WCW: Developing Well-Rounded Characters – Positive and Negative Traits


What draws you into a book? Is it the thrilling plot? The sizzling romance?  The comical situations?


Or is it something more?


I am willing to bet that the reason you love your favorite book is not because of the plot but because of the characters that move through the plot.


As a writer, it is absolutely crucial to create characters that are well-rounded and real. So just exactly how is this done?


Creating Real People


carolinemyssA couple weeks ago I discussed the idea of using archetypes to develop a general idea of your character’s profile. While the universal elements of archetype may draw a reader initially to a character, there must be something more than just kiddie pool depth for your characters to become favorites. They must be real.


Real people have good qualities and bad qualities, or flaws as they are often referred to in the writing world. We see these traits in people through their actions. You don’t hear people going around announcing “I’m cynical” or “I’m adaptable” to the world (usually), and even if they did, you wouldn’t believe them until you saw it through their actions.


I can say I’m a morning person all I want, but until you see me actually clock-63741_640willingly getting my butt out of bed before 9 AM and happy about it, you might doubt it. By the way, if you haven’t guessed, mornings and I are not on speaking terms.


Thus, as a writer, it is critical to determine the personality traits of your characters, both good and bad, and determine ways to show this subtly through their actions.


Positive and Negative Traits


If you are like me, at the beginning, I struggled with deciding what are personality traits and the behaviors that go with my characters.  Enter one of my favorite writing resources, Angela Ackerman’s and Becca Puglist’s Positive and Negative Trait Thesaurusus (or thesauri, depending on your grammar philosophy).




Each thesaurus includes a definition, category (they have a whole intro section on this), similar attributes, possible causes, associated behaviors, associated thoughts, associated emotions, positive aspects, negative aspects, examples in literature and film, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, challenging scenarios, and even how a negative trait can become overcome.


Whenever I create my hero, heroine, and even my “villain”, I am sure to pick out 3 – 4 positive and negative traits each to help define my character. Sometimes the traits are a major part of their character, and sometimes the traits are just one of those little quirks that people have.

Determining How a Character Behaves


After I have listed out their traits, I also list out the associated behaviors I can see my character doing. Sometimes I begin to see a pattern of behaviors that are repeated across traits and I realize these behaviors need to be something highly visual in my storyline. For quick reference sake, I “distill” my characters down to a few, easy to reference traits and behaviors to post onto my bulletin board.


Here is my heroine’s “distilled” list:

Values: Security, Loyalty, Honesty

  • Holds on to goals long after prudentoffice-1454087_640
  • Unparalleled sense of morality
  • fight for what is right no matter what
  • Ferocious Loyalty
  • Not letting others help
  • Determined
  • Refusing to admit defeat
  • Acting without thinking of the consequences (courageous, impulsive)
  • Spontaneous
  • Acting in response to emotions (this and the next behavior cause inner conflict at times)
  • Firm control of emotions
  • Light manipulation to keep attention away from self
  • Honest
  • Thinks in metaphors
  • Growing quiet, lost in thought
  • Adventurous
  • Creative problem solving


It might still need a little fine tuning, but I use it as a general list as I work through my story.



What about you? How do you determine what traits your character has? What traits do you admire in heroes or heroines?

You’ve learned part of my process above, but the traits I love most in my hero and heroines are quick wit, loyal, independent, and strong senses of justice. This is perhaps why most of the stories in my head center around some of those themes.


Come back in a couple weeks when I talk about Creating Well-Rounded Characters – Giving Them Life on 3/15/17.


Previous Post: Creating Well-Rounded Characters – Archetypes

WCW: Developing Well-Rounded Characters – Archetypes

Developing a well-rounded character takes time and purpose. I tend to be a panster (a writer who writes by the seat of their pants), but I have learned to develop my characters thoroughly before beginning to write.



Many authors do a character interview to help get to know their characters. I am slowly learning to do that using Susan May Warren’s SEQ technique (check out her book about it here), but I have also added my own twist to discovering the inner workings of my characters.


So what are those key components to take into consideration when developing a character?


In addition to SEQ, I like to explore my characters archetypes, positive personality traits, negative personality traits, and character backstory. Today I just want to focus on archetypes.


What are Archetypes?

Archetypes are just universal patterns of behavior that have positive and negative aspects.


Caroline Myss, “a pioneer in the field of energy medicine and consciousness”, suggests each person has a combination of about 12 archetypes that make up their psyche, each having varying degrees of presence in your life depending on your situation. I don’t get into all that “new age” feel stuff, but her collection of 72 Archetypes Cards are very useful in developing fictional characters.


Some examples of her archetypes are:carolinemyss

  • Artist
  • Child – Orphan
  • Child – Wounded
  • Detective
  • Judge
  • Knight
  • Networker
  • Prostitute
  • Warrior


Developing Character Archetypes


For my characters, I choose between four and six archetypes that define who they are during my story. In fact, the list above is the archetypes I chose for my hero and heroine in my WIP.


Each archetype has positive and negative traits. Because the prostitute archetype might be a little concerning to you, I will share that one as my example.




“The Prostitute archetype engages lessons in the sale or negotiation of one’s integrity or spirit due to fears of physical survival or for financial gain. We prostitute ourselves when we sell our bodies or minds for money, or when we compromise our morals and ethics for financial gain… The core learning of the Prostitute is that self-esteem and self-respect make you impervious to selling out.”

– “Prostitute”, Caroline Myss Archetype Cards Booklet


Caroline Myss adds more, but as you can see from this description that “Prostitute” is not exactly what you first think. No, my heroine is NOT sexually immoral or active. What she does do is compromise her morals due to her fears of physical survival.


Have you ever compromised your morals due to self-preservation? It doesn’t have to be big and earth-shaking. It could be the one time you blamed your toddler sibling for eating all the cookies before dinner, even though you believe lying is wrong. See how the archetype can be used for everyday situations?


isolated-1446623_640Picking out four to six archetype cards really helps to round out your characters and make them multi-dimensional. The general strengths and weaknesses are outlined for you to expand upon and fine-tune for the uses of your own story. Characters can even have overlapping archetypes, yet be completely their own person, just like the human race in real life.


Because archetypes are universal in nature, readers will connect to your characters because they see aspects of themselves within the story.


When developing your own characters, I highly recommend taking into consideration their archetypes. If you struggle with archetypes, I suggest picking up Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards.


What other archetypes are you familiar with? Still confused? Leave a question below. I promise to get back to it as soon as I can.


Do you have any resources you use to help develop your own characters?



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