Before I proceed, I want to throw out a big, fat disclaimer. I am by no means trying to argue that I can do no wrong when it comes to my characters and how I portray them. Writing is something I've been doing since I could hold a pencil, but I know for a fact that I will never stop learning about it, no matter how many novels I read or write. So please don't take this as a defensive post.
Now, down to it.
One of the reactions that most perplexes me is when someone says, "This character is too nice." Of course some of this boils down to taste. The character doesn't work for that reader, and that's perfectly valid. I've been known to think this about some characters. Maybe what we really mean is the character is too gullible or too naive or too passive, but we use the word "nice" as a blanket description. But criticizing characters for being too nice makes me worry that maybe society is a bit jaded. I find it especially worrisome when caring, supportive male love interests are deemed unrealistic. What?
Granted, evil characters and characters with an edge are interesting--to me too. If they're done well, they can be a lot of fun to read about, especially because they can provoke such strong reactions. When I'm reading a book, I want to be invested in the story, and I want to feel actual emotions. Unsavory characters are very good at creating a strong reaction, so I'm not undermining their value.
But I don't get why that means nice characters are no good. When nice characters are done well, they can have just as many shades as the not nice characters. And by nice I don't mean someone who's perfect at all times. People who are nice can make stupid mistakes and do hurtful things. The difference is they know it, repent of it, and try to do better next time.
Maybe I'm an idealist, but I think niceness is a good thing and a highly desirable trait in others, particularly people with whom one might want to be friends or enter into a romantic relationship. I'm not advocating for nothing but friendly people in books, and I promise that my books will continue to include some very unfriendly, annoying, and awful characters, but I will also continue to have nice people in my books. Moreover, in my books the nice people will often win because, sadly, that's not always how it is in real life, and I'm a sucker for happy endings. But maybe if the nice people got more support, maybe if more focus was put on them than the not-nice people, niceness might prevail. And wouldn't that make the world, well, nicer?