Character Traits

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Character Traits

When developing characters, many writers draw up detailed character profiles. But a list of individual events or details about a person doesn't necessarily lead to understanding. I once dated a man for three years. Although I knew many things about him, I never fully understood him. In contrast, there have been other people in my life I understood perfectly without needing to know their every detail.

When creating characters, search for their dominant traits, not the details. "Think of people you know down to the core," says Hal Croasmun. "You can predict how they'll react to situations and you can tell when they are out of character. The core isn't a whole compilation of details. It is the part of each person that is always present."

Going back to my ex-boyfriend, one of his dominant traits was to be elusive. No matter what happened, I could never predict his reaction—other than knowing it would surprise me. One of my brother's dominant traits is he's trusting. He approaches every situation with an attitude of openness and a smile. Another of his dominant traits is self-confidence. Do you see how, together, "trusting" and "confident" already begin to paint a fuller character picture? A trusting man who isn't confident could easily be taken advantage of. But a man who's trusting because he's secure in himself is a different story.

One of my brother's details happens to be that he's a fourth-degree black belt in karate. But that detail alone doesn't make him confident. A person might acquire a high level of proficiency in karate in order to hide his insecurities without ever achieving true confidence. Details contribute to character traits or are shaded by them, but they don't define character.

If it helps you, write extensive character profiles. But keep in mind that, in the end, we know people through a few dominant traits that are revealed in everything they say and do.



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