Negative traits for your characters

Last week, I wrote about positive traits for your characters. But you don’t want a character who can do no wrong or is liked by everyone.

negative 2You need a balanced, well-rounded character. No one has only positive traits. There must be some negative traits in your protagonist (just like your antagonist needs positive traits).

Today I want to look at one of the ways flaws can cause friction between characters as well as go a little more into flaws for your villain.

Negative flaws and friction between characters

Internal Conflict – Self-doubt, bitterness, and jealousy (among others) can create conflict within our characters. Not only can they struggle internally with these feelings but these strong emotions change how our characters behave when interacting with others.

This can lead to sparks, fireworks and explosions in their relationships.

Sparks – Consider this the lowest level of tension or friction between characters. Your character is impatient, frustrated or disappointed or perhaps caused these feelings in one of the supporting cast. This leads to a verbal exchange which adds a strain to a friendship.

Fireworks – Consider this the intermediate level of tension or friction between characters. Emotions here have been kicked up a notch. Arguments ensue and have a lasting impact on the relationship. Healing the rift is possible, but it may take time and effort.

Explosions – Consider this the highest level of tension or friction between characters. This is where raw, uncontrolled anger, betrayal or humiliation come into play. Things may be broken, insults are flung, and secrets might be revealed. Trust is shattered, and relationships are broken. If reconciliation does occur, the relationship is never the same as it was before.

Just like in real life when you argue with your spouse or become annoyed with your brother, mother, or friend, these same things need to happen to your characters.

Villains and their flaws

As I said before, you should not create a villain with only negative flaws. You need to let the reader catch a glimpse of a redeeming quality or two.

The antagonist has dreams, needs and desires. In his eyes, his goals are just and reasonable. Often his negative traits are fuel for moving forward with his plan. Many negative traits are just positive ones taken too far.

You need to work just a hard on your antagonist as you do your protagonist. Delve into his past and find out what made him the way he is today. Remember no one is born evil or bad. Something (often many things) helped shaped who they are today.

negative 1If you need help on what negative traits to give your character – controlling, gullible, obsessive, temperamental or whiny – or perhaps you don’t know what types of behaviors would be associated with these traits, then I would recommend checking out The Negative Trait Thesaurus.

This guide discusses everything I mentioned above with more details and then lists 106 negative traits 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.


The need for a well-developed character

The difference between a well-developed character and one that is just two-dimensional or something everyone has already read about can be the difference between having a book readers enjoy and talk about and one that is put aside unfinished.

I have written several other posts on the importance of well-developed characters (Developing characters recap). This is an important aspect of writing or should I say writing well. Whether you are a planner who loves to spend time plotting and planning, or you like to dive right into your writing with nothing but a story idea, the one area you should take the time and consideration is on your characters.

What makes Jack the super spy the hard, grizzled man he is in your espionage thriller? What was his upbringing? What were his parents like? What training does he have?

Susie homemaker is an introvert who likes order and structure in your mystery series but what made her snoop into the lives of others? Where did she get her attention for detail? Why does she keep going into dangerous situations rather than calling for help?

All of these questions are things that you, the author, should know about your protagonist (as well as for your antagonist and any other major characters.)

The easiest way to know all these things is to fill out a character profile questionnaire. You can easily do a web search for one or check out the one here or here. (I always have problems with the ones I find online. Many of the information requested deals with someone from Earth present day. As a fantasy writer, college, car choices and whatnot do not apply.)

If these questionnaires don’t work for you, then as long as you know the information about your character’s back story and who they truly are, you will be fine. Just make sure that you balance between giving your character positive and negative attributes. You don’t want to go too far in either direction. Your hero needs flaws just as your villain needs a redeeming trait or characteristic (or two).

Over the next two weeks, I want to look a little more into positive and negative traits. I will write about how positive (or negative) traits may have formed as well as discuss how negative traits cause friction among characters. See you next week.