In this paper I investigate the usability of the characteristic functions for the description of the dynamics of open quantum systems focussing on non-Lindblad-type master equations. I consider, as an example, a non-Markovian generalized master equation containing a memory kernel which may lead to nonphysical time evolutions characterized by negative values of the density matrix diagonal elements [ S. M. Barnett and S. Stenholm Phys. Rev. A 64 033808 (2001)]. The main result of the paper is to demonstrate that there exist situations in which the symmetrically ordered characteristic function is perfectly well-defined while the corresponding density matrix loses positivity. Therefore, nonphysical situations may not show up in the characteristic function. As a consequence, the characteristic function cannot be considered an alternative complete description of the non-Lindblad dynamics.