Definition: the mindset of giving; inclination to offer help and lift another’s spirit
Characters in Literature: Diana Barry (Anne of Green Gables); Mr. & Mrs. Weasley (Harry Potter); Peeta (The Hunger Games); Juliette & Adam (Shatter Me)
Common Portrayals: Grandparents, the elderly, nurses and heath care personnel, counselors, mothers, women
Clichés to Avoid: The cookie-baking grandmother; kindness paired with ‘demure & submissive’
Twists on the Traditional Kindly Character:
- Kindness is a very likable trait, especially when it belongs to a male. Show us more kind, REALISTIC male characters (but don’t go overboard as masculinity must always factor in).
- The most powerful kindness comes when the person giving it has every right and reason not to be kind. This requires strong characterization & character motivation to make it work, but when it does? Magic.
- Kindness is often paired with ‘soft’ positive traits that are in a similar range (friendliness, generosity, caring, etc). What better way for kindness to stand out than by pulling some darker or discordant traits (such as the ones listed below?)
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.
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.
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Traci Kenworth says
An unusual trait to put to story use, but a blessing to us all in real life. I mean unusual in that I have seen it done to death in kindly grandparent role. I like your examples to get away from that.
Sharon K. Mayhew says
Great tips on kindness. One thing I enjoy when I am reading is a character that appears to be rough and gruff, but slowly a kind streak sneaks out of them.
Angela Ackerman says
Hi FunTo–YOu hit the nail on the head–a grandmother who bakes cookies is fine as long as her character had depth. If her cookie baking is but one thing about her, great. But if the author relies only on this to characterize her, then she becomes flat.
Elise and Lee, I absolutely agree. Pulling in multiple traits, especially those that are often NOT paired together creates complexity and the result is a well rounded and fascinating character!
Thanks everyone for the comments! Happy writing!
I’m drawn to kind characters, but it’s good to see their not so kind side, too. Characters without flaws are terribly flat. I like your “Conflicting” approach here. Very clear and helpful.
I want to learn writing and I find your post very helpful. I am very glad that I found you.
Elise Shedd says
This was great post on adding more dimension and depth to the kind characters in one’s story. Kindness is just a quality in people but that doesn’t mean that person can’t have issues, problems or challenges. Books that are written today need to have characters that reflect a real person with real qualities. A kind person with no flaws or hangups wouldn’t be realistic to the reader to relate to unless its a fairytale.
Leslie S. Rose says
I go straight to Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind for kind. I wanted to grow up and be just like her, sadly I’m more like Scarlett. Oops.
Thanks for this Angela! Quite uselful. I actually recently read a book with the cookie-baking grandmother cliché and surprisingly enough it worked well. And a huge part of the novel was focused on the grandmother yet the author managed to pull it off.
Angela Ackerman says
Shelly, I hope you are super happy with the book. Thanks everyone for the great comments! 🙂
Angela Ackerman says
Thanks so much for your outlook here. First, I’m not quite sure how you inferred I meant that all females are supposed to be kind–I think we’ve all seen enough female characters in books and film (heck, in real life) to know this isn’t true, so I can’t really address that part of your comment. But for the rest, I believe you have made the assumption that I believe kindness is a female trait. I do not think this–it’s a human trait shared by both sexes. 🙂
What I’m pointing out here is that males are often influenced by male role models and are aware of society’s view of masculinity. Therefore, how they show kindness will often factor this in. That all. 🙂
Hope this clears up what I meant! This isn’t about men being macho, or that ‘real men don’t X’. It’s simply acknowledging that men and women think and act differently. 🙂
Bish Denham says
I feel a kinder gentler male character working his way into a story…
I can’t help raising an eyebrow at this line:
“Kindness is a very likable trait, especially when it belongs to a male. Show us more kind, REALISTIC male characters (but don’t go overboard as masculinity must always factor in).”
So, female characters are just expected to be kind? And too much kindness conflicts with masculinity?
And why must masculinity always factor in? It seems rather strange that we can write about aliens and dragons, but an unusually ‘feminine’ male character is pushing the limits of what is appropriate, particularly when people who defy gender norms actual exist in the real world.
Kelly Polark says
I agree with Becca. I love seeing kindness, but it needs to be written so it seen as a weakness or not exciting.
Great post!!! You are too kind to share your tips!
Becca Puglisi says
Kindness is hard because kind people are so often portrayed as weak or boring. These are great tips for making this trait work :).
N. R. Williams says
An excellent definition and one all writers should consider in character building.
Catherine A. Winn says
Another great post that helps this writer tremendously!
Susanne Drazic says
I’ve got a cookie-baking grandmother in one of my stories. Since that is a cliche, I guess I better rethink that one.
Thank you for posting this. Also, I just got The Emotion Thesaurus in the mail. Yay!
Natalie Aguirre says
Great tips on showing a kind character. I especially like the twists and other unusual characteristics to pair it with. Thanks for the tips.