Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Negative Traits

Let me tell you a story about Mr. Right. He is perfect. He has a great life. Got all A's in school and was the quarterback and the prom king. 4.0 GPA on his Master's Degree. He has his own cookie business based on mom's recipes--and customers love him. He succeeds at every challenge with ease and finesse. He has the best jokes, the coolest car, the smoothest smile.

Are you waiting for the other shoe to fall? I am. Perfect doesn't exist in real life and it has no place on the page. Why?

It's BORING.

Would we know a thing about Achilles if not for his heel?

Would fearless Indiana Jones have been as endearing if he hadn't been afraid of snakes? 
If not for this well established flaw, we would have watched them drop him in the Well of Souls with all those snakes and said, its on....but instead, we worried because here was a challenge we knew he would struggle with.

Ambitious vs. Ruthless 
A good character has some great positive traits. Ambition is a great trait. Temper it with something negative like ruthlessness. Sweet kid with stars in her eyes goes to Hollywood. Those who are jealous and jaded try to tear her down. Do we cheer when she wins on her own talent? Sure. Do we cheer a little more if she rose to the challenge and showed some backbone by being a bit ruthless to get what she wanted? Perhaps.

It sure adds a layer of interest though, doesn't it?

Organization vs. Control
Our lead is a doctor who is running a lab full of techs injecting rats with a serum to cure cancer. This doctor can handle the stress and is very organized and efficient. What if someone dear to her has cancer and she's racing against the clock to save them? Good plot, right? Everyone works together and its a success. Yay. But what if her dear cancer patient is a secret and her desperation makes her demanding and controlling...to the point that the techs get fed up with her and quit?

There's another layer of interest.

Pride...It Hurts So Good
When a character has to admit he/she was wrong...can they?
How deep does it cut them to do so? More importantly...how does it change them (and possibly their goal) when they do?

Too Much of a Good Thing
What if they take their good trait too far?

So your character A is loyal and devoted to the King. That's great. Blindly loyal? Willing to die to defend the King? Willing to help the King do things A knows is wrong? At what point does A lose himself and stop thinking and become a puppet?


It's a balancing act. Consider your plot and positive traits your character needs to achieve his or her aim. Now what correlating negative trait can cause that character some interesting problems along the way--problems that force him or her to grow, deepen, and show us who they really are, problems born of that negative trait, problems in which they might surprise themselves as they learn what they are made of.

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