Why Nice Characters Equal No Conflict

In life, we often think of likable people as nice people. But, in fiction, that’s not quite how it works. In fiction, nice characters are conflict-sucking vampires out to sap your story’s life’s blood and leave it pale and limp in your reader’s hands.

Ouch, huh?

Naturally, we’d like most of our characters to be likable, but how can we tell if we’re running the risk of making characters too nice?

An epic fantasy I read recently offered a good example of how overly nice characters can kill your book’s conflict and momentum. The book featured dozens of characters, almost all of whom were fighting on the same side—so, naturally, they were all nice to one another.

Nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, when you consider that every page of your story needs to contain conflict—either outright or foreshadowed—you realize the idea of all the characters getting along, waking up every morning with chipper attitudes, and just generally being super nice all over the place really doesn’t provide for a constant stream of conflict.

Since this particular book never characterized the alien bad guys and because the heroes rarely if ever exchanged dialogue with them, the author basically blocked off every door that might have led him to conflict.

Authors shouldn’t fear creating characters who spark against each other. Arguments should abound, even among friends. Conflict is the heart of fiction. Conflict is the reason we read—and write. Without it, we have no story—just an account of our characters’ daily lives, which, however fascinating they may be to us, will ultimately be about as interesting as someone else’s home videos to others.

Don’t fall into the no-conflict trap. Give your characters plenty of flaws, plenty of arguments, and plenty of antagonists.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever written a character who was too nice? What did you do about it? 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.

Comments

  1. These are really great points! Though I do like nice characters, having a cast full of them definitely does suck the potential for conflicts out of the manuscript. And even nice characters can clash against each other if they have different goals, different ideals. 🙂

  2. Sometimes having nice characters erupt into conflict situations can be a blast – like the nice little old lady who suddenly who loses her temper and starts shaking her spoon in people’s noses.

  3. Oh this is an epic video…and sooo true! CONFLICT or your story dies!

    Thank you for the wonderful reminder!

    Jessica

  4. Writers just need to think of it this way: either they put conflict into their stories, or they’ll end up with plenty in their own lives from pulling out their hair and wondering why their stories aren’t working!

  5. Anonymous says

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    What do you think about the writing of the director
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  6. Thanks for stopping by! I’m not familiar enough with Tarantino’s work to offer an opinion. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of his movies all the way through.

  7. Ooh sometimes a “too nice” character that I have trouble with. Someone posted earlier that having a too nice character is like watching someone’s home movies…and they are right! I’ve had more interesting things happen when I’m reading a character that has something odd, dysfunctional, or “mean” about them.

    Maybe it helps to think of your own flaws (at least, that works for me. Sometimes I worry that I’m too nice. So I have to think of all the ways I can be bitchy to add depth to that character.) 🙂 It works especially because most of my characters mirror after me in some way.

  8. That old saw says to write what you know – so writing about our own faults can often be a good place to start.

  9. I’ve found that to be true in my current work in progress. At first the story even bored me! But then I let my characters show their bad sides and the story is quite entertaining now. I’ve even laughed out loud at some of the things they’ve said and done.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      My own level of entertainment, versus boredom, is something I’ve learned to use as a gauge. I make my characters solemnly swear they’re up to no good. 😉

  10. I think there are differing levels of niceness. My Jane, for example, is nice in the sense that she can be the perfect hostess of a dinner party. She can also turn very nasty when the occasion demands, standing over a faintly smoking dead body and saying, “If it’s him or me, it’s him.”

    What is more interesting is the complexity of her relationship with her long-suffering CO. This can be summed up as, “I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to do, that way you don’t have to order me not to do it, and leaving me having to disobey a direct order.”

    To my mind complexity is the foil to niceness. Simply making a character less nice to stop them being boring is not as interesting as giving them more layers.

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