How to convey character traits through their own thoughts

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Thread: How to convey character traits through their own thoughts

  1. #1

    How to convey character traits through their own thoughts

    It's quite simple. I have a character who is reckless. I try to convey that. That's not so simple. In the beginning, the audience has only his thoughts to go on, and as such not so much to contrast them against. Is there some way in which I can make this work, or do I need to put in external elements to highlight the traits that set the character apart?


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  2. #2
    My immediate thought is to investigate the history of the character. There might be people who are spontaneously reckless, but it is more likely there is an historical cause. For example, I have a very high pain threshold and as a result it took me a while to learn to be cautious in situations which might cause pain. On the other hand the person might never have been reprimanded or cautioned properly in their upbringing, talk of the indulgence shown to them and their being reckless will seem natural. You know your character, perhaps there are other reasons for their recklessness, but discussing the history can easily illuminate the present.
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  3. #3
    Supervisor velo's Avatar
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    I am pretty staunch in my view that everything should be shown to the reader and not told. If the MC is reckless, show him/her doing some reckless stuff. Depending on POV you can add some inner dialogue to indicate they think what they are doing is fun or no big deal. Conversely, you can have another character warn the MC about their recklessness but that skirts the line of telling the reader in a lot of circumstances. Simply put, if the character is reckless then write them as a reckless character. Trust the reader to get it.
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  4. #4
    I agree with velo. Recklessness is a matter of behavior, so show your readers some reckless behavior.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


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  5. #5
    Some questions or exercises according to Janet Burroway and I will quote only a few examples: (I own the seventh edition of her book which I am rereading: I am just going to type a few of her exercises from the chapter on characterization). Take in mind my approach and advice is different and not everyone agrees there is a book for creative writing. You should write what you want. I've bought many books on craft. Which means I could be giving the wrong advice. The author is an academic, but the exercises sound good enough and practical enough for me to use for a story.

    What patterns or thoughts work against the primary goal?

    Build action by making your characters discover and decide and then make sure the action that it contains the possibility for human change.

    The background of your character influences the way they talk and think:
    age, gender, race, nationality, marital status, region, education, profession. (add and substitute others for more categories)

    Last one this also covers some characterization in thought: know what you character wants and is at odds with whatever else your character wants which is at odds with it(this desire is what I refer to as the goal when someone is being fought over in a story; could be love (desire is the emotional need) and it's power is beauty and ugliness (power is what produces the inner conflict or the constant battle for supremacy in a story in a human conflict such as a value in society), in some stories, when its entirely subjective because of what you write because of the context of the situation). What patterns or thought work and behavior work against the primary goal? (reads to me as if desire is same thing as the goal)
    reference: writing fiction: a guide to narrative craft seventh edition. page 153.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Solus View Post
    It's quite simple. I have a character who is reckless. I try to convey that. That's not so simple. In the beginning, the audience has only his thoughts to go on, and as such not so much to contrast them against. Is there some way in which I can make this work, or do I need to put in external elements to highlight the traits that set the character apart?


    Thank you for reading
    Assuming I read this correctly, the problem with 'if they're reckless have them do reckless things' advice is that this character of yours is not in a situation where they are able to 'do reckless things' without creating plot continuity or credibility problems. Is that right?

    So kind of like if, for instance, you wanted to show a character as a sociopath but they live alone on a desert island with no other characters to be unpleasant to - Obviously it is much easier to create a situation where certain traits can be shown (because Velo is right about that) when the setting and general situation can facilitate it without having to make major changes. I find it hard to write about amorous hermits or physically-aggressive paraplegics myself...

    So yes, in that situation, introducing external elements to highlight traits is probably your best (only?) option since you cannot make something out of nothing. Stories that utilize alternative proxies to demonstrate a characteristic can come to be as effective as ones that use real people and events. Consider how something like friendship can be explored even if one of the characters is technically alone - in that case it may be a pet or a teddy bear or something else.
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  7. #7
    You can show a lot of character traits with just thoughts. But reckless? Isn't that a lack of thought? No one's intentionally reckless. Tough to show.

    So, I vote for starting with action that shows recklessness, though I don't know your book.

    If you allow self-awareness, then you can have him think, for example, "Martha's always ranting on me to think more before acting, but I know this is right." And there are a lot of different ways to do that. Mixed awareness: "I don't understand how people can get this great idea that revs them up and they can see how important it is and yet they stop and don't do it right away, acting like the idea is dead."

    Both of those have him making mistakes in thinking that the reader hopefully can see. That's not "tell".
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    You can show a lot of character traits with just thoughts. But reckless? Isn't that a lack of thought? No one's intentionally reckless. Tough to show.

    So, I vote for starting with action that shows recklessness, though I don't know your book.
    Wikipedia states that "In criminal law and in the law of tort, recklessness may be defined as the state of mind where a person deliberately and unjustifiably pursues a course of action while consciously disregarding any risks flowing from such action." Surely "consciously disregarding" isn't simply the absence of thought but disregard for the consequences of the action thought about. I am reminded of the old joke about the frail old man who marries a young girl and is asked on his wedding night whether he has considered the risks involved, to which he replies, "Well, if she dies she dies."

    When in 2017 I had a strong premonition that something bad, fatal even, was going to happen on the last day of our coming holiday cruise on the Rhine I decided to go ahead with the cruise anyway on the basis that it would happen at the end of the cruise, so wouldn't actually ruin it for us. Something did happen, but it wasn't so bad as it turned out and over all we thoroughly enjoyed the cruise. I never mentioned the premonition or my attitude to it to anyone before the cruise, so the question is whether my thoughts were reckless even though subsequent events suggested that my actions weren't. As those events also seemed to prove that my premonitions do contain elements of truth, even now one could regard my reasoning as having been reckless and on a par with that old man's remark, "Well, if she dies she dies."

    I have to accept that recklessness can sometimes be a state of mind which isn't directly demonstrated by events and that in that case it might be necessary to depict it solely by conveying the character's thoughts. In my writing I convey thoughts a lot anyway, so such a thing would simply be consistent with my style. To convey a character's thoughts when you don't often do it might seem incongruous with your style though and be jarring to the reader.
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  9. #9
    Is your character the narrator?

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Ibidun View Post
    Is your character the narrator?
    For the first few chapters which I am currently writing, yes.

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