Eeesh, it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write a post. Sorry about that. Having a chronic illness and being a single parent can really flatten you sometimes. So, on with the post!
Last time we talked about developing a non-traditional hero. We discussed how archetypes are useful as a basis for creating a character and how to add traits and goals to make them truly unique and non-stereotypical. We looked at the waif archetype and discussed how to make them atypical including switching the gender typically associated with waifs.
I promised to show you how to fill out the lovely Character Pyramid available on Writers Helping Writers. So we will focus on that today. If you have the Negative Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi you can find the pyramid in Appendix B, if not please click through to the link above where you can print out one for yourself. I like to do this so I can fill them out.
As a bonus I’m going to introduce you to One Stop for Writers. If you have followed my blog for long you’ll know I don’t really endorse writing software, but One Stop for Writers is completely different. Instead of just writing a review I thought I’d show you why I am so completely thrilled with this website and how incredibly helpful it is. So, we are going to use it to help us fill out the pyramid. You can access a lot of helpful information for free, but a subscription is only $9 a month.
So first, the pyramid. I’ve decided to use one of the characters from my upcoming novel to fill this out since I know him best. You’ll see on the page a place to put the character name and under that, a defining event. This is their backstory wound that results in the lie they believe about themselves.
But what if you don’t know what your character’s defining event was? One Stop for Writers has an idea generator and no it’s not random phrases strung together. At the top of the page you’ll see a drawer marked Wounds. Open and close it until something sparks an idea. That can be your defining event (just beware of getting sidetracked with all the other amazing generators as I tend to do, seriously it’s very tempting).
Now, we are ready for the pyramid itself. So depending on your character’s defining event what lie do they believe about themselves? Lafayette believes he is not worthy of love or close relationships because of being betrayed by someone he was in love with and trusted.
So what core flaws might result from that lie? Let’s head over to the Negative Trait Thesaurus and find some.
So looking at our pyramid what core flaws might arise from our character’s wound and lie? To illustrate let’s look at Lafayette’s wound and lie and see what traits he could display. Having been the victim of a cruel betrayal he’s become antisocial, withdrawn, cynical, and uncooperative.
If you are on the website you’ll find that clicking each trait gives you the entire thesaurus entry for that trait. This should give you some ideas on how to fill the next step of the pyramid with their lesser flaws that grow from the core flaws.
For Lafayette I’ve gone with; disrespectful, jealous, suspicious, hostile and ungrateful. He’s starting to sound like a bit of a jerk. Well he is. These are your character’s bad traits, the grounding for their flaws and where they came from.
The last tier of the pyramid are the ways you will actually show these traits in your narrative. By how they think, what they think about, how they behave and act and what quirks they have, you’ll be able to show your reader your character’s flaws. So how are you going to fill this tier out?
Go through each entry and find associated behaviors that you feel fit your character. No one has all the associated behaviors and some traits might only have one main behavior to contend with. You might find that there is some overlap within the behaviors, this is just fine. This is mostly to give you a basis for ideas of how your character behaves because of their backstory wound.
Lafayette avoids intimacy and pushes people away. He is brutally sarcastic and will play pranks to get back at people he feels slighted by. He hordes pillows.
So now you have, or hopefully have, a completed pyramid. It should look something like this (with your character’s detail of course):
Now you have something to refer back to when you’re not certain how your character might react to a situation and you’ve given them new depth and realism. This will help take your hero from a nice cake with pretty icing to something truly worthy of a place at your table and something your readers will devour.
I also hope you’ve enjoyed this very short tour of One Stop for Writers and can see why I think it is an incredible tool. I’ve barely even skimmed the surface of all the wonderful features they’ve included. I am very grateful to Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman, authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, and Lee Powell, creator of Scrivener for Windows for putting so much thought and effort into this resource.
I hope this helps you build your wonderfully non-traditional hero! If you enjoyed this, please consider supporting me on Patreon.
As always your comments and questions are welcomed below. Do you find it difficult to incorporate a character’s flaws, especially if they are the hero? Do you find yourself worried the character might come across as unlikeable or unsympathetic? How do you handle this? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.