Writing Characters with the Enneagram, Part Two: The Helper
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, Diana Prince from Wonder Woman is an Enneagram Two. She is kind, compassionate, and empathetic—an incredibly healthy version of a Two. Her character arc is more about changing people around her than being changed herself, though she does struggle to express her own needs, constantly sacrifices her time and energy more than she should, and doesn’t take enough time to rest. The villain of the movie, Ares, challenges Diana’s caring nature by convincing her that humanity doesn’t deserve her help.
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 Two 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 Twos, this is pride), defines your subtype. I go into more detail about the three subtypes for Helpers below, and include fictional examples for each.
Is Your Character a Helper?
Enneagram Twos want to be needed. They rely on other people to bolster their self-worth. They are motivated by pride, which is counterintuitive because the name helper sounds distinctly unselfish. Their pride is rooted in the belief that they are necessary for someone else’s success or well-being. They enjoy feeling indispensable, and their actions are spurred by their desire to feel accepted.
Strengths: Caring, generous, empathetic, sincere, self-sacrificing, humble, altruistic, forgiving, encouraging, appreciative
Flaws: People-pleasing, overly intimate, intrusive, controlling, possessive, co-dependent, self-important, martyrs, manipulative
Emotional issue: Pride. Twos feel self-important by helping others and being indispensable.
Story obstacles: Make them face their fear of worthlessness. Twos may sacrifice their own wellbeing for the wrong reasons or become destructive in their search for love and acceptance. An unhealthy Two puts other people first for the wrong reasons—because they want to create a false image of themselves. While this may work for a while, their feelings of anger and resentfulness will bubble up eventually.
Unhealthy Twos: Manipulative and desperate for love (or whatever substitute they can get), they attempt to make others reliant on them to keep friends around, inspiring pity or whatever emotions they can elicit. They play the roles of victim and martyr to get a response out of people. They try to earn love and feel that others should bend to their every whim in return.
Average Twos: They are giving people, but they often expect something in return for their generosity. They are afraid that their actions aren’t enough and their friends don’t genuinely care about them. As people-pleasers, average Twos use flattery to attempt intimacy. They want to be needed.
Mature Twos: Altruistic, generous, and compassionate, they are able to let their friends know their own needs without being afraid they will lose their relationships by doing so. They love others unconditionally and are supportive, friendly people filled with joy at being a part of others’ lives.
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 Helpers
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 Lamb (Self-Preservation Subtype)
Humourous, playful, and hypersensitive, lambs attract love by being cute, and they invite people to take care of them by presenting childlike needs. Their pride drives them to having their needs taken care of without asking, and they want everyone to like them. They are the countertype (they don’t necessarily look like a Two), because they may keep their distance in order to protect themselves from getting hurt.
Lambs want to feel loved and special simply for being who they are. They feel anxious about making their own life decisions, even though they want that freedom. They can be ambivalent about connections, irresponsible, and untrusting even while they seek out relationships. Healthy Lambs learn to value themselves, be vulnerable, and ask for what they need.
Peter Parker (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
Kaylee Frye (Firefly)
Leonard Peabody (The Umbrella Academy)
Primrose Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
Charlie Pace (Lost)
Kronk (The Emperor’s New Groove)
The Diplomat (Social Subtype)
Diplomats are confident, intellectual, and ambitious. They give in order to receive, supporting others to gain their loyalty or favour. They particularly enjoy having an audience, but are also skilled at working behind the scenes to influence the group in a direction that will benefit them.
Diplomats are the type of people who know everyone and have influential contacts. They are often powerful, intelligent leaders, though they can be out of tune with their own feelings and have difficulty making time to rest. Healthy Diplomats are excellent protectors and use their strategic gifts for good.
Diana Prince (Wonder Woman)
Peeta Mellark (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)
Mike Wheeler (Stranger Things)
Zelda (The Legend of Zelda)
Boromir (The Lord of the Rings)
Katara (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
Clara Oswald (Doctor Who)
The Enchanter (Sexual Subtype)
Enchanters seduce others to meet their needs. They’re not afraid to use sexuality as a weapon, and they enjoy it when people desire them; an individual’s attention feeds their pride. These are the types of people who can command another person with just a look, who love passion but are afraid of emotional attachment.
They are aggressive and charming, put a lot of energy into relationships and have difficulty letting go if they don’t work out. They may confuse desire for love. They will agree with others without considering their own opinions, because they want to be liked; since they’re so comfortable with manipulating others and playing the part, they might not even know their own opinions. Healthy Enchanters recognize their need for attention and work to make genuine connections with people.
Melisandre (Game of Thrones)
Finnick Odair (Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins)
Harley Quinn (DC)
James “Sawyer” Ford (Lost)
Ellen Tigh (Battlestar Galactica)
Check out the rest of the “Writing Characters with the Enneagram” blog series (I’ll update these links when the posts go live):
Part Two: The Helper
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