A standard rule of thumb in writing fiction is that nice characters aren’t interesting. They’re boring. They’re dull. They’re the kiss of death for reader interest. Much like being “nice” is the kiss of death for arousing anyone’s romantic interest in real life (dating books equate it to being bland, dull, passive). They’re something close to Ralph Bellamy’s character in His Girl Friday, a clueless hayseed dimwit who obviously has no hope of competing against Cary Grant’s roguish protagonist.
I think I disagree. Setting aside the people who aren’t genuinely nice (which is obviously a great approach to building a character), there’s no reason nice people can’t make good, interesting characters, if they’re written well.
For example, in one of LJ Smith’s Night World books, the angsty werewolf protagonist is assigned to bodyguard a witch who is absolutely a nice person. She helps people with their homework. She’s generally helpful. She cares about other people. And after the threat from the bad guys is resolved, she finds a way to pair up her bodyguard with another werewolf she’s hot for but can’t have. Which is I think the first key to writing nice characters. Make them active. Have them actively help people, not just sit around being smiling and happy.
•Give them something to do besides be nice. They’re nuts for Bollywood films. Or Lovecraft’s fiction. Or quantum physics. Nice is more interesting if it’s one of their defining traits, not the only one.
•Nice doesn’t mean being a doormat.
•Nice doesn’t mean lack of passion.
In short, you write nice characters like any other characters. Make them rounded, make them interesting.
In Famine where Abundance Lies I think Helen qualifies as a nice character. She’s honest, happily married, a Christian who walks the walk. But she’s also coping with an insane job in IT, intense demands and an overbearing boss (plus the supernatural). I think she qualifies — we’ll see what happens as the story goes out (I’m currently rewriting it).
Nice! It doesn’t have to be the kiss of death.