Character Traits Thesaurus Entry: Ambitious

Definition: having a desire to achieve a particular goal

Causes: confidence, passion, pride, a desire to achieve something one didn't have as a child, fear of failure, a need to prove one's self to others, ambitious parents, competition with a peer or sibling

Characters in Literature: Dr. Frankenstein, Edmond Dantes (The Count of Monte Cristo), Laura Ingalls  **note: Does anyone else find the kidlit world short on ambitious characters? Why is it so hard to find ambitious teens and children in our books? 

Positives: Ambitious people are hard-working and determined. They don't give up easily. They often are visionaries who can see amazing futures while others only see roadblocks. Ambition requires great focus and single-mindedness that enables most people with this trait to succeed at their goals.

Negatives: Those with ambition run the risk of putting their goals above everything else, including the people or priorities in life that should come first. They are so focused on their goals that they see anything short of success as failure. Many are perfectionists with unrealistic expectations for themselves or others. When ethics and 'success' clash, achieving the goal often wins out.

Common Portrayals: CEOs, activists working toward a goal that will improve some aspect of society, musicians/actors/artists, teens striving for popularity, students, stage moms, athletic coaches

Cliches to Avoid: the slave-driving boss with unrealistic demands and no concern for those in his employ, teen girls clawing their way up the popularity ladder, the high-strung student going to extreme measures to get into a certain college, the ambitious character who flings ethics aside to achieve his goal only to turn his back on success when he realizes what's really important in life

Twists on the traditional ambitious character: 
  • Many main characters are ambitious, and their stories focus on the pressure they exert on themselves and others. But what about a 'normal' main character with an ambitious sister or teacher or grandmother? External pressure makes for a very different story.
  • Instead of using the usual roles (CEO, rock star), put your ambitious character in a position that makes it harder to achieve success (blue-collar worker, homeless teen, mental patient).
  • Think outside the stereotypical boxes. Female CEOs, male fashion designers, children and teens who change the world
Conflicting characteristics to make your ambitious character unique or more interesting
sensitive, shy, apologetic, fearful, insecure, lazy, impulsive


Angela Ackerman said...

Great job on this one Becca. And man, that picture says it all, doesn't it?



Michelle Gregory said...

super. another trait that will help me with my main character. and i'm playing him against a shy, sensitive love interest. i figure by the time i get around to working on my wip again, you'll have covered most of the traits.

Deborah said...

Thanks for this post on goal driven characters, I liked that you note these types are missing from the kidlit world.

I'm working on novels based on a 12-year-old girl who is driven to rescue animals and to help her grandmother, a dog behaviorist, socialize and re-home dogs. Of course, the girl gets herself and friends into tons of trouble, while saving lives.

Angie Cothran said...

LOVE the picture! Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge :)

Kristen said...

What a great picture to accompany this post. It put a huge smile on my face this morning. Thanks for that!
And the thesaurus entry is fab as usual. Your entries are so helpful when my creative juices a need a good jump start.

genelempp said...

Great job Becca! This is a great addition.

With Angela about the picture, I can remember when my girls were young and would try the same thing :)

tracikenworth said...

I never thought of myself as the ambitious type, but now I see we all have a bit of ambition (some more than others) in us. It's the drive to succeed despite negativity around us in writing. Hmmm, now how to pull off the coup remains individual for each of us. Great column!!

Alyssia said...

Great information, Becca. Thanks for sharing!!

Carrie Butler said...

A great post, as always, but that picture really steals the show. What an adorable way to show ambition! :)

Jeff King said...

Yes, i love the pic... and the post as well!!


Matthew MacNish said...

Ambition, and ambitiousness, has always had a negative connotation for me, but that's ridiculous. As you point out here, ambition by itself can be a great thing. It's over-ambition that I'm always thinking of when I get annoyed by it.

And you make a good point about few ambitious characters in KidLit. Thanks, Becca!

Ezmirelda said...

Awesome post! I seem to have some of these ambitious traits when it comes to school (I'm really high-strung about my grades). Lol. Should I be worried? :)

Adam Collings said...

Cool. This is very useful. I think the main character in my novel manuscript is ambitious but insecure. That helps clarify some things.


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