What Makes a Character: Attitude
Characters must exist as standalone individuals, yet of course remain entirely fictional and within the writer’s mind until they are written onto the page. As such, they need to have their own personality.
Whilst speech is a conscious act—although the subconscious holds sway over it—and thought is a blend between the conscious and subconscious, attitude is a much more a subconscious expression of personality. It is ingrained within us and defines how we act and react within any potential scenario. For a character, their attitude must be clear and defined, yet just like real people it can contradict itself.
The defining factors of speech—place, age, heritage, gender, class, and upbringing—will have a large amount of influence over attitude, but so will the way the character thinks, be that through sight, sound, language, or action. In addition, the character will have set behavioural patterns which are arguably more nature than nurture, and which are as much part of them as their organs.
Attitude is expressed, but it is more than that. It is often irrational and can go against the better judgement of the individual or those around them. People are sometimes blind to their own attitudes, and whereas they might believe they would make a certain choice in a certain situation, the likelihood is their attitude will control that choice much more than their conscious decision-making skills.
When considering attitude, there are five factors to discuss. Each of these will be fundamental to the character’s personality, and so must be weighed up.
It is important to understand where your character sits on a scale from optimism to pessimism, with realism in the middle. A tendency towards one viewpoint or the other may be related to previous experiences, or could be in spite of them, though it is more likely those experiences were undertaken due to that viewpoint than the other way around.
Is your character courageous or cowardly? A simple scale, yet an essential one to understand.
How rebellious is your character, if at all? Some individuals actively try to conform, whilst others deliberately go out of their way to rebel.
Does your character trust their own decision-making and skills? Are they a leader or a follower? Do they need others to take control, or do they require the validation of others following their example?
How likely is your character to complete a task they set out upon? Just like us, some characters are flaky whilst others are stubborn.
Each of these variables will be central to who your character is, and so will be undeniably reflected in their thoughts, actions, decisions, and desires. Understanding their attitude will offer a window into why they carry themselves as they do, why they may change their behaviour under certain circumstances, and why they do not always agree with your plans for them. This is where characters truly become alive, and in doing so show you who they really are.
© 2019 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.