The other day, I was talking with some friends who moved into a new house a few months ago. Apparently the previous owners were quite wealthy (like, had-custom-parts-for-their-window-blinds wealthy), but the house has needed quite a few renovations. Much to my friends' frustration, some of these issues are things that the previous owners had actually agreed to fix but never did. A little baffled by this behavior, I said, "So, they're rich but . . . cheapskates."
This conversation reminded me of some fantastic advice on character development from The Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi:
"Many negative traits are positive attributes taken too far: confidence can lead to overconfidence; ambition can escalate to greed; supportiveness becomes fanaticism."
Haven't we all seen that in real life? The witty friend whose ribbing often gets too personal? The protective mother who turns into a helicopter parent? For all I know, those infamous previous homeowners might have made their fortune through frugality, only to carry that habit way too far.
Some authors seem to create characters by picking strengths and weaknesses for them at random. It's much more believable if we follow Ackerman and Puglisi's advice, because then a given strength naturally leads toward a certain weakness and vice versa. This technique also provides an avenue for character growth over the course of the story—can the character learn to rein in their extreme tendencies and use their skills in better ways?
For instance, in the Harry Potter series, Harry courageously tries to protect the people he cares about. This admirable trait, however, often leads to impulsiveness. Harry regularly charges into danger without thinking things through, getting himself into scrapes ranging from detention to brushes with death. But in the last book, we see him finally pause long enough to weigh all the risks and the rewards of the sacrifice he's considering—and decide it's worth it.
If you need help figuring out how to connect your characters' strengths and weaknesses and use them effectively in your story, click here to schedule a call with me.
(Thanks to Julie Ricard for sharing their work on Unsplash.)