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 freedigitalphotos.net)
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.