Writing good characters is more than just giving them a bunch of positive character traits, there should be a combination of positive and negative traits. These traits should be used to get your readers to resonate with the characters and immerse themselves in the story.
Characters should always have room for growth and improvement; your readers would love to see character development. As a result, you should never dump a chunk of positive character traits into your character’s profile and call it a day.
Strive for a balance and plan out how your character changes throughout the story, as the plot progresses.
What makes a good character?
Before we delve into the various positive character traits that you can include in your character’s profile, let’s take a look at what makes a good character.
It’s important to note that good characters are not synonymous with protagonists. Good characters are those that are written well with layers, with a couple of flaws and are dynamic.
When you build and develop your characters, keep in mind that they are not perfect to avoid writing a Mary Sue.
Mary Sues are typically defined to be characters that are flawless, seemingly perfect and are able to perform tasks without prior knowledge or skills.
It’s important to note that there are a variety of reasons to explain why Mary Sues are written, and bad writing can account for it as well.
Mary Sue: Rey (Star Wars)
An example of a Mary Sue (or at least, one that is widely debated) is Rey from the Star Wars franchise.
She seems to excel at things that she’s not been trained for (such as flying the Millennium Falcon and defeating Kylo Ren who had more experience with a lightsaber as compared to her). Rey also has her flaws (which are not as highlighted), and yet she seems to be well-liked by other characters in the films.
The reason why many believe Rey to be a Mary Sue could be alluded to the fact that she is powerful and strong...simply because. We could chalk it up to a poor planning of Rey’s character arc.
Compared to Luke Skywalker, who has his fair share of positive and negative traits (compassion and stubbornness, for instance), and experiences of failures and losses, Rey did not go through a character arc where she was given the chance to change.
Hence, it is important to choose which traits your character embodies, and which of these traits will be emphasized as the story progresses.
Remember that well-written characters are dynamic and should have both likeable and unlikable aspects to their personalities.
How Will These Character Traits Affect Your Story?
There are many positive character traits that you can add to your character’s profile, and it’s important to know which to include, and which to avoid if they won't drive your story in the direction that you want.
Your character should be dynamic and rounded by embodying these traits!
If you're aiming to write a grim and gothic horror story, it might seem a little disingenuous to have a protagonist that is extremely ditzy, optimistic and sunny. Such characters would go against the seriousness of your plot.
Alternatively, having such a character could contribute to a lot of comedy and lighten the mood of your story, if that's what you're aiming for.
Thus, when fleshing out the personalities of your characters, it is important to consider what role they'll play and how they'll affect your story.
Sometimes, it helps to come up with a character profile (such as a table where you list out the traits of your characters). This makes it easier for you to visualise your character’s arc.
Example: Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
The Hunger Games Trilogy was popular, and Katniss Everdeen was a fan favourite because she was a well-written female protagonist.
Katniss had a balance of positive and negative traits that all tied in well together from the start till the end of the series; each of them affecting her decisions and behaviour.
She is fiercely loyal, independent, resourceful, skilled and compassionate. However, she is also stubborn and hot-headed, which led to certain consequences. Katniss is ultimately a well-rounded and dynamic character.
Throughout the series, we see how the Games had impacted her, how she dealt with personal issues and those on a wider scale, while going through a realistic character development arc.
Evidently, Katniss is not a Mary Sue – she is neither perfect nor all-powerful, but she is imperfect and dynamic, which makes her a good character.
Many writers tend to build character profiles and that’s where a list of positive character traits will come in handy.
Do your research and think about how you would like to portray your character and then select the appropriate traits.
Remember that having a character profile would be useful for you to visualize your character and their development arc; and it can be easily created as well. A quick search online and thousands of templates are available.