Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
April 3, 2024

Ways to Know Your Characters, Part 4- Strengths

by Ellen Buikema

A character's strengths and flaws are an important part of who they are. Well-rounded character need both. These qualities make a character unique and can have a major impact on the story.

It's important to find the balance between a character's strengths and flaws. Flawless characters may seem unrealistic and unrelatable, while characters who are too flawed can be hard to connect with.

Strengths are a character's positive qualities–not just things they’re good at. Also, strengths can help a character achieve their goals and overcome challenges. I think of strengths as a form of intellectual and emotional intelligence. Having a strong set of strengths can make a character more relatable.

When developing characters, consider these 24 cross-cultural strengths.


Courageous characters have emotional strengths that allow them to achieve goals despite the oppositions they may face—whether an inner struggle or an external one.

The character strengths related with courage are:

  • Honesty: Speaking truth, genuine, characters take responsibility for their actions and feelings. Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Bravery: Accepting challenges, difficulties, or pain, not running from threats. Matilda in Roald Dahl’s Matilda
    • Physical bravery (public servants of all kinds) Psychological bravery (facing self-painful aspects)
    • Moral bravery (speaking up for what's right, even if it's an unpopular opinion)
  • Persistence: Doggedly, completing things once they’re started. Forrest in Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump
  • Zest: Facing life headlong with energy and excitement. Ted in Stockman and Cogniglio’s Ted Lasso


Characters who are strong in their own humanity have a variety of interpersonal character strengths that involve caring for and making friends. Humanity describes strengths displayed as caring relationships with others.

These character strengths are:

  • Kindness: Doing good deeds and favors without expectations. Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series.
    • Moral reasoning
    • Empathy/sympathy
    • Social responsibility
  • Love: Valuing close relationships. Levi in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl
  • Social intelligence: Being aware of other people's motives and feelings. Eleanor Oliphant from Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman


Characters who are strong in justice usually have civic strengths that emphasize the importance of a well-balanced community. Justice describes strengths to help connect in group-based situations.

The character strengths in the justice group are:

  • Fairness: Treating all people the same, free of personal bias. Fairness involves two types of reasoning—Justice and Care. Grace in Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
    • Justice reasoning stresses logic and weighs principles to decide moral rights and responsibilities.
    • Care reasoning includes empathy and compassion. Putting on someone else’s shoes and walking around in them a while.
  • Leadership: Organizing and supervising group activities. Ned Stark in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice
  • Teamwork: Playing well with others in a group or a team. Hermione Granger in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series


Characters who have temperance as a personal strength tend to protect against the excesses in life.

These strengths are:

  • Forgiveness: The ability to let go of the negative feelings from those who have wronged them. The art of mercy. Molly of Danny Parker’s Molly and Mae.

 Distinguish forgiveness from:

  • condoning (removing the offense)
    • forgetting (removing awareness)
    • reconciliation (restoring of the relationship)
  • Modesty: Letting one's successes and accomplishments stand on their own. Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
  • Prudence: A strength of restraint, prudence is thinking before acting. Objectively examine the potential consequences of your actions and control yourself based on that examination. Sylvester of William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
  • Self-regulation: A complex ability that helps manage habits and protects against excess, controlling needs and emotions. Severus Snape in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.


Characters strong in transcendence can connect to the universe and appreciate the possibilities in life. They commune with nature, the Divine, the universe, or religions to better understand the joy of being. Character strengths associated with transcendence are:

  • Appreciation of beauty: Notice and appreciate the beauty and wonder in all of life.
    • Physical Beauty. This may include any of the senses, producing awe in the experiencer. Lucy Honeychurch in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View
    • Talent. This is often energizing and compels a person to pursue their own goals. It inspires admiration. The blond-haired stranger in Lightning by Dean Koontz.
    • Virtue. Virtuousness makes someone want to be better and creates feelings of great joy. Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
  • Gratitude: Grateful people tend to experience positive emotions. Those emotions inspire them to be humbler, kinder. Gratitude encourages the character strengths of kindness and love and is closely associated with empathy. Professor Minerva McGonagall in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
  • Hope: Expecting the best and having a willingness to work to make it happen. An optimistic, global point of view. Maathai in Wangari Maathai’s Unbowed.
  • Humor: Humor is an important strength for social interactions, can contribute to team/friendship building, and is an invaluable way to deal with difficult situations. Mark Watney in The Martian by Andy Weir.
  • Spirituality: The belief in a higher purpose and meaning of life. As a character strength, spirituality involves the belief that there is a dimension to life beyond our understanding. Siddhartha Gautama in Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.


Characters who exhibit wisdom have character strengths that lead them to obtain knowledge and utilize it in creative and useful ways. Core wisdom character strengths are:

  • Creativity: Pondering of new ways to do things. Thinking outside-the-box to make something original, but useful. Jack Reacher in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series.
  • Curiosity: Actively seeking experiences with the intention of learning something new and interesting. Taking an interest in a wide variety of topics. Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Love of learning: Want to learn for learning’s sake. Motivated by expanding their breadth of knowledge. Hermione Granger in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Open-mindedness: Willingness to look at things from all sides. Thinking things through. Luna Lovegood in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
  • Perspective: Able to see the big picture in life. Characters that have a good grasp of perspective tend not to get wrapped up in the little problems and are good to go to for advice. Jubal T. Harshaw if Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

Final Thoughts

Having a firm grasp of characters’ strengths helps the writer know how their fictional people will act and react in the story. It’s helpful to see what makes characters unique. This understanding enables the writer to know how to help the characters use their strengths to improve their situations or outcomes as the plot goes forward.

What strengths do you use to help a character achieve their goals and overcome challenges? Is it possible for a character to have too many strengths?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works in Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and The Crystal Key, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi, a glaze of time travel.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Top Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

6 comments on “Ways to Know Your Characters, Part 4- Strengths”

  1. This is a great list to consider where the character's personality falls. Sometimes, virtues become a fault, meaning there is no flexibility in thinking. I find it's a way for a character to own their truth and look at its flipside. Do they see some of themselves in that flipside?

    I would add integrity and accountability to this list.

  2. Hi Ellen,

    What a good collection of character traits. This can help me get more depth and variety when writing my characters. Thanks!

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved