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 Type A/Type B, Mentally Ill, and Substance Abuser. Here’s what McCutcheon has to say:
TYPE A/TYPE B are two separate traits, but I want to deal with them together. The Type A person is hard-driving, impatient, cynical, aggressive, hates being late, restless, and hyper. They can also be cynical, hot-headed, frustrated, irritable, aggravated, belligerent, and short-fused (but not always, and not all Type A’s are like this). Type A’s are fun to write because they’re so driven and goal-oriented, which is perfect for a protagonist who must Get Something Done. Type A’s can be obnoxious, especially to non-Type A’s. I grew up with a Type A (my dad) and it was fun to watch him interact with other Type A’s. Sometimes they admire each other. Sometimes they compete with each other. Sometimes they become bitter enemies. To a Type A personality, life is a race, a competition, an opportunity to get stuff done. The Type B, on the other hand, is laid back, easygoing, long-fused, patient, cool-headed, mild, even-tempered, unaggressive, carefree, and calm. They’re generally nice people. My mom is a Type B, and I think she’s the perfect match for her Type A husband. You could have a lot of fun writing couples who are this opposite. Then again, putting two Type A people in a relationship could be fun, too! Play around with this one, as there’s a lot of flexibility in both these personalities.
I was going to skip the MENTALLY ILL personality because it’s entirely too broad to deal with, but McCutcheon mentioned it here, so I’ll put it in. This personality could include some of these traits: delusional, hallucinatory, irrational, manic, hyper, depressed, neurotic, obsessive, compulsive, insanely jealous, phobic, unstable, homicidal, sociopathic, or suicidal. They could have unrealistic believes (he’s the savior, he’s being followed, he’s being bugged by the CIA, he’s receiving messages from fill-in-the-blank, he’s an alien). This personality type is extremely hard to write because you’ve got to be close to an expert to not make the character seem unrealistic or comedic. A protagonist who’s mentally ill could be highly unsympathetic, or worse, pitiable. Steven King pulls this off in his horror novels fabulously, so it can be done well.
(This photo of Jack Nicholson from the movie The Shining courtesy of wikipedia)
The last personality I’ll cover today is the ALCOHOLIC/SUBSTANCE ABUSER. They are usually (but not always) in denial about their abuse. Their thoughts center around their substance of choice, they try to hide it, and sometimes they’re ashamed of their problem (other times they flaunt it). They appear sickly, dysfunctional, and irresponsible. They fight with those closest to them. They usually steal to fuel their habit. The alcoholic/substance abuser has been done and overdone, so if you want to create a protagonist with this problem, take care to make him unique and sympathetic.
Any comments on these personality traits? Can you think of ways to make them work as a protagonist? Share your thoughts, please. I love hearing from you.