Character Trait Entry: Wise

Definition: characterized by wisdom; marked by keen understanding and discernment

Causes: intense study, a thirst for knowledge and learning, many and varied life experiences, being raised in a culture that values knowledge, having not only studied others but applied their lessons to one's own life

Characters in Literature and popular culture: Yoda, Gandalf, Charlotte (Charlotte's Web)

Positives: The wise character is one who sees more than most people see. He looks farther ahead and identifies more possibilities. Wise characters are helpful to have around because of the knowledge and guidance they impart to the hero. As such, they're often cast as mentors.

Negatives: Wise characters are usually right, which makes them predictable and potentially boring. Because of their lofty and superior ways, it's easy for the wise person to look down on those around him, to have no patience for others' lack of wisdom. They can be insufferable, impatient, and self-righteous. Because of their removed status, their social skills may be somewhat lacking. They may also consider themselves to be outside the law.

Common Portrayals: wizards, mentors, teachers, coaches, judges, therapists, the elderly

Cliches to Avoid: the wise hermit living on the outskirts of society because he can no longer stand to live among humans; the kindly grandfather or grandmother; the crackpot wise person

Twists on the Traditional Wise Character: 
  • Because these characters are so often right, they're sometimes cast as being perfect and never making mistakes. Make sure your wise person has some flaws.
  • There's nothing more boring than a character who always makes the right decisions. To make him more likable, give your character some quirks or goofy habits. Even better, make him a person who knows the right thing to do but who struggles to do it.
  • Wise characters are supposed to have all the answers, but part of wisdom lies i knowing when you're out-matched. Limit your wise character's knowledge. Don't make him or her omniscient.
  • Age isn't a requirement for wisdom. To switch things up, choose a child or teen to mentor an older hero in need of guidance.

Conflicting characteristics to make your wise character unique or more interesting: impulsive, lazy, apologetic, reluctant, hyperactive, unreliable, dishonest

29 comments:

Pk Hrezo said...

*fistbumps* for Yoda. My recent MG story has a wise mentor who is younger than the MC. She was a lot of fun to write and even more fun to trip up. ;)

Sharon K Owen said...

The "wise" ones in my series of novels are the grandparents who have always been the anchors for the protags. But they are very human and (I hope) humorous.

Tara Tyler said...

i love the faulty characteristics to put w/a wise guy =) can totally picture him!

and ya yoda!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I love wise characters. I was watching The first Lord of the Rings movie last night. Gandalf is such a great character--wise, but sometimes forgetful or vague. This little flaw really makes him come alive and I adore him all the more for being human.

Traci Kenworth said...

Yay!! Yoda!! I've taken a young girl
in my book and made her have "an old
soul," but I've tried to give her all
the wistfulness of a child who misses
out on childhood things. Who longs to
be what she cannot: normal. Great
blog!!

mshatch said...

Gandalf is a good example. Plus, he tended to believe that others as wise as he would also be as good as he, which proved to be untrue.

Mirka Breen said...

The wise ones are the reason I read... But you are right to caution never let them be preachy.

JHHB said...

I'd just like to say that your blog has provided an inexplicable amount of inspiration to me and my writings. You truly are a muse. :)

Becca Puglisi said...

Thanks for the kind words, people. Ange and I are inspired largely by the idea of helping other writers, so this feedback tells us that we're right on target.

Leslie Rose said...

Yoda and Gandalf in one post! I've died and gone to heaven. Wise words on the wise ones. Thanks.

Angela Ackerman said...

Great job Becca--I love this one because you so accurately look at the negatives and potential pit falls. Because wise characters are often mentors, and mentors run a huge risk of hitting a cliche or being boring, this gives us food for thought when applying this trait!

Diane Carlisle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Diane Carlisle said...

This is my threshold character that I've been needing to get over a serious issue in my plot! :)

Thank you!

Mary Witzl said...

I love this post. Flawed wise characters are far more interesting and sympathetic than perfect ones, just as real people are better than angels, who with one possible exception can do no wrong.

By weird coincidence, I dreamed about Confucius last night -- now there was a flawed wise man.

Old Kitty said...

Hello there! Love the look of your blog - especially the scrummy wall paper. Anyway - wise and wonderful characters - if they all look and speak like Yoda then I say bring them on! LOL!!

Take care
x

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love how you list opposing characteristics. This is something Donald Maass recommends doing in his workbook. You ladies make my life sooooo much easier when it comes to this. Thx.

Jemi Fraser said...

Yoda! Wise, you are, for displaying him! :)

Carol Riggs said...

Great stuff! And I love Yoda. ;o) Any character shouldn't be perfect, but especially one who is wise. Super end list for conflicting characteristics to balance out all that (possibly boring) wisdom!

Joanne said...

I like the idea of taking a wise character and giving them flaws and quirks, switching things up a little. It has a way of making them more endearing to the reader.

Heather said...

A wise, yet insufferable, character. Now that sounds like a lot of fun! You've given me a great idea. Thanks!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I love the wise ones. In my current series, the wise one is a bit cranky and lots of sad from past loses.

The Golden Eagle said...

I like the idea of making a wise character outmatched--it would be interesting to see (well, write) their response.

Lynda R Young said...

I particular like the tip on giving our wise people some flaws. It's too easy to make them across-the-board wise.

Trisha said...

Nice! I love a good wise character, but I agree that if they're always right, in control, etc., that's just boring.

I like the tip about giving them something to struggle over - i.e. they know what's right but struggle to accept it.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wonderful post (as usual)! Even your wisest character must have flaws of some sort.

Robyn Campbell said...

Genius post. And Yoda was the epitome of wise yet a little flawed. Giving them something to struggle with. Excellent! This post was spot-on! *waving*

Patti said...

I loved your twists on the wise character, because without some flaws and limits to their knowledge then they're just a little too perfect.

Christina Lee said...

I like the opposing traits too (and admit to smiling when I saw Charlotte up there with the other two)!!

Dawn Simon said...

Ooh, I especially like your twists and opposing characteristics. Excellent!

I just saw Christina's comment, and I, too, loved seeing Charlotte up there! :)

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