Meta Monday: Goody-Goody Characters Can Work

Goody-goody characters: don’t use them, I’ve been told. For a character to work, they need flaws. But two of my favorite fictional characters have hardly any. And the flaws they do have seem (to me, at least) fairly insignificant in the scheme of things.

Poe Dameron from the Star Wars universe is the first. I could tell right from the scene above that he’s a straight up good guy: dedicated to his missions for the Resistance, brave, loyal, skilled and fun. What’s not to like? If I wanted to find a flaw, I’d maybe go with the fact that he can be impetuous . . . but, really, I’m reaching.

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens first came out, I read a lot of reviews that compared Poe to Han Solo. Well, okay. They’re both talented pilots with a cocky, smart-ass side. But I think the similarities end there. Han always does the right thing in the end, but he has gray areas that we haven’t seen in Poe yet. Poe’s determination and dedication remind me a whole lot more of Leia.

(Poe’s cockiness doesn’t seem like a flaw to me. Apparently he is as good a pilot as he thinks he is. Same goes for Han.)


Phillipa Soo as Elizabeth (Eliza) Schuyler Hamilton. (Source)

Eliza Schuyler Hamilton from the musical Hamilton (and, um, history) is another personal favorite. In the Broadway show, she has an astonishing inner strength and dignity that carries her through a betrayal and multiple tragedies. But that inner strength keeps shining, even at her lowest, as we discover that for all her sweetness and kindness, she’s not a doormat.

Honestly, I find it hard to even name a flaw for Eliza—not as she’s portrayed in the musical.

Granted, neither Poe nor Eliza have to carry an entire show. Poe doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time in The Force Awakens—though, with any luck, we’ll see a lot more of him in Episode VIII. And while Eliza has some powerful and important scenes, her (very flawed) husband Alexander remains the focus of the musical.

Is that the key? Do goody-goody characters only work in supporting roles? What do you think? Can you name goody-goody characters who really work for you—or really don’t? Have you ever tried to write one, or do you stay far away? Let me know in the comments!

Special Edit: I’ve been talking a lot with my friend Sarah about this topic. That discussion, along with this post by MLS Weech, probably inspired this post.

About Jenn Moss

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8 Responses to Meta Monday: Goody-Goody Characters Can Work

  1. I think you’re right here. It’s almost as if it’s a reminder that goody-goody characters exist, that there is some kind of perfection to reach towards, but your main focus is always going to be on a flawed character.
    It’s hard to develop goody-goody characters too. If done well, its fantastic (read Eliza) but if not they become quite stale.
    Also, I think we want to see redemption or acceptance in our main characters. We want their flaws to remind us of our own and to see them overcome or accept them.
    A great post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      Interesting point about Eliza–yes, she does develop, I think. Her development consists of finding the capacity for forgiveness even in the midst of her grief, and later setting aside grief to throw herself into her calling.

      Poe comes into The Force Awakens already knowing his calling in life and already dedicated to it. (And, like Eliza, he starts out with basic human kindness and decency–no need to develop either.) It will be interesting to see if Episode VIII throws any challenges his way to force him to develop more. (I am kind of hoping that the rumors and speculations are true, and that Poe will be the first known queer Star Wars character in the films. But I have a feeling that different orientations are no big deal to the the Republic or the Resistance, so possibly no challenge for him there?)

      I mostly agree, too, that these characters are there, to some extant, to serve as exemplars for characters–and, um, readers and watchers–who are still struggling. (That’s the case with another goody-goody character who works: Bishop Myriel from Les Miserables.)

      But now that I think about it, MLS Weech has a post about some goody-goody characters who work as the major protagonist. He uses Superman as an example, but Captain America would work too. See his post:

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hmm, I hope not! I rather like the “good” boy character, and I see it a lot in what I read. Granted, I’m a Fantasy Romance writer instead of a Fantasy writer, so that may have something to do with it.

    I’ve always been a sucker for the “white knight” though, and while I sorta get the appeal of the “bad boy”, it’s more esoteric.

    I get that we like flawed characters. I mean, how amazingly popular is Darth Vadar? But the story doesn’t revolve around him. He makes a supporting appearance. The real story is around Han, Leia, and Luke. Of these three, two are quite good and the third at least chooses good.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jenn Moss says:

      I hear you–I like the good guys too! Absolutely. I wouldn’t want Darth for a main character. (Which might explain my problems with the prequels!)

      I’m trying to distinguish between good guys, though, and the real goody-goodies. Luke is a good guy, but he has enough flaws to allow for plenty of character growth and development.

      (For instance, Luke faces temptations from the Dark Side. And he doesn’t seem to have Leia’s stick-to-it-ness; at the beginning of the Force Awakens, he’s off presumably questioning what went wrong when he tried to train a new Jedi, instead of helping the Republic or Resistance. Leia doesn’t even know where he is. Leia, on the other hand, is probably a goody-goody character to me.)

      So I guess I see a distinction between room-for-growth and practically flawless. That’s why I’m curious to see what challenges await Poe. Since he’s so good already, how does he grow? Eliza Hamilton’s story, alas, is over, as is Bishop Myriel’s from Les Mis. So no growth for them–and that would have been crazy hard anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Quintessential Editor says:

    I’m a sucker for goody-goody characters, especially when they serve to contrast not-so-good ones. I think the goal is to drag them through the mud and show they can still maintain their arc. Another nice thing about them is they offer great opportunities for subterfuge on our part.

    I know the Marvel universe had tried to do this with Captain America…much to everyone’s horror. Trying to weave in the idea that Cap’ was a Hydra spy this whole time. Then, after they freaked out everyone, the creators changed their minds and blended in a plot device to reverse that decision.

    I like Steve Rodgers because he is goody-goody. He has had to deal with the consequences of doing the right thing, and lost a lot of friends because of those decisions. I don’t think I’m alone in this. If I was, then the collective might of fans-gone-wild wouldn’t have rocked Marvel and caused them to shift their decision to destroy his arc.


    • Jenn Moss says:

      Wow, Steve Rogers is an awesome example! A perfect goody-goody character–admirable and so easy to like and root for.

      I only watch the films; I don’t read the comics, so I only heard about the whole Hydra thing second-hand. I thought the reveal (that he was brain-washed or something, right?) was planned all along. I didn’t realize it was a result of the protests. (Bad Marvel! How could you think about twisting Captain America that way??)

      Also, I can see that as a valid test: dragging a goody-goody character through the mud, I mean, in order to challenge them to maintain their decency. (So hard to watch characters you love dragged through the mud, though–and harder to write it!)


  4. M.L.S.Weech says:

    This is my favorite part about the blogging community. I was trained to believe and trust in the marketplace of ideas. It’s a journalism term. I love it. In this case, it’s the free exchange of information and inspiration. I’m glad my blog had anything at all to do with giving you some ideas to bounce around.

    Liked by 1 person

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