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The importance of character traits and flaws

One of the difficult parts of writing is creating three dimensional characters your readers can relate to. Now, writers go about this in different ways- some prefer to fill out things like character questionnaires or the Myer Briggs personality test. Others prefer to leave the character a blank slate and fill in gaps as they write.

No matter how you go about developing your characters, the important thing is that they have traits and flaws, just like everyone else. I like to use the 1-2-3 method when creating my characters. I pick one value, two flaws and three traits to form the basis of my character.

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For me, the most important thing about developing characters isn’t their back story or their relationships or knowing what their deepest fear is. It’s their personality. Their values, their dreams and goals. After all, it’s these things which help drive the plot forward, and contribute to the overall character arc.

If your character doesn’t have a core value- one thing they believe in without a doubt- their personality lacks a certain depth. You can use their core value in so many ways during the course of the story to create conflict and opportunities for growth.

If someone values independence for example, they might try and push away from working in a team, or asking for help. If they value trust, they might endanger their friends by being too trusting. The possibilities for creating conflict and growth are endless.

Using values, traits and flaws can also help you develop your plot. Don’t just pick their personality points without putting some thought into them- they should hold some importance to the plot, in order to help with the characters arc. They should be there in order to create conflict, whether that’s during certain plot points, or within your main group of characters.

If one of your characters is known for being reliable, what events can you create in order to make that character choose between helping two people- what conflict can arise from that choice, how can that further the plot down the road?

If a character is impatient, how can you use that against them? Does them running in without a plan create even more issues for the characters at a later date? Does it give the antagonist an opportunity to increase the conflict?

Choosing clashing traits for characters also helps stir up conflict between a group of friends. After all, conflict doesn’t have to just come from protagonist vs antagonist. Friends clash all the time- disagreements within your main group will make them seem more real and well rounded.

Yes, characters need family and back story and favourite colours- but unless these play a significant role within the plot, they’re not something you need to know when you start writing. One of my characters has a twin brother, but he didn’t even exist until draft five, whereas another character has always had a little sister- because she plays a significant role in the story that led him to where he is today.

 

How do you guys develop your characters? Let me know in the comments below.

Good thoughts and happy writing!

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1 thought on “The importance of character traits and flaws”

  1. Hi, it’s me again.

    Characters are an interesting topic because there’s many ways you can go around making them feel real and I have the theory that it goes with how we get to know ourselves or other people in real life.

    The way I go about it is kinda like you, still i don’t take the flaw/virtue dichotomy because i think that value is related to the context of the character ( e.g. being detached in a kill or be killed enviroment) and so I go about getting the snapshot of the character I need, then comes the fun part.

    After I got the “present time character” I think about events in their life that made them that way, the paths they took to become who they are and the influence other people got over them and that’s where i find the nuance. Even if two characters are sad, they convey it in different forms according to how they learned to convey it in the first place and as an extra I get a grasp in their relationship with the people they have growth with.

    The downside to this is that sometimes I discover later that maybe i needed some twin brother or something because I “accidentally some plot” and that new character will throw all the established context out of whack. Yet that turns out interesting sometimes.

    Like

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