Thursday, September 13, 2012

Character + Depth Series: Attitudes

Last week, I promised to kick off a new series on character and depth with a little help from psychographics. This is part I of said series. Today, we're diving right into the first item on the psychographics list:


If we look at the Merrriam-Webster dictionary, we find the following definitions for the word 'attitude':

2:      a position assumed for a specific purpose 
4a:    a mental position with regard to a fact or state 
4b:    a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state
7a:    a negative or hostile state of mind
7b:    a cool, cocky, defiant, or arrogant manner

As you can see, attitude isn't one-dimensional. It encompasses three key traits in all human beings:

  1. Psychological state  
  2. Emotional state 
  3. Physical state

1) Within the psychological state, we have the following things to consider:

  • what does my character love?
  • what does my character hate?
  • what does my character find irrelevant enough to not care about at all?

The important thing here is to figure out Things. Plain and simple. This step is all about the what. Your character must be provoked by these Things in some way. A reaction needs to be drawn out by the mere mention, sight or feel of them (these Things don't have to be material, though: it can be abstract notions like love, faith, etc.).

2) Within the emotional state, these are the questions to ask yourself:

  • why does my character love what he/she loves?
  • why does my character hate what he/she hates?
  • why does my character find the irrelevant things irrelevant?

This is where you get to the root of it all. While at first you'll look at the Things, the next step is to look at the Meaning behind those Things. Backstory plays a huge part in this step. Past experiences help mold your fake people into who they are during your story. Each Thing serves a purpose for your character's personality, and that purpose can only be explored further through his or her feelings toward that Thing.

3) Within the physical state, this is what you should be looking at:

  • how does my character let others know what he/she loves?
  • how does my character let others know what he/she hates?
  • how does my character let others know he/she doesn't care about the irrelevant stuff?

This step is all about Showing the Meaning of Things. Your character's words and body are the crucial elements here. Dialogue is effective, but I think blocking your character's movements (using body language to express attitudes) is much more powerful. Your character might say something, but his or her body's suggesting the opposite. Not all your characters will give the same Meaning to a particular Thing. Not all your characters will Show what the Thing Means to them the same way, either. Play a little with those reactions until you find the ones that are: 1) logical based on past experiences; and 2) the most conflicting with those of other characters. Variety is the spice of life, after all :)

So there you have it. Attitudes. Give your fake people some. And stay tuned for next week's Character + Depth installment!

Now tell me: what's your take on your characters' attitudes? Do you search for them, or do they come to you as the characters come alive in your mind? 


  1. I have to search for my character's attitudes. But it's always fun. ;)

  2. Wow. Excellent post!!! I have some work to do with my characters and their attitudes.