model for a well-known artist, she's developed equanimity, the highest gift for Enneagram style Four -- she is unmarried and unconcerned about conventional attitudes toward her single state in the Victorian era.
(See also, Joni Mitchell, Reckless Daughter.)
(More posts to follow.)