What does your character do in a disaster?

Many have seen character worksheets that encourage writers to identify everything from shoe size and favorite foods to sex turns on and off. Even though you know that your character’s most valuable asset can be useful, it does not tell you how your character will react when disaster strikes.

To do that, you need to handle five to ten “middle traits” that guide your character’s personality, especially her behavior. To help you, this article takes a 3-step approach to getting to know and working on the most important traits of your character.

Step 1: Make a list of your character traits

Take a pen and make a list of qualities that describe your character. Be sure to list personality traits (eg mood, humor, logic, observation), not physical traits such as eye or hair color, and write as much as you can think of. You can download a large list of personality traits (PDFs) and check which ones are best for your character.

When you’re done, you’ll probably have more than five or ten qualities, so you’ll want to narrow things down. One tactic is to break down similar properties into categories. For example, if you note that your character has a great sense of humor and is a bit of a joker and likes to get into trouble, you can break all those qualities into a word like “harmful”. If your character cries warmly, emotionally, and easily, she may be said to be “psychotic”.

No matter how you do it, make up your list of the ten most important traits of your character and who she is. If you feel brave, rank the list; Doing so will help you with step 3.

Step 2: Subject evaluations

As in real life, personality traits are filtered through people’s emotions. To better understand how your character sees her and how it might be different from how others see her, use your list of ten key features to answer the following questions.

What are the ten best traits that your character appreciates the most? Why?

How does your character want others to see her?

How do people who don’t like your character see her? (Tip: They may have negatively portrayed your character as positive. For example, if your character is spontaneous, her enemies may see her as impulsive or careless. If she goes out, her enemies may view her as disgusting.)

What are the qualities that you have worked hardest to develop your character? For example, if being strong is important to your character, what has she done to nurture that trait? (The answer, or of course, depends on her strong definition. If being physically strong is important, maybe she’s engaged in weight lifting, but if her goal is to be emotionally strong, maybe she has undergone therapy.)

What are these characteristics that your character uses to deal with everyday problems? For example, if she stops because she is driving fast, will she try to have a conversation with the officer? Is she respectable? Apologize? Does it make sense?

Step 3: Disaster Strikes

Now that you have a good sense of your character’s personality, imagine a catastrophe. The best kind of disaster for a story is, of course, not armed to handle your character.

Regardless of the disaster, most people’s stress reactions are powerful versions of how they deal with other things. It is, under stress, a precursor to any personality trait. So your character will default to his strongest focal point, or jump back and forth between two or three people as he tries to deal with what has happened.

So let’s say one of the ten key traits of your character is “intelligent”. And we usually say that the way she handles problems is to argue her way of solving them. If she faces a catastrophe, she will try so hard to understand it that she is likely to completely miss the feelings. Or let’s call your character a “hot head”. If he is usually angry when things go wrong, he is going to be ballistic when disaster strikes. Whatever makes your character unique, his feelings and reaction will be characteristic after the disaster.

You may want to make a list of focal features for each of your main characters. Referring to them will help you keep everyone’s reaction straight in the event of a disaster!

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