(Taken in part from WriteDemon Archive)
So many narratives revolve around revenge and/or paint people who are naturally forgiving as weak doormats. Here are some ways in which you can make a character both strong and forgiving;
- Forgive, but never forget; it’s rare to see a character who can remember the past mistakes of others without holding it against them. Usually forgiving characters are periphery, not powerful, or later have this trait proven to be a great weakness as it opens them to future (avoidable) pain. Try this instead – a character who forgives the non-malicious or mistaken betrayals of trust, but keeps in mind the weaknesses of those around them. E.g. not beheading someone who got drunk and gave away key information, but simply removing them from a position where they might get sensitive information.
- Set criteria on forgiveness; no strong minded person forgives every single wrong done to them. Show that your character has self worth by asking yourself realistically what is a deal breaker for them. Will they forgive hard words said in anger, but not cheating? Will they only ever forgive if the person fully atones for their wrongdoings? Or are they a believer in the philosophy that there is no such thing as a mistake?
- Generally, not specifically, forgiving; they may have a forgiving outlook, rather than a tendency to forgive destructive individuals. Often such characters are seen to be niave and the plot will at some point reveal the point at which their “eyes are opened” to the true nature of the world. Try, instead, characters who understand and are forgiving of the situations of all people, but who don’t allow it to get in the way of what must be done. There’s no need for them to be a doormat, but why make your character bitter, angry or hateful?
I personally love this as a character trait for leaders because the ability to forgive the weaknesses and actions of others is needed (i think) in a good leader. As long as they don’t let everyone walk all over them, temper forgiveness with pragmatism, these characters can give of a really solid, wise air that some people find boring (and relate to the wise old sage) but which I reckon more protagonists need. Think of Sparrowhawk in the later of his Earthsea appearances.
Some people might find this character type harder to gain interest in as they might seem less intense. Combat this with displaying where their limits are (they must have limits), and make sure they do react when their limits are reached.
Patience and forgiveness might seem to go hand in hand, but this is not necessarily the case. Yet, once again, patience is often marked as an attribute not worthy of the main character of many books because, most likely, some people think it makes it harder to build tension when your character is level-headed, thorough, and patient. That need not be the case, however. Here’s how you can ramp up the tension;
- Put them in adverse conditions; this is the advice for all plots, of course, but I mean put them in conditions which are particularly bad for them considering their patient nature. Dealing with aggressive/invasive individuals could be a good example because when dealing with certain people patience can seem like indulgence, acceptance, or fright. Situations which require a quick response may also be a good example if your character is methodical and thorough as well as patient; it would go against their very being to make snap decisions.
- Make it key to their success; on the flip side you could make a point of putting them in very pressured situations where their patience sees them through. This might endear your character to the reader as well as the other characters.
- Show the strain; patience is not an endless well, and everyone has their limits. Be sure to show the strain that events are having on their patience and congeniality. As the cracks show the reader will feel the pressure mounting on them.
- Draw a line; as with forgiveness be sure to limit just how much your character will take.
The more measured view that a patient character provides allows for more detailed descriptions if writing through their eyes, and they really do make the best anti-heros/villains (in my opinion). Patience does not mean slow decision making, but it does mean the will to wait for the opportune moment to implement that decision.
May be perceived as boring, and may require a slower pace, but overall there are very few, I think.