Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at

Character Stereotypes: The Do-gooder

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue,
but that they are incomplete.

—Chimamanda Adichie

Do-gooders, also called Goody Two-Shoes, are the people who make everyone else look bad. They turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, raise the bar, and set the standard high.

But why? What motivates them? What’s the payoff?

Aside from the general, run-of-the-mill do-gooders who are generous because it’s in their nature, there are three sub-stereotypes do-gooders. Let’s examine each type by delving further into what motivates each and how writers can crossbreed them to spice things up.

1) Doormat

Motivation: to please people

Common Specimen: the already overworked congregation member who just can’t say no when the Educational Minister is short a Sunday school teacher.

Description: Doormats are the most common form of do-gooders in Christian fiction. They generally have low self-esteem and believe that by doing what everyone asks of them, they will up their estimation in the eyes of others. Perhaps they grew up with the idea that if they could just be who people wanted them to be—instead of who they really are—they would find love and acceptance.

How to Crossbreed: Changing the doormat’s payoff will be the best way to alter this stereotype, because you can’t change the people-pleasing motivation and keep the person a doormat. For example, a doormat do-gooder could simply be covering as a doormat for a self-serving reason, like wanting to ingratiate themselves into a small town for political aspirations or real estate reasons.

2) Martyr

Motivation: to obtain sympathy/admiration.

Common Specimen: the businessman who gives away all of his wealth and allows his own family to live in poverty.

Description: Martyrs might be the extreme form of do-gooders, in that they do so much good that it’s sometime to the detriment of their own health or family or general well-being. They are a strange dichotomy of altruism and self-interest.

One could argue that they have an almost masochistic urge to put others before themselves, and feeding into this unhealthy compulsion can easily overwhelm a person. The idea just doesn’t hold that the greater the amount of suffering, the greater the size of the reward.

How to Crossbreed: One way to change this subtype of do-gooder is to give the character such an awful backstory that they feel the only way to atone for their past sins and overindulgences is to martyr themselves by living in constant suffering and sacrifice.

3) Busybody

Motivation: to be in the know.

Common Specimen: the retiree from next door who brings you a dozen cookies only to pry and get the latest gossip about whether you are getting a divorce or moving.

Description: Sometimes do-gooders are generous simply to disguise their true ulterior motive to gather information for gossip mongering. Recipients of this type of charity usually perceive that the busybody’s goodwill toward them is only to plump their arsenal full of juicy tidbits to share at the next Bunko meeting. It’s enough to make someone highly resentful.

Genuine do-gooders probably had an experience with a needy person that transformed them and their way of thinking. A busybody, however, likely realized that sharing an intercessory prayer request was code for dishing dirt in a socially acceptable manner, simultaneously making themselves look like the caring sort is only a perk by-product.

How to Crossbreed: What if you gave your busybody a selfless reason why he needs to be in the know? It would be counterintuitive, of course, but would help redeem this character in the eyes of the reader. For example, a girl tries to get the life story of her best friend’s romantic interest, all in the name of trying to protect her friend from making a huge mistake.


The Character Thrapist