Negative Traits, Or, Is That What I Was Doing with That Character?


So I was just reading Author Matt Bowes and the Dogs Breakfast blog (and I still have not figured out how the dog comes into the picture) and lately he has been talking about how you make characters more well rounded by, duh, giving them negative traits. This is an aspect I have never really given much thought to because I just find my characters fully formed in my head most of the time, so if they have those traits I run with it and often they do not and are unconvincing, but when you are writing fantasy, as I did for many years, we expect characters to be a bit larger than life, so you can get away with it.

But now that I am writing about Not My characters, e.g., Xena Warrior Princess, the negative traits come with the fully formed character. The thing I have been noticing is that it is the other characters who discuss the negative traits. Face it, especially during the first season, Xena is dismissive of anybody who is not an actual warrior. And throughout the first few seasons she has, as the characters in the Buffyverse would say, really honed her brooding skills. She often speaks in monosyllables and pretends the emotional things do not matter.

So my job is to somehow highlight those traits, which are for the most part lacks or absences with the possibly more positive traits of talkativeness and emotional availability/frustration in the other characters and, by contrasting those things, show the whole relationship. The cool part about poetry rather than fiction is you get to write lines like these from Gabrielle:

Life on the road is better. Even when

Whole days go by without her talking,

More is said than in weeks of talk back home.

Versus this from Xena:

And after, it was hard for us to speak

Of any of it. The silence between you and me

Crashed through the trees behind us like a kite.

Because, oh, the glory of the metaphor and abstraction to describe the bone deep emotions we all feel when the relationship is a struggle.

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