Character Trait Entry: Loyal

Definition: unswerving in allegiance

Causes: having experienced loyalty in the past and valuing it; having experience betrayal and wanting no part of it; love; a strict military or religious background where blind loyalty is expected and rewarded; a belief that the person, institution, or ideal espoused is more important than self

Characters in Literature: Sam Gamgee (Lord of the Rings), Lloyd Henreid (The Stand), Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Positives: Most people value loyalty as a character trait. As such, a character who espouses this value will gain respect from the reader. Loyalty will lead people to do things they normally wouldn't do, and provides a means through which to advance your plot. The beauty of loyalty as a trait is that it can be paired with so many other qualities, giving you an endless array of choices for your loyal character (the wise or foolish Loyal, the proud or humble Loyal, the miserable or happy-go-lucky Loyal)

Negatives: Blind loyalty can lead a person to back someone even when they don't agree with them. When truth is on the line, this can damage a person's credibility. Loyals can take the idea so far that their loyalty overrides their ability to think for themselves. They take on the ideals and beliefs of the person they support, and lose their sense of self.

Common Portrayals: soldiers, yes-men in the business world, cult members, best friends, the mafia

Cliches to Avoid: comparing someone's loyalty to that of a dog, kissing the ring as a pledge of loyalty, criminals who choose prison or death rather than rather than rolling over on an accomplice

Twists on the Traditional Loyal:  

  • Instead of blind loyalty, show the conflict of a truly loyal person torn between supporting the one they love and adhering to another valued ideal (the truth, the law, another important relationship)
  • Loyals tend to attract other loyals. Make life difficult for your character by pairing him with someone who does not value loyalty, or someone who is equally loyal to an opposing person or ideal. 
  • How about a loyal character who has another, equally strong character trait that makes it difficult for him to be loyal? (see below)
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Loyalist unique or more interesting: greedy, selfish, independent, doubtful


Natalie Aguirre said...

Great choice of Sam as the ultimate loyal character. Your suggestions on twists are really helpful. Thanks.

Angela Ackerman said...

Great twists with this one, Becca! I could see a ton of conflict arising with each of them. :)


Julie Musil said...

What an excellent post. I appreciate loyalty in real AND fictional people.

Jennifer Lane said...

I never considered before how a military background would contribute to a character's loyalty. I wrote about a former Navy lieutenant whose brother was a Mafia thug, and my character really struggled with his loyalty to his values vs. his brother. Great post!

Martha Ramirez said...

Awesome, Becca! I'm brainstorming for my next project so it's great to see all the character traits you guys come up with.

Thank you!

ralfast said...

See now, you can't keep doing this thing, with the great posts that make me write posts of my own expanding on already an excellent post.

Not fair!


Karen Lange said... always! Thanks so much! :)

Bethany Elizabeth said...

This is such a great post. Loyalty is one of my favorite traits, mainly because there are so many heart-wrenching events that can happen because of it.

CP Design said...

Ah Sam, the epitome of loyal. How did you know I needed this post? The book I'm editing has an extremely loyal character in it and this will help me so much!

Kelly Hashway said...

Very true! Loyalty does make characters do things they normally wouldn't and that makes for good reading.

Traci Kenworth said...

I so love your choice for this.
Samwise was a hero in his own right
and if it hadn't been for his loyalty
well, the ring would never have been
thrown into the pit. Loyalty is a
worthwhile trait to have on board in
any story.Sometimes it lights the way
in the story.

ralfast said...

Character Trait Entry: Loyal is now The Sunday Tweet! :D

stacistallings said...

Another loyal character with extreme conflict because of it would be Tristan from Tristan and Isolde. The scene in the dungeon gets me every time!

Angela said...

I agree with you about blindly loyal is always a nice twist when the loyal character (usually the best friend) has a personal conflict with his / her loyalty to the MC.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

You can't be anymore loyal than Sam.

Love this list. I'm going to be using this character trait for my new project.

Jan Markley said...

I value loyalty but sometimes I'm too loyal! Internal conflict? I think so!

Alexander said...

Interesting post!! I really like this site, and hope you will write more, thanks for your information.

Leslie Rose said...

I love a story where the loyalty comes from the heart instead of pure duty. Sam's speech to Frodo about how they will be remembered in tales always brings me to tears. It's an anthem to loyalty.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

*sigh* Sam is the PERFECT character to represent loyalty!! :-)


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