Last week, I wrote about the importance of having a well-rounded character and for you, the author, to have a complete understanding of the history and makeup of our characters.
To be well-rounded, a character needs both positive and negative traits and behaviors. No one wants to read about a character who never does anything wrong or fails. Without a few mistakes or failures, there will be no conflict in your story and conflict is what drives a story along.
Today, I want to look at positive traits and how they might have developed.
Genetics – Some things are out of our control. We are born with a certain body type or an aptitude for music. Some of us are extroverts while others are more calm-natured. Sometimes whether someone is always cheery or a down-and-out sour puss can just be the way they were born.
Upbringing – Some of our characteristics are brought about by the way we were raised. A child absorbs the traits and values of the one raising them. If order and structure are what they grew up with, they may follow in those same steps. Or they could rebel against those beliefs and go in the totally opposite direction.
Physical Environment – Where you grew up (as well as your current living conditions) play a big part in making you who you are. There is a difference in a character who grew up in the suburbs as opposed to someone who grew up in a poorer or perhaps tougher neighborhood. Growing up on a farm or in poverty or in one of the richest families will all have different effects on a person and the characteristics they develop.
Peers – Your friends and colleagues often greatly influence your life. Some characteristics may develop that are shared among peers as a way of fitting in and gaining acceptance.
Negative Experiences – While these often result in flaws, they can also make positive traits develop. Someone who grew up in an abusive family may strive to be a nurturing parent to their child.
All of these things help make your character who he or she is. This is why you need to know them inside and out. You need to know your character’s fears, needs, desires, like and dislikes. Basically, before you begin writing you need to develop the back story of your protagonist and your antagonist.
Yes – you do need to know just as much about your antagonist as you do your protagonist. You need to know what he wants and why he is so desperate to achieve it. Figuring out his internal motivations will help make him real. Your reader will be able to understand what drives him and why he will do anything necessary to succeed. And your villain won’t just be chock-full of negative attributes. They need some positive ones too.
If you need help on what positive attributes to give your character – adaptable, loyal, organized, trusting or whimsical – or perhaps you don’t know what types of behaviors would be associated with these traits, then I would recommend checking out The Positive Trait Thesaurus.
This guide discusses everything I mentioned above with more details and then lists 99 positive attributes along with associated behaviors/thoughts as well as what type of positive and negative aspects this attribute can have on a character. It also lists examples and challenging scenario ideas for characters with these traits.
Next week, I will post about the negative attributes your character might have.