Character Virutes: Capability and "The Good-Guyness"

Yesterday I talked about character flaws. Today I'll talk about character virtues.

While a character can have any number of virtues, there are a few that are nearly universally essential. These break down into two categories: Capability and Good-Guyness.


If your character is capable, he can get things done. The main virtues in this category are:
  • courage (the character acts, even when scared)
  • cleverness (the character can figure out what he should do), and
  • a sense of responsibility (the character doesn't look for somebody to pass the buck to).


Your character may have a hard edge and some serious character flaws, but the reader has the sense that, deep down, he's just a good guy. For me, for me, is comprised of two things:
  • fair-mindedness (the character judges all others equally--though not necessarily kindly or respectfully)
  • compassion for the weak (the character will not stand for seeing the little guy beaten down)
It's important to note that the reader judges fair-mindedness by her own standards, not those of the world the character lives in. Even if you're writing about a very racist society, your beloved main character can't be racist--not unless he begins to see some inkling that this way of life is wrong.

There are exceptions to everything, of course, and each of these qualities has a well-known and much-beloved character who lacks it. But, in general, I believe these virtues are the cornerstone to building a character readers can love.