Personality Traits: Charming, Devious, Annoying, Puritanical, Happy

Marc McCutcheon’s book  Building Believable Characters is a great tool for writers to create believable characters. I’m in the section of the book called the PERSONALITY TRAITS INVENTORY. Today’s traits are Charming, Devious, Puritanical, and Happy. Let’s dig in.

CHARMING/WELL-BRED is another of those that could lead to stereotype if you’re not careful. This character is gracious, polite, and smooth. They make others comfortable. They are the life of the party. Ladylike, tactful, warm, friendly, personable, they are the child every parent wishes they had, the wife every man wants as his own, the friend everyone wants to be with. They are sexually attractive. Clean and neat. Considerate. Darn-near perfect. And that’s the problem–how often do you run across someone in your life that’s this wonderful? Do you truly love them, or in the back of your mind do you envy them or wish they’d step into a mud puddle just once? All this awesomeness is good in a protagonist, but it must be coupled with a flaw or she’ll seem cartoonish. Ruin her looks with a hairy wart on her chin. Or give her a bit of a temper and a unique way of displaying her temper–no shouting or door-slamming for this woman, she plots her revenge in secret and gets her revenge by publicly humiliating her enemy. Play with it and see what you come up with.
The next trait is DEVIOUS/CONNIVING/EVIL. This is fabulous for the antagonist, but can you use this trait for a protagonist? This guy is wily, plotting, false, manipulative, lying, backstabbing, two-faced, sneaky, power-hungry, and venomous. Think Scrooge times two. Actually, Scrooge is a great example of how to pull off this nasty protagonist. Use these traits as his flaw to overcome, make the stakes ultra-high (death, in Scrooge’s case), and reel the reader into a fabulous ride of conflict after conflict.
ANNOYING is up next. This personal in a know-it-all, or tells offensive jokes in mixed company, or touches people too much, or whines. He’s shallow, gossipy, smug, self-righteous, rude, and insincere. He’s not exactly evil, although he is self-absorbed. He doesn’t know how to behave politely with others. How did he get this way? Is he desperate for attention? Is his sense of self-worth grossly exaggerated (Mommy raised a prince)? Is he socially awkward because of a secluded upbringing? This one has lots of potential because it’s so varied, but again, he must be sympathetic. 
PURITANICAL/PROPER could get you in a bit of trouble if you don’t handle it well. This character is goody-goody, politically correct, morally superior, sees others as immoral heathens (but never himself–he sees himself as clean and righteous), quotes Bible verses at every opportunity (or Koran, or Torah, or whatever religion you make him). He’s modest, law-abiding, honest, attends church regularly, doesn’t drink or smoke, and is judgmental. He knows what’s best for everyone and expects everyone around him to heed his words. Once again, be ultra-careful about stereotypes with this one. The old Bible-thumper from the South has been done one-too-many times, and quite frankly, he’s not sympathetic. This would make a great comic-relief, though, or a good fanatical antagonist. 
The last trait I want to cover today is HAPPY/JOVIAL. This lady is a treasure. She’s good-humored, easy going, funny, light-hearted, relaxed, friendly. She smiles a lot and sees the glass as half-full. She’s always smiling, or humming, or doing good deeds. She’s also too good to be realistic, too syrupy and sweet. She needs a flaw that brings her back into the realistic realm, because Pollyanna has been done several times and Disney princesses, while wonderful, belong to Disney. So give your happy character something to be sad about (an ailing parent, a dead-end job, a disrespectful/willful child) and make sure her inner flaw stands in her way of achieving Her Goal.
(This is Belle, the happiest of all the Disney princesses. This photo courtesy of wikipedia)
What negative traits would you pair with a charming or happy personality? How would you make an annoying character likable? What positive traits would you give a devious or puritanical character to make them believable? Share your thoughts in the comments section. I love hearing from ya’ll. 



3 thoughts on “Personality Traits: Charming, Devious, Annoying, Puritanical, Happy

  1. The charming/well bred is a perfect candidate for passive-aggressive behavior (but be careful not to go overboard, or you’ll bring back bad memories for your reader and turn them off to the character). She is so used to being the polite one that she doesn’t know how to handle confrontation, so instead of voicing her concerns directly, she tries to hint at them and, if the target is not psychic and can’t read her mind to figure out what she’s upset about, she will turn a bit frigid toward that person.

    Devious/conniving has potential as an anti-hero, which has been ‘done,’ but still has potential as long as you don’t make it too much like… essentially any character played by Vin Diesel. The wily, plotting aspect might make an interesting character that is halfway between Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly and Vin Diesel’s character in Pitch Black (can’t recall the character name just now and too lazy to IMDB it). The key part to keeping an antihero in the reader’s good graces is for there to be a line he won’t cross, no matter what. He won’t hurt a lady, he won’t steal from a church, he won’t kill an innocent person, he’ll put his life on the line to protect little kids, etc. He’ll backstab someone who is slimy and doesn’t even have basic morals, but would never betray a noble character, even if there’s good money in it. There’s some element of nobility he sticks to, even at the risk of personal loss, and that’s what will have the reader cheering.

    Puritanical might not be religious, but an avid vegan who eagerly stops strangers in the market to tell them what monsters they are for the products in their cart. Or a rabid environmentalist who all but assaults people on the street because they’re wearing a shirt from a company that’s polluting the environment.

    I was amused by the choice of Belle for happy/jovial – she’s unafraid to insult people to their faces (“Gaston, you are positively primeval”), will shout down a larger aggressor without a second’s hesitation, acts impulsively, disobeys the rules, etc, etc. Snow White or Aurora might be better examples. 🙂 However, that does illustrate well how to work this character type without it becoming too Pollyanna – a character who is happy/jovial but particularly passionate about certain things will have minor flares of temper and emotion in varying situations.

    • Thanks for the laugh about Vin Diesel! Good points, great comment. You’re right about Belle, too–I thought of Snow White later, but stuck with Belle as she’s one of my favorites. Snow White was a bit childlike in her sweetness.

    • Some who are well-bred simply prefer not to waste energy on confrontation which is usually a hostile affront. Hostile people are best left alone until they have cooled off. Well-breds have learned not to react knowing that the confrontor just wants a fight which often does not end well. Do not confuse that with passive-aggressive behavior which has a purposeful and veiled hostile intent behind it. Ignoring bad behavior is not passive aggressive. Your mother probably did so when you threw a two year old tantrum.

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