Character Trait Entry: Responsible

Definition: able to answer for one’s conduct and obligations; accountable

Characters in Literature:  Rand al’Thor (The Wheel of Time); Tess Smith (I’m Not Her); Gandalf (Lord of The Rings)

Common Portrayals: Parents; government officials; the judicial system; teachers; bank employees; historians; business owners; clergy members; doctors, nurses and hospital staff; accountants; school principals & school counselors; psychiatrists

Clichés to Avoid: The moralizing & over protective older brother; the parent or grandparent who cites hard work and dedication builds character; the co-worker who always does more than is asked and shows everyone else up; the kid who kisses up to teachers to gain trust and responsibility only to lord it over his classmates; the stuffy, tweed-jacket wearing college professor; the stern, by-the-book police officer; having ‘the world is depending on you’ type responsibility thrust upon a character who feels unequipped to handle it

Twists on the Traditional Responsible Character:  

  • Responsibility and morality go hand in hand, but what happens when the responsible character is providing for loved ones through an immoral practice? Give us a responsible thief, or a responsible con artist, showing us the war between what is right and being a provider.
  • The conflict of responsibility and feeling unable to cope with it is a popular way to get readers to sympathize with a hero. What happens when a hero freely embraces his responsibility but still fails, and growth comes from acknowledging that he is not the type of savior others need?
  • Try the challenge of a hero who faces two types of responsibility that war with one another. What path does he take and why? What are the consequences? The closer and more moral the two types of responsibilities are, the more conflict it will create (ie: a father stopping a brutal mugging he witnesses on the way to a hospital or making it to his daughter’s bedside before she dies)

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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8 years ago

This is a great help for character building! Thanks for the tips!

Stacy Green
8 years ago

Excellent post! I’ve been struggling to nail down my male protag for the new novel, and this post has given me some great ideas.

Thanks so much!

Shannon O'Donnell
8 years ago

I can use this one for my NBF story, Angela! Woo-hoo! 🙂

peoria self storage
8 years ago

I admire your thinking so much. You exactly know where to place things.

8 years ago

AWESOME BLOG…wanted to stop back.



Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

I’m working on a wise character at
the moment as well. Thanks for the
tips on how to avoid a cliche one!!

Kelly Polark
8 years ago

Excellent post.
Whenever I hear the word responsibility, I think of a really old Burger King ( I think?) commercial with the Rug Rats in it (old cartoon). And the little kid kept saying “Sponsitility” for responsibility. 🙂

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

‘stuffy tweed-jacket-wearing college professor’ LOL. Now that’s a stereotype. Thanks for finding ways to turn this cliche around!

8 years ago

I immediately thought of Aaron Hotchner of Criminal Minds. You’ve also given me food for thought regarding a responsible character in my new toy who I have yet to flesh out completely. again, thank you!

Medeia Sharif
8 years ago

This is what I needed. One of my characters is extremely responsible, and I’m trying to avoid cliches.

Thanks for sharing this character trait.

8 years ago

This is something one of my character’s is struggling with right now in the book I’m revising. You know, it’s kind of eerie how spot on you are with your posts vs what I need to read. *shifty eyes…*

8 years ago

So important not to fall into cliches with the responsible oldest child, or the responsible glasses-wearing teen etc. Excellent summary here!

Natalie Aguirre
8 years ago

Great post and suggestions how to break out of the stereotypes for this type of character. I think it’s really hard not to fall into the stereotypes with the responsible teacher in fantasies.