Writing Characters with the Enneagram, Part Seven: The Enthusiast
If you’re looking for ideas for a character or want to dig deeper into a character you’ve already developed, the Enneagram—a personality system that divides people into nine types—is a useful tool.
The Enneagram is all about what fears and emotions drive people. Rather than simply noting what people do, it dives into why they do it. That is powerful information in a writer’s hands. What happens when a character has to face their fear? What if they don’t get what they want? How might they travel from an unhealthy version of their number to a healthy version, or vice versa?
For example, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender is an Enthusiast. He’s outgoing, joyful, and naïve. He’d rather race otter penguins than save the world, and the fact that he isn’t free to do what he wants is a huge burden. He knows it’s his “destiny” to defeat the Fire Lord, but he avoids thinking about that until the very end of the series, when he’s forced to; as an Airbender, Aang is as peaceful as they come, and he doesn’t want to confront the turmoil he would feel over killing someone.
And here lies the genius of the Enneagram—in addition to giving you insights into your characters’ fears and desires, it suggests obstacles you can throw in front of your characters—challenges that emotionally invest them in their journey.
The Enneagram can be a complex system when you dig into it, but I’ve distilled this post into a basic overview of the Enneagram Seven and all the information you need to kickstart your character creation.
Overview of the Three Subtypes
Perhaps you’re already familiar with the nine personality types of the Enneagram: One, the Reformer; Two, the Helper; Three, the Achiever; Four, the Individualist; Five, the Investigator; Six, the Loyalist; Seven, the Enthusiast; Eight, the Challenger; and Nine, the Peacemaker. But there are also three subtypes under each of these. That’s a whopping 27 personality options, with endless variations!
The Enneagram suggests that people have three basic survival instincts that impact how you act, think, and feel: self-preservation, where your survival depends on the physical things you need to live (e.g. health, food, stability, protection); social, where your survival depends on connecting with others and receiving care through relationships; and sexual (also referred to as one-to-one, because sex and romance isn’t always involved), where your survival depends on attracting individuals to meet your needs.
While everyone has each of these instincts, the idea behind the three subtypes is that there is a dominant instinct, and how it interacts with a character’s emotional issue (for Enneagram Sevens, this is gluttony), defines your subtype. I go into more detail about the three subtypes for Enthusiasts below and include fictional examples for each.
Is Your Character an Enthusiast?
Enneagram Sevens are people who see the glass as half full. They love life and all of its adventures. They are motivated by a desire for freedom and happiness, jumping at opportunities to experience something new. Fun-loving and light-hearted, they crave stimulation and avoid unpleasant feelings by staying distracted.
Strengths: Joyful, enthusiastic, lively, spontaneous, resilient, cheerful, multi-talented, practical, productive, adventurous, worldly
Flaws: Unfocused, hyperactive, exaggerative, too busy, self-centered, materialistic, greedy, demanding, pushy
Emotional issue: Gluttony. Sevens want to have all the pleasurable experiences. They are afraid of pain and loss, so they stay occupied to avoid those feelings.
Story obstacles: Sevens are avoiders. They don’t like stopping to feel emotions, so put them into places where they have to and they might get stuck. Give them a heavy dose of reality—a past they’d like to forget, people they refuse to forgive, trauma they’ve shoved down. They also tend to be impulsive, so they might run head-on into situations where others would pause and think first.
Unhealthy Sevens: They are impulsive and have no filter. They look for exciting experiences to avoid pain, becoming reckless in the process. They try to escape from their anxiety and emotions instead of dealing with them and oscillate between periods of depression and hyperactivity.
Average Sevens: They are adventurous people who are constantly active because they don’t want to be bored. They also don’t want to miss any exciting experiences, so they do as much as possible, jumping from one thing to the next. The anticipation is usually more gratifying than the activity, because things never live up to their expectations. They are good at looking at the positive side of things, but they can be insensitive.
Mature Sevens: They appreciate what life has to offer. They are joyful and resilient and have learned to focus their energy. Healthy Sevens know how to stop to rest and reflect; they face their difficult emotions instead of running from them, no longer chasing constant stimulation in order to be satisfied with their existence.
Quick Tip: For a hero’s arc, move them from Unhealthy to Average, or Average to Mature. For a villain’s arc, move them from Mature to Average, or Average to Unhealthy (sometimes, Average villains are more interesting than Unhealthy ones, because they are more relatable). Characters may also move between these health levels depending on whether they are stressed or at peace.
The Three Types of Enthusiasts
If the above sounds like your character (or a character you would like to create), you can dig even further into their personality by assigning them one of these three subtypes.
The Networker (Self-Preservation Subtype)
Practical, materialistic, and efficient at getting what they want, networkers get their needs met through being part of a group. They respond to their gluttony by “collecting” people and relationships to meet their needs. They are cheerful, friendly, and talkative. They like to be depended on and seen as generous, and they are clever people with quid-pro-quo attitudes. They are also calculating and can manipulate situations to be advantageous for themselves (though they’ll do so from the shadows). They have no problem breaking rules.
Networkers are the type of people who have connections; they often “know a guy.” They feel secure when they have constant access to an abundance of resources (such as money or whatever else they need to survive). And they love pleasure; sex, food, drink—they want it all. They are the most practical and materialistic of the Sevens.
Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)
River Song (Doctor Who)
The Illusive Man (Mass Effect series)
Varric Tethras (Dragon Age series)
Jack Harkness (Doctor Who)
Horace Slughorn (Harry Potter)
Eleanor Shellstrop (The Good Place)
The Altruist (Social Subtype)
Idealistic, joyful, and active, Altruists give to others and take less for themselves to get love and recognition. They try to resist their gluttonous impulses and improve the world, which makes them the countertype of the Sevens (they don’t necessarily look like a Seven). They strive to translate their ideals into actions, sacrificing their own needs so others will admire them.
These are generous people who make good managers, though they have childlike naivete and may get lazy when their work becomes difficult. They fantasize about how they could change the world into an ideal place and are enthusiastic at getting people to join their mission.
Aang (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Merry Brandybuck (The Lord of the Rings)
Ahsoka Tano (Star Wars)
The Joker (DC)
Klaus Hargreeves (The Umbrella Academy)
Hoban Washburne (Firefly)
The Dreamer (Sexual Subtype)
Dreamers imagine life is better than their ordinary existence. They may get stuck in optimism to avoid reality. Light-hearted, gullible, and talkative, they are planners and improvisers who fall in love easily. They can also be restless, anxious, and bored by mundane things like chores or small talk. Dreamers love to experience new things, such as activities, learning opportunities, or spirituality.
These are the types of people who will embellish stories to entrance their audience. They avoid uncomfortable emotions by focusing on the positive; they may not even recognize pain going on in themselves, because they refuse to confront it. They want to experience everything and have a fear of missing out.
Peter Quill (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Jester Lavorre (Critical Role)
Charlie Bradbury (Supernatural)
Eddie Munson (Stranger Things)
Jason Mendoza (The Good Place)
Jesper Fahey (Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo)
Check out the rest of the “Writing Characters with the Enneagram” blog series (I’ll update these links when the posts go live):
Part Seven: The Enthusiast
If you would like to dig even deeper into the Enneagram, here are some more helpful resources:
The Enneagram Institute website, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
The Complete Enneagram: 27 Paths to Greater Self-Knowledge by Beatrice Chestnut, PhD
The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
“How to Use the Enneagram to Create Compelling Characters with H. Claire Taylor” — Plottr, YouTube
“5 Ways to Use the Enneagram to Write Better Characters” — K.M. Weiland, Helping Writers Become Authors