Character Traits Thesaurus Entry: Proper

Definition: strictly accurate; decorous; marked by suitability, rightness, and appropriateness

Characters in literature: Aunt Alexandra (To Kill a Mockingbird), Miss Rachel (Anne of Green Gables), members of The Daughters of the American Revolution (Beautiful Creatures)

Common CharacteristicsUse proper manner of speaking, dress neatly, keep a tidy house, follow a predictable schedule, are aware of the perception of others, firm disciplinarians, often heard quoting the whys and wherefores of propriety (age-old sayings, Bible verses, quotes from literature and famous figures in history, etc.).

Clichés to AvoidThe proper woman married to a beaten-down, lazy man. The hypocritical Proper, following the rules in one area of life and serving himself in another. 

Twists on the Traditional Proper Character:

  • Since propers characters are often portrayed negatively, make their motivations pure.
  • Give your proper character a disgusting or unnerving habit that seems completely appropriate to her.
  • Instead of mixing things up by throwing an improper character into proper society, drop your character into a society that doesn’t value such things. Let the character cause a positive shake-up, for a change.

Build a worthy protagonist with a mix of unique strengths that will help him overcome obstacles and achieve meaningful goals.

This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded into book form. Together, the bestselling NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 traits for you to choose from when creating memorable, compelling characters. Each entry contains possible causes for the trait, as well as positive and negative aspects, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and associated behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. For more information on this bestselling book and where it can be found, please visit our bookstore.

Love working online and having your favorite description resources in one place? We’ve got you covered. The entries from the Positive Trait Thesaurus book have been integrated into our online library at One Stop For Writers. Now you can search and cross-reference between all our thesaurus collections quickly and easily. Interested in viewing a free sample? Register at One Stop and see all that this intuitive library for writers has to offer.

Thesaurus Pair


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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6 years ago

Every time I hit the entry for “reckless” I get sent to “proper”. Perhaps there is a broken link…


6 years ago
Reply to  Christine

Thanks for letting us know, Christine–we’ve fixed it now! 🙂

9 years ago

I think it was a good choice! 🙂

Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

It is the Captain. I thought it would work because he’s very proper, but he also wasn’t a yes-man, by any means. I thought of Mary Poppins too, because she was proper, but she was also very untraditional. This trait was interesting because there seem to be a lot of different proper characters out there.

9 years ago

Hey, that picture is of the Captain from The Sound of Music, isn’t it?

9 years ago

Just what I needed to spruce up a character I’ve been working on. Thanks of the info!!

Mary Witzl
9 years ago

So few people are every purely proper. I personally like the idea of a clumsy Proper.

I’m a big fan of James Herriot’s vet memoirs. He had a wonderful story about a very proper woman cursed with a farting dog, which Susan’s comment made me remember.

Kelly Hashway
9 years ago

Okay, I just read Susan’s comment and I completely forgot what I wanted to say because I’m laughing so hard. That’s just too funny!

9 years ago

Ahhhhhh, I got so many Shiny New Ideas from this!!! 🙂 Not sure if that’s good or bad. 🙂

9 years ago

Very common when you want to demonstrate a clash of cultures or generations.

Susan Flett Swiderski
9 years ago

I think it would be absolutely hysterical to give a Proper a serious case of flatulence…