Character Creation – Personality Traits

Great characters are not black and white, like real people, they are full of colour, full of twists and turns, failings and saving graces. Great characters are what writing stories is all about. If we can’t fall in love with the main character of a story we read, despise or fear the antagonist or swoon over our romantic leads, then we can’t believe in any of them. We loose our “suspension of disbelief”, that thread that, for a moment, takes us out of our own lives and into the lives of fictional characters, making it all seem so real, making us invested in what happens to those characters. I want to learn to create characters that we love to love and those we love to hate.

I’ve been finding that I don’t know my characters. They don’t have depth, aren’t alive to me yet, and I want to fix that. This post is largely a list of resources to work from, tricks and tools for creating believable, three-dimensional, full colour characters that will walk of the pages of your book and into the hearts and minds of your readers. These resources are about bring depth, moving past a single trait such as “ rave” and seeing the beauty and the flaws of people.

Example Characters
Elizabeth Bennet, from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, didn’t have one personality trait and she wasn’t perfect. She was smart, witty, impertinent, she is proud, feisty, protective and despairing of many of her family members. She is embarrassed by the actions of others and those actions may reflect on herself. She is beautiful, but not so beautiful as her elder sister. She is fiercely defensive of those she cares about, fiery even, but can be blinded by her own high estimation of her own ability to judge human character. She is not beyond seeing errors in her beliefs, if pointed out to her in a logical manner and will change her opinions given enough evidence and reason to do so.

As you can see, this much adored protagonist has depth, she has both positive and negative personality traits and they have a tendency to either advance or hinder her life path at various points. They are what drive the story of Pride & Prejudice.

When creating Harry Potter, J.K Rowling made him an orphan because she wanted to have a free agent, a child that could be independent of worry, about the opinion of parents. It also gave him a deep desire, a desperate longing for them. These two things gave hidden depth to her character, a base to build everything else up from. As far as his early personality goes, Harry is a little arrogant, hot-tempered, always ready for someone to take away what he has. He is stubborn and has no regard for rules or authority, he lives in his own little reality. He is a lazy student, smart but without the drive to excel, unlike Hermione. He’s also brave, loyal, determined and caring.

Good & Bad Traits
Before starting this blog post, I began to write two lists of personality traits, positive and negative. I then found that a great many of them crossed the boundaries of good and bad or had the potential to. This website mentions having tried the same thing and instead created a list of over 400 traits. It would be interesting to take one, two several traits from this list, ones that you might perceive as only being flaws or those you perceive as only being beneficial, and twisting them to be the opposite.

Apparently this list is made up of 66 moral absolutes, meaning they are most definitely  undeniably, provably only ever right or wrong… well, I doubt that is really true, since I can see right away how “Persuasiveness” can be used both positively and negatively in a character. “Faithfulness” can also have it’s up and down sides, so does Truthfulness, Obedience, or Obsession.

10 Traits
Here’s a basic list of 20 traits, create a character, or look at one of your current ones, do they have any of these? How can you twist them? How can you use them to drive your character and your plot forward? How can you complicate their lives as a result of these?

10 positive personality traits
Adaptability
Assertiveness
Patience
Humility
Fairness
Compassion
Ethical
Friendly
Trustworthy
Self-sacrificing
10 negative personality traits
Judging
Nagging
Lazy
Aggressive
Overly Opinionated
False
Impatience
Biased
Immoral
Self-centred

 

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