Emotional factors that inspire readers to love a character: pain, jeopardy, struggle, and injustice.

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.

Be Bad!

I've been thinking a lot about character lately, and it seems to me that I've arrived at a Great and Important Truth:

We love characters not for their virtues, but for their flaws.

Imagine if you will a light beaming down from heaven and illuminating the world around you, while simultaneously an angelic chorus lifts their voices in a melodic "Ahhh!" That's about how I feel about this statement. It's the thing that makes everything click for me.

It's why I smile when Remington Steele does something shamelessly lazy, when Amelia Peabody blithely ignores anyone's viewpoint but her own, or when Kelli Copur of The Office says something brainlessly ditzy and self-absorbed.

The next time you find yourself smiling about a character, in a book or on TV, ask yourself whether that character is being good -- or being bad? I'm willing to bet it'll be the latter a good 75% of the time.

This doesn't mean that a character doesn't need virtues, or that we don't like those virtues when we see them. If flaws are what causes you to love the character, virtues are what make this love possible in the first place.

Or, if flaws are the chocolate in your triple layer fudge cake, virtues are the flour. Not wildly exciting, but boy would you miss it if it were absent.

Burn Down List

There are any number of scenes to write and revise before this book is done, but here is a list of some of the other tasks awaiting completion:

  • Create map of 1928 landmarks
  • Research Eastern religions
  • Research 1920's gangsters
It should be a good amount of work. But that's all right; it should be a good amount of fun, too.

Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to give me a place to record my thoughts about my current writing project, and about writing in general. My thoughts on the subject range far and wide, and it'll be good to have one place where they all come together.