Character Traits Thesaurus Entry: Ambitious

Definition: having a desire to achieve a particular goal

 Characters in Literature: Dr. Frankenstein, Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo), Laura Ingalls  **note: Does anyone else find the kidlit world short on ambitious characters? Why is it so hard to find ambitious teens and children in our books? 

 Common Portrayals: CEOs, activists working toward a goal that will improve some aspect of society, musicians/actors/artists, teens striving for popularity, students, stage moms, athletic coaches

 Clichés to Avoid: the slave-driving boss with unrealistic demands and no concern for those in his employ, teen girls clawing their way up the popularity ladder, the high-strung student going to extreme measures to get into a certain college, the ambitious character who flings ethics aside to achieve his goal only to turn his back on success when he realizes what’s really important in life

Twists on the traditional ambitious character: 

  • Many main characters are ambitious, and their stories focus on the pressure they exert on themselves and others. But what about a ‘normal’ main character with an ambitious sister or teacher or grandmother? External pressure makes for a very different story.
  • Instead of using the usual roles (CEO, rock star), put your ambitious character in a position that makes it harder to achieve success (blue-collar worker, homeless teen, mental patient).
  • Think outside the stereotypical boxes. Female CEOs, male fashion designers, children and teens who change the world

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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Adam Collings
8 years ago

Cool. This is very useful. I think the main character in my novel manuscript is ambitious but insecure. That helps clarify some things.

9 years ago

Awesome post! I seem to have some of these ambitious traits when it comes to school (I’m really high-strung about my grades). Lol. Should I be worried? 🙂

Matthew MacNish
9 years ago

Ambition, and ambitiousness, has always had a negative connotation for me, but that’s ridiculous. As you point out here, ambition by itself can be a great thing. It’s over-ambition that I’m always thinking of when I get annoyed by it.

And you make a good point about few ambitious characters in KidLit. Thanks, Becca!

Jeff King
9 years ago

Yes, i love the pic… and the post as well!!


Carrie Butler
9 years ago

A great post, as always, but that picture really steals the show. What an adorable way to show ambition! 🙂

9 years ago

Great information, Becca. Thanks for sharing!!

9 years ago

I never thought of myself as the ambitious type, but now I see we all have a bit of ambition (some more than others) in us. It’s the drive to succeed despite negativity around us in writing. Hmmm, now how to pull off the coup remains individual for each of us. Great column!!

9 years ago

Great job Becca! This is a great addition.

With Angela about the picture, I can remember when my girls were young and would try the same thing 🙂

9 years ago

What a great picture to accompany this post. It put a huge smile on my face this morning. Thanks for that!
And the thesaurus entry is fab as usual. Your entries are so helpful when my creative juices a need a good jump start.

Angie Cothran
9 years ago

LOVE the picture! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge 🙂

9 years ago

Thanks for this post on goal driven characters, I liked that you note these types are missing from the kidlit world.

I’m working on novels based on a 12-year-old girl who is driven to rescue animals and to help her grandmother, a dog behaviorist, socialize and re-home dogs. Of course, the girl gets herself and friends into tons of trouble, while saving lives.

Michelle Gregory
9 years ago

super. another trait that will help me with my main character. and i’m playing him against a shy, sensitive love interest. i figure by the time i get around to working on my wip again, you’ll have covered most of the traits.

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

Great job on this one Becca. And man, that picture says it all, doesn’t it?