Unique descriptions, whether internal or external, are key to creating memorable and meaningful characters. And regardless of medium, character traits are critical considerations for any literary work. However, while they are typically noted in a character introduction, your chosen character traits should be noticeable throughout your characters’ presence on the page, and therefore, should be thoughtfully chosen and applied. Below, we’ll unpack character trait definitions and examples to help you gain a deeper understanding and how to implement them properly.
Character Traits Definition & Examples
First, let’s define character traits
Character traits may seem pretty self-explanatory. But if you’re hoping to have a thoroughly built character (and who isn’t?), it’s crucial to understand the differences between character traits vs. other literary devices and techniques.
CHARACTER TRAITs DEFINITION
What are character traits?
Character trait are valued aspects of a person or character’s behavior, which are exemplified by individual characteristics or qualities like a person’s conduct, habits, or attitudes. Character traits can be considered positive or negative, and are commonly referred to by way of descriptive adjectives.
Character traits examples:
Character traits can be physical or mental/emotional, but what’s perhaps most important to note is the difference between character traits and say, personality. In writing, imbuing characters with these qualities is a process called characterization.
Learn more about direct and indirect characterization in the video below.
Up against character traits (and direct / indirect characterization) are personality traits. Personality traits are more so surface-level observations of whom a character is.
Noticeable from the outside, and not necessarily fortified over a set amount a time, personality traits can look something like, “Constanza is effervescent and outgoing.” As opposed to the idea that she is an incredibly honest person who values transparency.
How to implement character traits
The idea that you need to have strong character design shouldn’t surprise anyone. But the methodology of that implementation can make or break your characters (and you’ll need those). So how can you go about solidifying your characters over time using these defining traits?
To begin, we can look at notable examples from produced projects. Let’s take a look at Lady Bird.
So, what are the main character traits in this coming of age movie? Lady Bird, or Christine, is spontaneous and impulsive. Sure, we could be told this from the get-go; however, it’s something we come to understand as true throughout the duration of the film. In fact, we are introduced to this character trait of impulsiveness in the first scene of the movie.
Right away, we know that Lady Bird is going to do what she wants, when she wants, and that could be at literally any time. Throughout the rest of the film, she continues on this spontaneous path: she pulls a prank on her principal, interrupts a school assembly on abortion, etc.
So now that we’ve got some character traits examples to look at, what can we take from it? It’s clear that Gerwig implemented these characteristics not just as funny gags to liven up the story.
She did it to bring the character of Lady Bird to life by way of allowing these defining traits to guide Lady Bird’s choices.
So, here are some tips on how to use this technique for your next project:
- Build your character thoroughly, and be sure to differentiate between personality, physicality, morals, values, and belief.
- Decide how many character traits should a character have and which of those the character values most. Allow that to guide them through any decisions and obstacles they may face
- Be sure to include clear examples of those traits as essential to your characters’ journeys.
- Decide what tactics your character uses to act on their morals. Do they act out when they are lied to? Do they cut people off when they’ve been let down? How do they respond to aggressive confrontation?
You’ve chosen to follow your protagonists and supporting characters throughout your story for a reason: they are unique. These traits are an essential part of proving that. And when you use the above strategies to create your characters, the audience will thank you for it.
You’ve just developed a deeper understanding of what character traits are and how to use them. But what other characters can guide your character development? Check out the classic character archetypes and how your characters measure up at the link below.