Character Trait Entry: Wise

Definition: characterized by wisdom; marked by keen understanding and discernment

Characters in Literature and Popular Culture: Yoda, Gandalf, Charlotte (Charlotte’s Web)

Common Portrayals: wizards, mentors, teachers, coaches, judges, therapists, the elderly

Clichés to Avoid: the wise hermit living on the outskirts of society because he can no longer stand to live among humans; the kindly grandfather or grandmother; the crackpot wise person

Twists on the Traditional Wise Character: 

▪ Because these characters are so often right, they’re sometimes cast as being perfect and never making mistakes. Make sure your wise person has some flaws.

▪ There’s nothing more boring than a character who always makes the right decisions. To make him more likable, give your character some quirks or goofy habits. Even better, make him a person who knows the right thing to do but who struggles to do it.

▪ Wise characters are supposed to have all the answers, but part of wisdom lies i knowing when you’re out-matched. Limit your wise character’s knowledge. Don’t make him or her omniscient.

▪ Age isn’t a requirement for wisdom. To switch things up, choose a child or teen to mentor an older hero in need of guidance.

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.

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Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Dawn Simon
8 years ago

Ooh, I especially like your twists and opposing characteristics. Excellent!

I just saw Christina’s comment, and I, too, loved seeing Charlotte up there! 🙂

Christina Lee
8 years ago

I like the opposing traits too (and admit to smiling when I saw Charlotte up there with the other two)!!

8 years ago

I loved your twists on the wise character, because without some flaws and limits to their knowledge then they’re just a little too perfect.

Robyn Campbell
8 years ago

Genius post. And Yoda was the epitome of wise yet a little flawed. Giving them something to struggle with. Excellent! This post was spot-on! *waving*

Sharon K. Mayhew
8 years ago

Wonderful post (as usual)! Even your wisest character must have flaws of some sort.

8 years ago

Nice! I love a good wise character, but I agree that if they’re always right, in control, etc., that’s just boring.

I like the tip about giving them something to struggle over – i.e. they know what’s right but struggle to accept it.

Lynda R Young
8 years ago

I particular like the tip on giving our wise people some flaws. It’s too easy to make them across-the-board wise.

The Golden Eagle
8 years ago

I like the idea of making a wise character outmatched–it would be interesting to see (well, write) their response.

Susan Gourley/Kelley
8 years ago

I love the wise ones. In my current series, the wise one is a bit cranky and lots of sad from past loses.

8 years ago

A wise, yet insufferable, character. Now that sounds like a lot of fun! You’ve given me a great idea. Thanks!

8 years ago

I like the idea of taking a wise character and giving them flaws and quirks, switching things up a little. It has a way of making them more endearing to the reader.

Carol Riggs
8 years ago

Great stuff! And I love Yoda. ;o) Any character shouldn’t be perfect, but especially one who is wise. Super end list for conflicting characteristics to balance out all that (possibly boring) wisdom!

Jemi Fraser
8 years ago

Yoda! Wise, you are, for displaying him! 🙂

Stina Lindenblatt
8 years ago

I love how you list opposing characteristics. This is something Donald Maass recommends doing in his workbook. You ladies make my life sooooo much easier when it comes to this. Thx.

Old Kitty
8 years ago

Hello there! Love the look of your blog – especially the scrummy wall paper. Anyway – wise and wonderful characters – if they all look and speak like Yoda then I say bring them on! LOL!!

Take care

Mary Witzl
8 years ago

I love this post. Flawed wise characters are far more interesting and sympathetic than perfect ones, just as real people are better than angels, who with one possible exception can do no wrong.

By weird coincidence, I dreamed about Confucius last night — now there was a flawed wise man.

Diane Carlisle
8 years ago

This is my threshold character that I’ve been needing to get over a serious issue in my plot! 🙂

Thank you!

Diane Carlisle
8 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Angela Ackerman
8 years ago

Great job Becca–I love this one because you so accurately look at the negatives and potential pit falls. Because wise characters are often mentors, and mentors run a huge risk of hitting a cliche or being boring, this gives us food for thought when applying this trait!

Leslie Rose
8 years ago

Yoda and Gandalf in one post! I’ve died and gone to heaven. Wise words on the wise ones. Thanks.

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

Thanks for the kind words, people. Ange and I are inspired largely by the idea of helping other writers, so this feedback tells us that we’re right on target.

8 years ago

I’d just like to say that your blog has provided an inexplicable amount of inspiration to me and my writings. You truly are a muse. 🙂

Mirka Breen
8 years ago

The wise ones are the reason I read… But you are right to caution never let them be preachy.

8 years ago

Gandalf is a good example. Plus, he tended to believe that others as wise as he would also be as good as he, which proved to be untrue.

Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

Yay!! Yoda!! I’ve taken a young girl
in my book and made her have “an old
soul,” but I’ve tried to give her all
the wistfulness of a child who misses
out on childhood things. Who longs to
be what she cannot: normal. Great

Cynthia Chapman Willis

I love wise characters. I was watching The first Lord of the Rings movie last night. Gandalf is such a great character–wise, but sometimes forgetful or vague. This little flaw really makes him come alive and I adore him all the more for being human.

Tara Tyler
8 years ago

i love the faulty characteristics to put w/a wise guy =) can totally picture him!

and ya yoda!

Sharon K Owen
8 years ago

The “wise” ones in my series of novels are the grandparents who have always been the anchors for the protags. But they are very human and (I hope) humorous.

Pk Hrezo
8 years ago

*fistbumps* for Yoda. My recent MG story has a wise mentor who is younger than the MC. She was a lot of fun to write and even more fun to trip up. 😉