Crises to Show True Character
usually identify a trait that defines each one:
just that one trait, they probably wouldn’t be my favorites because they’d
be paper-thin—more like caricatures than the genuine
article. Real people are complicated and deep, embodying more than one quality.
And so must our characters if they’re going to draw readers in through
authenticity and relatability. By adding more traits, you add dimension, but
you run the risk of drawing a character who’s all over the map and doesn’t
ring true to the audience.
to readers? For simplicity’s sake, I’d like
to focus today on how to accomplish this in regards to a character’s
positive attributes (although these tips also apply to flaws).
positive traits. Though there could be dozens, narrow the list down to
the dominant ones—no more than five or six. Let’s
use our beloved Captain Kirk as an example. Along with boldness, he also
exemplifies loyalty, daring, decisiveness, extroversion, and charm. But trying
to write a hero with so many traits can make for a scattered character with
hard-to-define motivations and emotions.
which one is your character’s primary. This is the
attribute that will drive his choices. It is often also tied to his moral and
ethical beliefs, his sense of right, wrong, duty, and worth. Going back to
Captain Kirk, while he clearly owns a number of positive traits, boldness is
the one that most drives him. It determines how he relates to others, responds
to crises, and directly affects his career path and choice of hobbies. It also
serves as a header from which many of his other traits—adventurousness,
extroversion, and decisiveness—stem.
primary attribute, focus your efforts on showing that trait to the reader.
Whenever your hero is faced with a choice, that trait should be a factor in
bringing him to a decision. When crises arise, the primary attribute should be
the one that influences him on an internal, subconscious level. Narrowing the
list down to one trait will make it easy for the reader to identify who the
character is. For good or bad, we like to categorize things and put people in
boxes. When readers can say, “Oh, he’s like this,”
they’re able to put their finger on who the character is, and he
becomes accessible. Relatable.
not as often. They should offer support, strengthening your character’s
personality without overpowering it. Showing these traits to a lesser degree
will add dimension while ensuring that your character’s
primary trait shines through.
can be a good idea, you can follow these same steps to balance his negative
traits and make sure you’re focusing on the one that truly
primary and secondary traits? Leave a comment sharing about your unique
protagonist or villain for a chance to win a PDF copy of The Positive Trait
Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes.
The giveaway runs through December 6th, after which time I’ll
pick a winner. Best of luck!
Puglisi is the co-creator of The Bookshelf Muse, an award winning online
resource for writers. She has also authored a number of nonfiction resource
books for writers, including The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character
Emotion; The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to
and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A
Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws.
A member of SCBWI, she leads workshops at regional conferences, teaches
webinars through WANA International,
and can be found online at her Writers Helping Writers website.