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I would like to know what cues I can use to make a character inspirational. What are some of the traits of characters like Albus Dumbledore, Peeta Melark or Gandalf, that are quoted often in popular culture?

What is common of such characters that makes them memorable and allows many people to admire them over other characters? In other words, what can I do to ensure that certain characters are remembered in the eyes of the readers?

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Inspirational character is anyone who inspires others... And yes, that sounds like I am messing with you, but actually what I am saying is that you are thinking about it upside down.

Do not think about what makes a character inspirational. Instead create issues and conflicts for other characters that require some inspiration. Then have the "inspirational character" provide that extra cue by his own example. Do that several times along the story so that it becomes a pattern and you have successfully created an inspirational character.

And yes being an inspirational character is somewhat dependent on circumstances. It can be seen as being a bit ahead of your time compared to your peers. Alternately you can be in some way more mature than your peers.

Generally there is also a factor of not being afraid to be different so that others can easily learn from your example. So an inspirational character would generally at least look like being confident. People usually pay more attention to confident people as well. But it is possible to be only confident in silent or partial fashion. You do can be insecure about some things and inspirational about others. And the confidence can be in form of simple understated competence.

An example would be a mother who tirelessly works to raise her children. No glamour, no prestige, just simple emotional maturity of really understanding she loves her children and putting them first is not really giving up anything.

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A well-done inspirational character:

  • represents a high moral standard
  • at great cost and personal sacrifice
  • despite significant flaws and/or challenges

Here's why these three things are necessary. With no moral standard, it isn't admirable. With no cost and sacrifice, it isn't inspirational. And with no flaws or challenges, it isn't believable.

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The protagonist should have done something unexpectedly awesome or worse filled with strong/empty emotions.

E.g. The king desperately failed to save the queen.

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I like Ville's answer, but I'll add a few things:

  1. The inspirational character takes risks for the benefits of others. It can be like Gandalf who turns and tells the demon, "You shall not pass!" C'mon, that was totally bad-ass. It can be a cop that goes undercover or a doctor standing up to hospital hierarchy, etc.

  2. The inspirational character continues to hold true to their values despite great odds (and perhaps even derision amongst others close to the scene).,

  3. The inspirational character always seems to know how to get the best out of their companions.

  4. The inspirational character never gives up.

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