What are the strongest character traits that writers can use to create more compelling and engaging protagonists, antagonists, and villains?
There are two different kinds of traits that your story’s characters will have — personality traits and character traits. Both are vital to creating three-dimensional characters that stand out on the page.
Personality traits are those that refer to the range of distinctive personal qualities and attributes of the character. These are reflected in the outer actions of a character, defining who we think they are. They can refer to the outside personality of the character (quirky, charming, bossy, lazy, etc.) or their physicality (quiet, giggly, nervous).
These traits are subjective and represent only the outer appearance and behavior of the character.
In short, personality traits define who we think the character is — at least what their outer appearance tells us.
Character traits are those that refer to a set of morals and beliefs that defines how characters treat or behave with others and themselves — who the characters actually are.
These traits define the true essence of the character and therefore are the types of characteristics that can truly transform characters into more compelling and engaging protagonists, antagonists, and villains. And yes, there is a difference between antagonists and villains.
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Here we will feature the strongest and most intriguing character traits that can make your characters even better.
When a character is loyal to the bone, that will drastically affect their actions and reactions when conflict comes their way. If a hero is loyal to their mentor, they’ll go above and beyond to save them.
When an antagonist or villain is loyal to their brothers in arms, they’ll go above and beyond to defend their honor.
When a character can control their emotions, their approach to conflicts will be altered as they handle things differently from someone that has no restraint.
But the interesting factor to this character trait is presented when they have no choice but to take action, which makes that moment even more powerful.
When a character displays unwavering persistence, you can inject even more conflict into the story and let the audience enjoy the thrill of seeing this character never give up.
When a character follows a particular faith or has an overarching belief in spirituality, that can transform a character’s approach to any conflict, challenge, or situation.
The clear opposite of self-control. When a character is impatient, that trait can conjure endless conflict that you, the writer, can write. A group may have a plan of approach to a conflict, but if just one character is too impatient, that can lead to utter chaos. An antihero is often one that lacks self-control — they act out and deal with the consequences later.
One of the strongest character traits a character can have is greed. Greed causes the worst kind of pain and suffering to oneself and others.
An antagonist can be powered by greed.
As can a protagonist that starts out with good intentions, but slowly suffers from the repercussions that greed can cause.
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Usually found in antagonists and villains, cruelty is the closest character trait to evil. It denotes a character that either enjoys harming others or can’t help it. Regardless, injecting this character trait into a character can transform an even already threatening antagonist or villain and turn them into something even worse.
When a character, good or bad, is unforgiving, the audience knows that once another character crosses them, it’s over. This trait can offer writers an excellent character arc and theme to explore with their protagonists — when will they learn to forgive? Which also makes for a terrific climax as the audience waits in anticipation to see if the protagonist will finally learn to forgive. It works for both protagonists, antagonists, and villains.
Don’t mistake ambitiousness for greed. Ambition is a strong desire to do something or achieve it, whereas greed is often an intense and selfish desire for something. Thus, this character trait is often attributed to a protagonist.
When a character is fearless, they never hesitate to put themselves in harm’s way to accomplish whatever goal the writer has tasked them with.
A fearless protagonist can keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
A fearless villain can chill them to the bone.
A character that seeks revenge will embody fearlessness, persistence, and unforgiving nature. They can be a danger to themselves, but they are far more dangerous to the person they have in their sights.
This is a fascinating character trait because it offers more depth in the character’s intelligence. If a character is calculating, audiences will be enthralled to see and know that the gears are always moving in that character’s head. They always seem to be two or more steps ahead of the rest.
When a character is in a dire situation that they are desperate to get out of, they are willing to do anything. And writers can play with that fact when dealing with a desperate protagonist. You can take an otherwise well-mannered and well-meaning character, kidnap his daughter, and demand that he assassinate a politician or watch his daughter die.
If you create a character that is unstoppably persuasive, it can be an intriguing character trait to explore — whether it’s a hero or villain. What kind of conflict, drama, or hilarity can you conjure when that persuasive character doesn’t get what they want? Or what happens when they always seem to get what they want?
Words like crazy and insane are generally attributed to psychological disorders or are used as laymen’s terms or slang for mental disorders. So they aren’t really defined as a character trait.
However, twisted is defined as unpleasantly or unhealthily abnormal — warped. When a character is twisted, it adds certain chaos to the story.
If you’re struggling with your characters and finding it difficult to breathe some life into them, injecting one of these fifteen character traits can make a substantial difference for the better.
A character that is loyal, self-controlled, persistent, spiritual, impatient, greedy, cruel, unforgiving, ambitious, fearless, vengeful, calculating, desperate, persuasive, or twisted is far better than one that just goes through the motions of the plot within your screenplay or novel.
What other strong character traits did we miss? Share your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies