Yesterday I talked about character flaws. Today I’ll talk about character virtues.
While a character can have any number of virtues, there are a few that are nearly universally essential. These break down into two categories: Capability and Good-Guyness.
If your character is capable, he can get things done. The main virtues in this category are:
- courage (the character acts, even when scared)
- cleverness (the character can figure out what he should do), and
- a sense of responsibility (the character doesn’t look for somebody to pass the buck to).
Your character may have a hard edge and some serious character flaws, but the reader has the sense that, deep down, he’s just a good guy. For me, for me, is comprised of two things:
- fair-mindedness (the character judges all others equally–though not necessarily kindly or respectfully)
- compassion for the weak (the character will not stand for seeing the little guy beaten down)
It’s important to note that the reader judges fair-mindedness by her own standards, not those of the world the character lives in. Even if you’re writing about a very racist society, your beloved main character can’t be racist–not unless he begins to see some inkling that this way of life is wrong.
There are exceptions to everything, of course, and each of these qualities has a well-known and much-beloved character who lacks it. But, in general, I believe these virtues are the cornerstone to building a character readers can love.