I have a character for whom three of their most prominent traits are meant to be their kindness/high degree of empathy, social awkwardness/obliviousness to social cues, and overall introversion. I am trying to show, not tell, that they are supposed to be kind, but I am running into difficulty doing that because of the other two personality traits. Most of the time, I have noticed that authors who wish for their characters to be interpreted as kind do this through displaying a character's behavior in social interactions, either through extroverted individuals being publicly nice and supportive of others or for more introverted individuals being supportive privately when no one is looking (i.e., showing them being nice to/protective of strangers).

That doesn't really work for this character. They are rather anti-social, shy, and don't like to be around large groups of unfamiliar people, and while they do like to spend time with people they care about they often prefer to go off on their own than try to socialize. Therefore, they have fewer opportunities to display kindness/empathy or are less likely to be present when a situation does arise that would demonstrate this trait (i.e., assisting someone who needs help). Additionally, because of their social awkwardness and general obliviousness to social cues they might not notice if something is wrong or someone needs help even if they would care if they did notice, or have enough confidence to act.

The character does display kindness to the people they are close to, demonstrating through their actions that they care about the well-being of their friends and family, show concern over the emotional state of others, and in some cases come off as desperate to please them. However, I've noticed this doesn't seem to make them come off as notably kind compared to anyone else, especially when in public their demeanor often comes across as icy and when their buttons are pressed they can be nasty and brutal (which is intended to be a character flaw), which seem to "cancel out" any otherwise empathetic behavior. They come across as "mostly nasty with a kind side" rather than "mostly kind with an occasional nasty side they don't like to acknowledge". The issue is that while "kind", "shy", and "socially awkward/oblivious" aren't contradictory personality traits, they latter two can easily mask the first in a way that makes it hard for the reader to pick up on.

The only other way I have noticed authors display a character's kindness is to show the character is kind to animals. While it fits with this character's personality, it also feels like a rather brazenly unsubtle attempt at gaining audience sympathy.

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    Do other people speak kindly of him? If he's eating dinner out with acquaintances and find he's lost his wallet, do the other people cover the check for him?
    – NomadMaker
    Apr 6, 2020 at 21:57

3 Answers 3


Perhaps the way to show kindness is to perform hidden acts of goodness. He gets up early to shovel the snow for someone who would have difficulties with shoveling, but shies away from any kind of recognition for the act. Or he comes over to fix the plumbing (etc.) with the minimum of conversation. Or he cleans ups the park after a storm before the others can get organized.

I am not sure that these acts are exactly kindness but these are good deeds and that may be enough to establish the goodness/kindness of the character. Perhaps a private smile of accomplishment after the act is complete. That is, he does these things out of pleasure rather than duty.


I think your character needs something you haven't mentioned, an existing 'wound' – life experience has taught them it is not ok to be so demonstrative. This 'wound' doesn't need to be melodramatic or freudian, but they know often acts of kindness don't go in the direction they intended, or lead to unwanted consequences. They have learned to avoid irritating the wound – in story terms you don't emphasize the character's handicap, instead you show them getting around with a crutch. You leave the actual 'wound' to be filled in by the reader's imagination.

From your character description, you can justify their hesitation to demonstrate kindness is linked to their social awkwardness. There's no awkwardness about helping a kitten, and there are no social obligations after random acts of kindness to strangers. Their instinct is to rush to help everyone, but experience has taught that it's better ('normal') to stifle this instinct. Those social defenses are like a dam holding back a flood.

Rather than hide it, you might fix the character by showing us the opposite. Take every opportunity to wear their heart on their sleeve, to cry at movies, save all the kittens, and carry groceries for elderly people (but dodge the tip). They've found ways to release this urge, but they've learned to lock it down or things get awkward. Helping people isn't the problem so they've learned to work around the existing 'wound'. It's second nature now so they may not even be conscious of it.

Lots of superheroes have secret identities, maybe that's why? But it's exhausting to pretend to be something you're not, ergo it feeds into their introversion and social isolation. The key is not to have random Save the Cat moments that seem out of character, but instead to show them constantly committing acts of kindness and then covering it up (even denying it) to avoid the inevitable awkwardness.


Oblivious to social norms kind of makes it hard for them the know they should even act to be kind here. I suppose its about how oblivious they are ? Oblivious to holidays fine, oblivious to suggestive language like you being passive aggressive that so and so won't spend time with you can really harm your life with someone in the long run but if they can't figure out saying "hi" or a "how are you?" doesn't mean divulge your life story here to the rando who asked thats bad.

They have to have some idea of what is acceptable in polite society and at least be willing to mimic it to fit in. Unless its a hit you in the face is what allows this person to understand they crossed a social boundary or thirty.

If someone falls down or drops their stuff will so and so stop to help them? If they are too oblivious to social norms then no they won't. They'll shrug when called out and go, "But no one told me to help!"

So let's say they are a bit oblivious to minor things that won't hurt themselves or their relationships like they don't know or care about holidays but while they really can't remember birthdays they do write it down so they can seem like they did to others they actually care about so they can buy them stuff and be there.

If your person saw a person begging would they (A) go get them food and $20 to hand through the window of their car with a, "good luck buddy" or would they (B) give them the change inside their car or pocket or (C) do nothing, say nothing?

If your person noticed someone wobbling would they (A) stop and stare with intent to help if this turned into a fall? (B) Stop, pause, notice the wobbling strange walk but move on, or (C) not notice?

If your character was broke or lost unemployment and had no future prospects of money coming in only of it going out and could really use money they are in the red finically and while walking one day a person oblivious to their surroundings drops a $50 out of their pocket in the street all you character needs to do is scoop it up and pocket it. They can clearly see its a $50 and they desperately need that money will they (A) pick it up and keep it? With minor or no guilt (B) pick it up run up to the oblivious dropper and given them their money back with an explanation of, "Hey you dropped this?" loosing their ability to pay a bill with the loss of the money.

Your empathy for others will move you when needed the social awkwardness will recede and you can go do the thing of kindness, especially kindness with no reward. The awkwardness doesn't shut you down if you've gone into adult hood its just you feel different a bit from others.

The empathy is double edged sword you feel for villains in your life unable to hate them even if they deserve it and you also feel it for randos who tell you about their health problems on the street you will stand and listen despite you have things to do!

Empathy can cause you to cry as others are crying if you have to handle their issue in customer service, empathy allows you to feel what others feel good or bad and in some cases take it into yourself unwillingly.

Empathy doesn't stop nice or kind, social awkwardness doesn't stop nice or kind, introversion doesn't even stop this it might however pause you longer but if you have a role model who demonstrates this is the right thing to do now! you will follow, and next time a similar event shows you will remember them and do what needs to be done. None of the traits you have listed stops kindness what does stop kindness is continuing to give it to bullies and those who do not thank you but mostly the former.

If you help someone without want of reward and they tease or belittle you it wounds you harshly inside so you won't help them again unless you have some type of trauma bound to that person and you think if I help one more time maybe then but thats a searching behavior in this case your character wants something the bully isn't giving and they may not know what that something is but their subconscious thinks that person is the one to provide it.

If this character however is looking for something the bully can provide emotionally or reaffirmation wise then if they feel say pressured to aid this will only occur a few more times if they are not given the thanks or at least not be stricken they won't help again or will think long and hard about it they aren't mosaicist here when you wound someone with the traits you described it hurts to the core and they won't put up with it they'll just walk way if help to that person is required. Days can be spent ruminating on the pain that person caused going over the situation again and again with them playing the role of the victor or the situation fixer but in time this goes away.

Someone who is empathetic, introverted, and socially awkward (in some limited ways) already has kindness installed as they come pre wired to feel and relate to others. If you don't personally have these qualities yourself just think of situations and that character to help find he scenes you want to show.

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