Character Traits vs Conflict

Janet asked me an interesting question about my last blog post and since I’m scraping around trying to find things to blog about, I thought I’d actually give my answer as a post. This comes with the usual caveat that my answer is my thoughts about the subject, thoughts that could be totally erroneous, sadly misguideded or plain old wrong. On the other hand they could be so totally brilliant that you will want to bow before the power of my awesomeness (presents and small tokens of thanks are always appreciated). 🙂

Okay, so Janet ask me to give an example of the difference between a character trait and conflict. This was in response to me saying that what I thought was conflict in my heroine, turned about to be a character trait. So what do I mean?

Well, we’re told that asking the ‘why’ questions are really important to figuring out conflict. And it’s true, you do need to ask those questions. But my problem is that I didn’t know when to stop! My heroine – I thought – is an emotional girl so I kept asking myself, “This is her conflict so why is she emotional? Why? Why? Why?”. I kept looking for a reason for my heroine to not hide how she felt but there wasn’t one that fitted with the idea of her I had in my mind. So there comes a stage where the ‘why’ comes down to ‘well, they were born that way’. And if they were born that way, it becomes a character trait, not the conflict. So one of my heroine’s character traits is that she has no problem with telling everyone exactly how she feels.

Where the conflict comes into it is how this character trait makes the character behave in response to certain situtions in their lives. Not hiding how she feels is NOT the conflict, but it does affect how she responds to the conflict. Does that make any sense?

My hero, on the other hand, is emotionless – which of course is a big lie because he’s not really. But being emotionless is his response to his conflict. He’s actually just like her, feels things very deeply, but unlike her, his experience has taught him that such emotions are dangerous and he won’t have a bar of them. So he’s shut himself down.

Here’s another example. Perhaps you might have a hero who really, really likes cars. He likes the way they look and the mechanics and the speed, he’s just right into them. And perhaps there’s no reason for it, he’s just always been the kid who loves machines. So his liking of cars is NOT his conflict. It’s part of his character. But say he had a car as a teenager he lovingly built from the ground up, spent years on it, spent lots of money on it, it was his baby. And say his father decided he spent too much time on his cars when he should be in school and so sold his beloved car without telling him…. This is where his love of cars interacts with what could potentially be some great conflict, because it’s not really about how much he loves cars is it? It’s about how he views his Dad. How he responds to this would be a character trait. Is he the type of guy to head straight into a confrontation with his father? Or is he more of a restrained, quiet type of guy, who would say nothing but spend every resource he had finding the car and getting it back…(no you can’t have this example, I’ve decided I’m going to use it. Hehe!).

So that’s how I view character traits and conflict. Anyone got any more advice cos God knows, I probably need it. 🙂

15 thoughts on “Character Traits vs Conflict”

  1. Lacey – so is that what you’ve been doing with your day then? Shocking. *sectretly jealous* 🙂

    Kerrin – thanks! Yes,they’re quite intertwined aren’t they? I mean, I always knew they were, I just hadn’t thought about it in quite this way before.

  2. Brilliant Jackie–now I understand! So we decide the type of person our character is (maybe use enneagram types) then ask how this person would react to a specific conflict eg Hero has a hot date planned but Dad has suddenly sold hero’s car.

    Each personality type would have a different reaction to the situation. (This reaction would depend on the weakness of that particular personality type and make the problem far worse!)

    An enneagram type two (nuturer) would tell himself that his father was under a lot of stress with his job and decide not to make things worse for him by confronting him. Then cancel the date!

    Whereas a type five (observer)would think if he could only understand what was going on in his dad’s mind he could find the right way to handle him. So he’d read his dad’s private e-mails to help him get the information he needed.

    A type seven (adventurer) might decide that since dad has sold hero’s car and left him without transport for his date, he’ll take dad’s car and have the fun evening he had planned.

    This is a chance to make personality type directly contribute to the problem?

    I love this blog!

  3. Janet – Oh, glad it was helpful to you! And yes, the problem can definitely escalate depending on the personality type. That’s how you make it worse for your characters – give them a conflict that will be the worst kind of thing for their personality type.
    And thanks re my blog! You’re a star. 🙂

  4. Hi Jackie,

    Each time I vist your blog my Malwarebytes pops up a warning: “sucessfully blocked access to a potentially malicious website.”

    Don’t know if it’s anything blogger can fix. (?)

  5. Sally – yay for chocolate martinis and being helpful! *drinks happily*

    Janet – Argh! Not sure why that is. I had a few people check for me and they’re not getting that popup. Not sure what I can do about it but thanks for letting me know. I’ll keep an eye on it and if anyone else gets the same message I’ll have to investigate.

    Maisey – Yeah! So true! Ah, Angel…sighs…

  6. thanks Jackie, I’ve never quite looked at it that way either. Dim lightbulb illuminates WIP *follows light 🙂

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