1.) Why personality traits are so important.
Every person on this earth has a variety of personality traits that fit into these 5 categories: Very Good, Good, Neutral, Bad, or Very Bad. Personality traits are what make us interesting. Most traits can be summed up in one word.
For instance: kind, generous, jealous, inpatient, obsessive. Some can be seen as negative traits, some can be seen as positive traits, while others are seen as neither good or bad, these traits are neutral. Giving your characters certain traits makes them more human and relatable in your reader’s eyes.
2.) Always give your characters 3 personality traits.
In order for your characters to be believable, you need to give your characters 3 personality traits.
Why three? Well if you give them only one, you’re basically making them into a cartoon. For instance, let look at Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Grumpy, Happy, sneezy, bashful, etc, etc.
Two personality traits make a stereotype. For example, a hard, rough-cut detective.
However, if you give them three personality traits, well, that makes them three-dimensional and more believable.
3.) Getting the personality trait formula right.
Now that we’ve established that there are 5 different categories personality traits fit under, and character needs three traits to become real. It’s time to look at the formula for making your characters exciting enough to keep your readers interested.
Firstly, I like to fit them into three categories: Good, Neutral or bad. If a character is very good, and does nothing wrong, the reader will get bored and lose interest quickly. If you make the character very bad, the reader won’t be able to relate to the character and won’t really bother what happens to them.
So that’s why it’s important to make your characters Good, Bad or Neutral.
So what makes good characters those readers can relate to and care for?
Here’s the formula I like to follow:
For a good character, they need two good traits and one neutral or bad trait.
For a Neutral character, they need one good, one neutral and one bad trait.
For a Bad character, they need two bad and one neutral or good trait.
We all know what good or bad traits are. If I were to say to you, someone was kind, you’d say that’s a good trait. If I said someone was cruel, you’d say that’s a bad trait.
However, neutral traits are a little harder to distinguish as they can be seen as either good or bad traits. For instance lets take the trait obsessive. Now to many people, this can be seen as a negative trait, however, for someone who has an eye for detail, this can be a positive trait.
4.) How to use the traits effectively throughout the book.
Okay, lets say you have a good character. Once you have distinguished what traits he or she has, they need to remain consistent.
You can’t have this good character being a loving devoted father throughout the book, and then at the end make him a mass murderer. It just won’t sit well for the reader, and you will have probably lost a reader for your next book. However, you can plant the seed early on in the book and mention that he has a darker side he hides from his public life.
The same goes for a bad character, you can’t make him cruel and sadistic throughout the whole book, only to find out in the end he loves soft fluffy bunnies. Again, your reader won’t like it.
Then you have characters with neutral traits, these are often the most exciting, because you just don’t know what they’re going to do next. One minute they’re good, the next they’re bad. You can have a lot of fun with neutral characters.
5.) Know your characters inside and out.
Many writers call this creating a backgrounder. In order for you to make your characters real, you need to know their backstory. Why? Well if you look at your own life story, the things you did and achieved is what made you the person you are today right? Well, the same principal works for your characters too.
The more you know about your character, the easier it will be for you to write about them, and the more believable they’ll become. You don’t have to go into a massive amount of detail. Just pick up a few things, like where they were born, who there parents are, where they went to school and any defining moments that made them the person they are today.
6.) 4 simple ways to create characters, without having to think about personality traits, or creating a backgrounder.
Your book could have a number of characters throughout it. Creating each character using the personality trait formula and creating backgrounders can be very exhaustive work. So I like to make it as easy as possible by using these 4 simple strategies.
The first one is base a character on you. This is by far the easiest way to create a character. Don’t be shy to inject yourself into a character. If you don’t want to create a character just like you, why not take several of your personality traits and stick them in several characters?
By doing this you make it extremely easy to write because, you already know your complete backstory and all your traits. You know exactly how you would react in a certain situation.
The second way is to base a character on someone you know, a friend or family member perhaps. Again, you know most of their little quirks and sayings. You know pretty much everything there is to know about them, so again, it will be easy to write about how they would react in a certain situation.
By Glen Palmer