What if You Love Your Characters TOO Much?

Are You Falling to the Brave/Brilliant/Beautiful Character Trap?

Just like good parents, writers are often certain their stories and characters are the cutest little thing that ever breathed. You may not carry pictures around in your wallet or brag when your baby takes his first steps before the neighbor’s kid does. But you still want everyone to understand how brilliant/brave/beautiful (you fill in the blank) your characters are.

So you make sure to tell readers, at every opportunity, about your characters’ super-awesomeness.

You know the drill: The character pauses to admire his gorgeousness in a mirror or, as in a historical mystery I just finished, is congratulated for his brilliance or bravery by another character. In this particular book, the secondary character croons that the protagonist has:

…a way of cutting to what’s true, an’ making sense of it.

The 2-Sided Problem of “Telling” Your Love for Your Character

The problem with such a declaration is two-sided.

1. It’s Repetitious

If you’ve managed to create a character that has, indeed, done something extraordinary, readers have already seen the character’s actions. If the reader already knows how wonderful the character is, he hardly needs to be told.

In fact, harping on the character’s brilliance, even if it’s true, can alienate readers because it skews the balance of strengths and weaknesses.

2. It May Be a Lie

The other pitfall of this technique is that, as in the book I read, the character really hasn’t done anything worth bragging on. As a result, when the author starts patting her “brilliant” character on the back, readers are likely to scoff in disbelief and reject the book and the character alike as unrealistic and perhaps even just plain irritating.

The best way to handle your character’s strengths is to let them speak for themselves. If she really is brilliant, brave, or beautiful, your readers should be able to grasp that through the story itself.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is your character’s most awesome trait—and how have you shown it to readers? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Great post! I think this is such good information too. It’s always better to show than tell– something I have to keep in mind while editing!

  2. Thanks heavens for second drafts! We always have time to fix the mistakes.

  3. I recently blogged on “wimpy” characters…that tends to be more of my problem.

  4. Admittedly, most readers (myself included) enjoy characters who exemplify admirable qualities, including brains and bravery, but wimpy characters can have their place, so long as the story has a good reason for including him.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great video! I’ve enjoyed watching your videos – you do a great job with them.

  6. Thanks for watching! I’m glad you’re finding them useful.

  7. I remember in one of my writing group readings when a member commented that my main character was really “a bitch.” I was thrilled. I don’t set out to write any particular character – I tend to be more plot-driven, but the thought that I had created a character that could be a bitch was really cool.

  8. Hatable characters are always as memorable (if not more so, sometimes) than lovable characters.

  9. I was quaking in my boots when I wrote one character simply because one of her handles was Battery Acid, caustic but indispensable. In short, I had to PROVE she was caustic or omit the name. Since the name is part of her characterization and a relationship that showed up on-screen, I opted to prove it.

    I was nervous as all get out until my final first reader came back with her comments and I realized I’d gotten her write. Every time I’d used the word harsh, biting, or the one mention of caustic, I was scared on whether the actions and telling matched. It was a huge validation that they did.

    ANY character trait you tell about a character has to be proved.

    • Gotten her “right.” I really AM typoing a lot today. Sorry.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, this definitely doesn’t apply just to positive traits – although readers will be more likely to end up rolling their eyes at “fantastic” characters who fall far short than they will at “cowardly/stupid/ugly” characters who aren’t as bad as they seem.

  10. Hope you don’t mind all my commenting. I’ve been bingeing on your archives as must be obvious.

  11. Let the characters action speak for themselves.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Nothing wrong with occasionally backing up their actions with confirmation, but we have to make sure the two are actually in sync.

  12. I don’t need to brag on my characters. They show you how great they are by what they do in the story. They also show how flawed they are. I wanted perfect but they refused to cooperate. As a result, I am more attached to them since they are more like me! 🙂 (flawed but working on it.)

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