I’ve seen in circulation a list of character personality traits, that, on one side, lists strengths – what people typically consider “good” traits – and, on the other corresponding side, faults – what people typically consider “bad” traits. The interesting thing is realizing that these traits often represent the same personality quality. For example, “decisive” was on one side, but the characteristics also identified this trait as “single-minded.” “Commanding” was on one side, while “aggressive” was on the other. “Adaptable,” and “fickle.” You get the idea.
Independence is one of those traits we usually consider good in people. But, there are times when independence manifests as stubbornness. The trait itself remains the same; it’s how we deal with that trait that affects events in a story (or in our lives).
We’re all human; we all have strengths and faults. Sometimes, our strengths manifest as faults, and sometimes it’s the other way around.
Writing a bold (headstrong) yet sensitive (flighty) young woman in Fearless has made me realize all too clearly how character traits can be good, bad, and everything in between. This is especially true as she and the people around her have to deal with the conflicts that arise.
He’d thought her pretty from the start, but she was more than that. Vibrant, audacious, exciting, and adventuresome. Girlish and petulant, too, and huffy when she didn’t get her way. But, before her, he’d never thought there could be a woman so sweet and pure and brave as people had only ever been in make-believe stories.
Having the main character make these realizations has been a great joy for me, too. Because, as I look around at the people around me – even the ones I’m with every day – I’ve come to understand a bit better that everyone has multiple sides to them.
What character traits stand out to you, with your characters? Do you consider them strengths or faults?
I think this is where ‘telling’ is problematic in stories, and why we hear so much about how important it is to ‘show’.
You’re so right when a human quality such as independence or sensitivity can be utilized as either strength or fault, depending on the author’s intentions. How we portray the character through dialogue, setting, body language, etc., will help the reader determine if the character is aggressive or assertive.
Having said that, I like to remind myself that a reader tends to bring his/her own personal views to the book. We may hope that our character comes off as assertive, but if the reader has an ax to grind regarding assertive women, that reader may write her off as aggressive. That’s when it gets really dicey when you’re finding an audience. 🙂
I do agree with a lot of that, Kate, especially about showing how a character is this or that. That’s particularly tricky about presenting a character the way we want them to be seen, versus how readers view them.
Of course, I also like to have my characters express their own interests in (or dislikes toward) those around them, so I don’t always see an issue with one character just coming out and saying, “S/He’s a jerk.” Now, depending on the voice used, a reader needs to remember they may be getting information filtered by a character’s bias, but that’s part of the fun of working through a story, too.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply!
Those are interesting thoughts that you guys have up there. 🙂
I am reading one of Tolstoy’s books and I have been quite disappointed by how he sometimes deliberately told readers about the characters through his ‘telling’, and not ‘showing’. It is the second time that I wrote ‘Why telling, and not showing, Grandpa Tolstoy?!’ on the book as I did not want such gaffe keeps recurring in the remaining of the book.
Nonetheless, it is just fair to say that bringing the effort to maintain the spirit of ‘showing and not telling’ in a more than 750 pages book is truly an extraordinary task that even a brilliant writer like Tolstoy may stumble, not to mention beginners like me. Either that or the literary merit of the book as diplayed in its complex characterizations is way beyond my comprehension that I still do not understand the technique he employs in his writing by assuming him committing a ‘literary sin’.
Anyway, either one or the other, literature remains a puzzle to me that I long to solve. And I m here, as a student, happy to learn from you, Kate, and the other bloggers, along the way as we embark on our journey..
Thanks for commenting, Subhan!
I think we can learn from all sorts of writers. There are lots of writers I haven’t read in their original languages, so I don’t know if Tolstoy really was “telling,” or if his work suffered from a less-than-imaginative translator, or if that was just his style. I think it’s fine, sometimes, to outright tell in a story. (I don’t see anything wrong with saying, “He loved her,” rather than expounding on supportive details for three paragraphs. Sometimes, simple and straightforward is better than complex and obtuse!)