holden caulfield sure wasn't created from happiness (aka: how to write great literary characters)
Literary fiction is not your surface-level, summer beach read with the tide lapping at your toes on the shore in a fleeting escape from everyday life. It often doesn’t wrap up in a pretty pink bow with all questions answered and characters living happily ever after.
It lets you know up front that you’re embarking on a journey, one that may be ugly at times and difficult to look at. One that might challenge you to accept hard truths and agree to crack a little inside as your heart swells with happiness, aches in brokenness, and emerges a changed creature.
But at the end of all good literary fiction, you know this: the journey was totally worth it.
Enneagram 4s and INFPs with the talent for writing (and, if you’re a 4 or INFP, you likely read that sentence and were like, “I mean, I write but am I really talented? My work is okay, I guess? I’m not as good as her/him. Well, maybe? I don’t know. No, definitely not. I’ll stop talking now.”) These personality types are fantastic for writing literary fiction and characters, because, unlike more commercial genres, it requires deeper thinking, further exploration, and understanding more than just words on a page.
3 reasons Ennegram 4s and INFPs write great literary characters (and how you can do it too)
It’s easy for them to withdraw into their feelings- And not just the cute ones (4s have cute, happy feelings too, right??) (Right.) Many people like to avoid what most societies refer to as ‘negative’ emotions. But emotions are just emotions. They are neither good nor bad; they just are. In this ‘think positive’, ‘get over it,’ ‘you should smile more,’ world, sorting through your sadness can be seen as self-indulgent and unproductive. However, to 4s and INFPs, the unpopular feelings to process like sadness and anger isn’t an obstacle, it can be damn near cozy. Asking the hard questions and being honest enough to receive and dissect the hard answers is where these personality types shine. Melancholy can be comfortable, and that comfort will bring a well-roundedness and complexity to characters, making them feel real on the page.
They aren’t afraid to be different- they thrive on this, actually. Their uniqueness and authenticity are the core of who they are, and, while readers should still be able to relate to characters, they push their characters to be equally as authentic and with a quality or two that makes them stand out from the norm. Just look at Holden Caulfield among all the “phonies”, or read anything Anais Nin has to say about herself and life.
Understanding truth and identity is above all else- 4s gravitate toward more character-driven than plot-driven stories. They want to immerse themselves in understanding why people are the way they are. They can sometimes inherit a character’s experience as their own and when the story is done, are left feeling like they left a piece of themselves behind. Searching for identity is inherit to their personality. The plot is simply a backdrop for characters to discover who they truly are and how they fit in their environment. Who they are is far more important than what happens to them, and 4s and INFPs have no problem getting to know their characters on an intimate level in order to reveal a story layer by layer.