Personality Traits: Flirtatious, Childish, and Strong/Brave

If you’ve been hanging around, you know I’m digging through Marc McCutcheon’s book  Building Believable Characters. It’s a great tool for writers to create believable characters. I’m in the section of the book called the PERSONALITY TRAITS INVENTORY. The traits I want to discuss today are FLIRTATIOUS, CHILDISH, and STRONG/BRAVE.

SEXUAL/FLIRTATIOUS is pretty obvious. This character uses her body to convey a message of openness to romance. She uses eye contact, suggestive talk or behavior, and her mode of dress to attract sexual attention. She may play it shy, coy, and demure. Or she might be brazen and promiscuous, with plenty of physical contact and teasing behavior. She’s a lot of fun to write, but stay away from stereotypes. Give her other traits that make her more believable. Maybe she acts this way because it’s all she’s been taught, and on the inside she’s not ready or interested in a sexual relationship, it’s all outward. Or maybe she’s got a deep desire for “Mr. Right” and a house with a picket fence and three kids, but she’s trying to achieve her goal in a way that’s counter-productive. This flirtatious character would also make a great comic side-kick or an antagonist. Just avoid stereotypes. Oh, and try this with a male character to see how it goes.
The next trait is CHILDISH/ADOLESCENT. This character, despite an adult age, tends toward a sophomoric sense of humor (think of the bathroom humor of an eight-year-old boy). He is silly, giggly, immature, irresponsible, fun-loving, impulsive, fickle, and shallow. He doesn’t make good decisions and his judgment is poor. He could be seen as naive or innocent, but also unrealistic, melodramatic, and reckless. He could be socially awkward. As with all these traits, avoid the stereotypes. Give him other traits to balance out his immaturity: he loves puppies, or he’s ultra-responsible in his care of his elderly mother, or he’s got such a golden heart and concern for others that everyone loves him. I’d also use this personality quirk as his flaw that must be conquered. He can grow up, if he’s got the right stimulus.
Last is STRONG/BRAVE. This person is a risk-taker, adventurous, unflinching, thick-skinned, and macho. He’s daring and brash, powerful, heroic, showing great leadership skills. He can also be disgusted by weakness, and his self-esteem is wrapped up in his outward show of strength. He could also be a she: brave women can be just as macho as her male counterpart in fiction, but please don’t make another Lara Croft. She’s been done. This character won’t admit fear, jumps into a challenge with both feet, and can make an awesome hero for a story, especially if his bravery is the flaw he must overcome by story’s end. 
(This strong guy courtesy of
That concludes this portion of the personality traits inventory. The next several sections deal with darker issues, like bad vices, psychiatric problems, and manias.
Have these personality traits been useful? Can you think of ways to use today’s traits in your hero? Share other examples beyond what I’ve offered.

2 thoughts on “Personality Traits: Flirtatious, Childish, and Strong/Brave

  1. Sexual/flirtatious: Bond. James Bond.

    Also, it’s interesting to note that sometimes women who are not flirting are viewed as flirtatious merely for being polite or friendly. This happens a LOT in the bar/club scene. A woman who smiles and chats with a man can often be mistaken for flirty and sexually open/sexually available, and when it turns out she isn’t, she gets called a tease, a slut, a b****, etc. It’s amusing to see men asking, “Why are women at bars always so frigid and rude?” Well, sweetie, it’s because if they aren’t frigid and rude, you assume they’re eager to jump into bed with you, and it’s easier to deal with being rude than to deal with the fallout of that assumption. All that to say, it can be fun to play around with these assumptions and interpretations of others’ behavior in your book.

    Childish/adolescent – I am a polite, professional, mature person. And then I’m in the privacy of my home with my husband, and we start cracking fart jokes and giggling like twelve-year-olds. Many people have a particular friend or place or situation which brings out the immature giggles in them, so remember that this trait doesn’t have to be a dominant/defining trait for a character. We like to see other people around us as stereotypes (defined by a single trait or personality type), but people are rarely so simple. On the flip side, a person who is almost always childish/adolescent may still have their moments of maturity.

    Strong/brave – the quintessential ‘macho man.’ Definitely easy to fall into stereotype here – the man whose low self-esteem and insecurities forces him to put on an outward display of bravado is a bit on the common side. So give your strong man an unusual non-stereotypical trait or flaw- substance overuse, hidden insecurities, difficulty to show compassion are all a little common with this personality, so be creative and stretch for something out of the norm. Maybe his protective instincts ends up inadvertently smothering the people close to him. Maybe he can’t pass a stray cat without picking it up and taking it home, which is resulting in a full and messy house.

    As for the female strong/brave – yes, Lara Croft is already done. Strong female characters in popular media can end up falling into one of three major writing errors which we tend to see time and again.

    First, the female character who is actually a pin-up male fantasy rather than being a real, genuine woman. This most commonly happens with male writers who don’t know how to write female characters, but can also happen when women confuse ‘strong’ with ‘sexually aggressive’ (not necessarily incompatible traits, but there’s a world of difference between the two).

    Second, the female character who is a male character with boobs; all traces of femininity have been written out of the character, and sometimes she even goes to great lengths to prove that she rejects anything that might seem feminine (example: the Angelina Jolie Lara Croft movie). Basically, you could put James Bond in the woman’s place and nothing in the story would change except, perhaps, the gender of the romantic interest. This is because our culture has a hard time accepting the idea that women can be strong, so the assumption is that femininity is weakness, but women CAN be strong as long as all that feminine stuff goes out the window. Act like a man, be strong.

    The third one is my personal favorite way to almost throw books across the room or throw the remote through my TV screen – the strong woman who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself UNTIL the end of the story, in which she becomes a simpering, whining, pathetic incompetent who must be rescued by the strong male hero. I’m not talking about a female character who gets overwhelmed by superior forces and is defeated and in need of help, and once she gets help overcoming the initial barrier to her freedom (being locked in a room, tied up, whatever) she continues being a butt-kicking strong character. I’m talking about a strong woman who was already shown to be capable in a fight, able to use improvised weapons in a way that would make Jackie Chan jealous, etc… and then something bad happens and she gets captured, and suddenly she’s got a blunt object two inches from her hands, her captor’s back is turned, and she just doesn’t have the first idea of what to do because she’s been CAPTURED and DEFEATED and now has no choice but to wait for the MAN to come riding to her rescue. (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is an excellent example of this one.) There’s nothing wrong with a strong character needing rescued from time to time, but don’t make them forget every skill they know just because they’ve faced a setback.

  2. Excellent points, Aggeloi. I love the fact that people are so complex they aren’t defined by any one trait. James Bond is flirtatious and brave/strong and at times immature, yet he’s still a favorite of so many people. The one that really cracks me up is the female character who is just a male character with boobs. Thanks for all your insight!

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