The Fuzzy Dolphin
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I was puttering around a few writers' sites when the thought hit me (again) that some of the most interesting character traits are those that can be both strengths and weaknesses at various times, depending on the situation. These traits are very fun to explore, but many people, unfortunately, leave something to be desired in their execution of showing off these traits. Often, especially in the case of flat characterizations or author's darlings, only one avenue of characterization is ever explored.

However, with many character traits (like the force) there is a dark side and a light side. Certain traits taken to extremes can be flaws, while at other times, the same traits can be strengths. The trick is in working out the situations to show all the various nuances of those traits so your characters can pop out of the page and seem real.

So I thought we might do a little exercise and gain some food for thought: Let's name some traits and then show examples of how those traits can be portrayed as both good or bad, depending on the situation. We can use examples from published works, our own characters, or just general examples.

So, to start off, one character I have is very stubborn. This trait has helped him to survive under very harsh conditions and on little sleep because he absolutely refused to give up, even if someone less stubborn might have done so. This stubborn will to live has kept him alive, despite all the odds stacked against him. However, his stubborn nature has also alienated others who might have helped him because he absolutely refuses to compromise on anything. If he believes that something might happen in the night, he will stubbornly refuse to sleep, despite several others pushing him to do so for his own good (and their sanity). Therefore, his stubborness is both a strength and a flaw.

4/4/2011 #1
I have to ask: Does being a sociaopath or psychopath count as a character trait? Sorry if your a weirded out by my question.
4/5/2011 #2
Yes. It's character trait, and nothing weird about the question. Some really interesting characters have been sociopaths. (Of course, sometimes these traits are portrayed so badly as to lose all flavor or realism, but that's something to be saved for another topic.)
4/5/2011 . Edited 4/5/2011 #3
Oh okay thanks- Cause one of my characters is a psychopath. (And please explain by what you mean by badly portrayed to lose all favor or realism.)
4/5/2011 #4
By "badly portrayed" I mean that the person writing the psychopath (or a character with some other sort of mental disorder) has totally neglected to actually do any research into portraying the disorder realistically. Often, when I see someone describe a character as "bipolar" they truly mean that the character just acts randomly, or has a hair-trigger temper, not that they're actually suffer from severe mood swings without provocation.

When they describe someone as a psychopath, they don't go by the narrow psychological definition of a psychopath, but just use the word to describe someone who kills people for no apparent reason. Often, it's a cop-out excuse to not explain character motivations. "Oh, he just did that because he's crazy!" ALL characters have motives. It's just that the mentally unbalanced ones sometimes have stranger motives than the average person. The author should get into their heads just like every other character.

Now I'm not saying you haven't done extensive research. I haven't read your stories or seen your character. Professional authors even do this poorly at times. It's just that I've seen poorly portrayed disorders a bit often.

But back to the subject of the lights and darks of a single trait: How can psychopathy be both a strength and a flaw?

4/5/2011 #5
There are some excellent examples in recent television of this. House's narcissism, makes him a stellar diagnostician but makes it impossible to have normal relationships. Monk's obsessive-compulsive behavior annoys almost everyone and causes difficulty in day-to-day living, but gives him the tools he needs to solve just about any crime. Bones's literalness gives her trouble with social interactions but allows her to see through the assumptions others might make to look at only hard evidence. I have a character who is an investigator of sorts. His brutal single-mindedness gives him the ability to quickly solve cases quickly, but has also isolated him from nearly everyone.
4/6/2011 #6
Ooh! Good examples. I hadn't even thought of them.
4/6/2011 #7
That kind of show seems to be pretty popular these days. It's like Hollywood is trying to tell us there are no normal people left in medicine or law enforcement. In order to do a good job in these areas, you have to be crazy. Or at least it helps.
4/7/2011 #8
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