Character Traits: The Tics and Tweaks to Add Spice

Having trouble getting a “hold” on your characters? Maybe you should boil them down to their essential ingredients. Their character traits may help you define them better and make their behavior more focused.

Below is a list of general traits. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, just topical, and it’s not in any specific order. What four traits best describe your character? (Although it’s possible to have more than four, your character starts to get Multiple Personality Disorder if you add too many.)

Principled

Nurturing

Energetic

Proud

Self-doubting

Self-indulgent

Authentic

Irritable

Accepting

Authoritarian

Passionate

Enthusiastic

Vain

Depressed

Dilettante

Vengeful

Generous

Orderly

Emotional

Driven

Independent

Fearful

Egalitarian

Distractable

Loyal

Stingy

Excessive

Practical

Seductive

Forceful

Cool

Suspicious

Envious

Observant

Indolent

Impulsive

After choosing the four traits, look carefully at your work and ask if each trait is apparent to the reader. Does it come through? If it does, is it over-played?

You may also want to choose carefully because many of these traits are similar, but not interchangeable. For example, someone who is principled may not necessarily be authoritarian — but an authoritarian is probably principled.

If you’re having trouble developing a character, you can latch onto one trait as a starting point. Also try to balance the good and the bad — if your character is generous and loyal, they might also be self-doubting and envious. (An interesting psychological make-up, no?)

And watch for contradictions: Would someone who is nurturing also be driven? Would someone who is orderly also be accepting? Would a proud man also be fearful?

For fun, create a mix-and-match character and see what you come up with. You may surprise yourself.

Eric Dalen
TheWritingFreak.com

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