Character Trait Entry: Responsible

Definition: able to answer for one's conduct and obligations; accountable


Situated as the eldest in birth order, or being an older child to whom parental child-minding duties for younger siblings are passed onto; being placed into a situation where others' needs and or survival is dependent on one's actions; an acute sense of right/wrong; gratitude for one's own circumstances or abilities to the point where moral obligation compels one to take care of others; a strong patriotic sense of family, community and country; growing up surrounded by strict rules and expectations; being raised under a bower of legacy expectation (such as belonging to the royal family; having parents who are influential government figures or even having a family-run business [store, corporation or farm] to care for and one day run)

Characters in Literature:  Rand al'Thor (The Wheel of Time); Tess Smith (I'm Not Her); Gandalf (Lord of The Rings)


Responsible characters are the Go-To people when the chips are down. This type works hard to provide what is needed and can be trusted by others. This trait is strongly tied to morality, so no matter what else is going on, Responsibles will do what needs to be done in order to satisfy priorities. This character type will go without, sacrifice, and put others before themselves if it is for the 'greater good'. Responsible types are extremely loyal to those within their circle, be it family, friends, a community or a company they work for. They can be relied on to take their commitments seriously, and as such, make ideal leaders, caregivers and mates.


Characters with this trait have it so ingrained that sometimes they are unable to let go of seriousness and have fun. It can be hard to shut off one's responsible nature, so guiding, parenting and moralizing is sometimes done without thought. This is not always appreciated by others, especially when frivolity or rule-breaking activities are involved. As such, Responsibles can find themselves excluded, or even vilified by people looking to stretch boundaries and find their own way. Younger people especially may see others with this trait as being boring and overly serious, not seeing the value until trouble arises and they need help.

Common Portrayals:

Parents; government officials; the judicial system; teachers; bank employees; historians; business owners; clergy members; doctors, nurses and hospital staff; accountants; school principals & school counselors; psychiatrists

Cliches to Avoid:   

The moralizing & over protective older brother; the parent or grandparent who cites hard work and dedication builds character; the co-worker who always does more than is asked and shows everyone else up; the kid who kisses up to teachers to gain trust and responsibility only to lord it over his classmates; the stuffy, tweed-jacket wearing college professor; the stern, by-the-book police officer; having 'the world is depending on you' type responsibility thrust upon a character who feels unequipped to handle it

Twists on the Traditional Responsible:  
  • Responsibility and morality go hand in hand, but what happens when the responsible character is providing for loved ones through an immoral practice? Give us a responsible thief, or a responsible con artist, showing us the war between what is right and being a provider.  
  • The conflict of responsibility and feeling unable to cope with it is a popular way to get readers to sympathize with a hero. What happens when a hero freely embraces his responsibility but still fails, and growth comes from acknowledging that he is not the type of savior others need?
  • Try the challenge of a hero who faces two types of responsibility that war with one another. What path does he take and why? What are the consequences? The closer and more moral the two types of responsibilities are, the more conflict it will create (ie: a father stopping a brutal mugging he witnesses on the way to a hospital or making it to his daughter's bedside before she dies)

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Responsible unique or more interesting: Free-spirited; Impulsive; reckless; Friendly; Witty; Shy


Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post and suggestions how to break out of the stereotypes for this type of character. I think it's really hard not to fall into the stereotypes with the responsible teacher in fantasies.

KarenG said...

So important not to fall into cliches with the responsible oldest child, or the responsible glasses-wearing teen etc. Excellent summary here!

Heather said...

This is something one of my character's is struggling with right now in the book I'm revising. You know, it's kind of eerie how spot on you are with your posts vs what I need to read. *shifty eyes...*

Medeia Sharif said...

This is what I needed. One of my characters is extremely responsible, and I'm trying to avoid cliches.

Thanks for sharing this character trait.

mshatch said...

I immediately thought of Aaron Hotchner of Criminal Minds. You've also given me food for thought regarding a responsible character in my new toy who I have yet to flesh out completely. again, thank you!

Becca Puglisi said...

'stuffy tweed-jacket-wearing college professor' LOL. Now that's a stereotype. Thanks for finding ways to turn this cliche around!

Kelly Polark said...

Excellent post.
Whenever I hear the word responsibility, I think of a really old Burger King ( I think?) commercial with the Rug Rats in it (old cartoon). And the little kid kept saying "Sponsitility" for responsibility. :)

Traci Kenworth said...

I'm working on a wise character at
the moment as well. Thanks for the
tips on how to avoid a cliche one!!

Elizabeth said...

AWESOME BLOG...wanted to stop back.



peoria self storage said...

I admire your thinking so much. You exactly know where to place things.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I can use this one for my NBF story, Angela! Woo-hoo! :-)

Stacy Green said...

Excellent post! I've been struggling to nail down my male protag for the new novel, and this post has given me some great ideas.

Thanks so much!

thoughtsonplot said...

This is a great help for character building! Thanks for the tips!


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