Contrasting Personality Traits

Questio: I'm a student who will be a freshman in college this year, I'm hoping to eventually major in creative writing. Seeing as how we freshman rarely have anything go our way, I wasn't able to get into a creative writing course in my first semester so I've been practicing on my own.

There's one character that I've been experimenting with for a while, he's changed so much over time that now, looking back, I'm rather ashamed at his original model.

But the two personality traits that I've finalized.

One is the fact that he is rather cynical about the world and the people in it, a person who firmly believes that good and evil are too rigid to properly define things and doesn't bother trying to categorize people and things as such. He also feels that sometimes, things are just the way they are for no apparent reason. I'd like him to be the guy who might butt heads a bit with a more idealistic character on the grounds that "sometimes the world sucks, deal with it, not everything can always be rainbows and sunshine".

However, his second finalized trait is meant to sort of cover up the first. Despite his cynicism and pessimism, I'd also like him to be fairly cheerful, empathizing with people that he would rather not empathize with, and covering up some of the more nasty comments that he would like to make with a gentler snarkiness.

I'm sad to say that I don't have a story to go along with this character though I do have a few side characters. Also, in his character arc (whenever I manage to think up the context) I would like him to struggle to find a balance between these two traits, perhaps have him cracking under some long bearing pressure to the point where he's lost his cheerfulness and finds himself standing on a tight rope between a mental break down and an alternative of possible sociopathy.

I don't know many people who are interested in writing so I'm asking you what you think about this character I created. If possible, I'd like some advice on how he can be improved, anything at all will be helpful.


Answer: Every personality trait can be advantageous or effective in dealing with certain types of problems, and disadvantageous or ineffective in dealing with others. The challenge for human beings is to be able to change or remain steadfast when it is to our advantage.

Every great story is about this issue. We put our protagonist into a difficult situation where they are forced to decide whether to change or not (because making the wrong choice would be a disaster). In some stories they make the best choice, in others they don't. But the lesson of every story is, "When in this type of situation, making this choice will lead to this result."

In some situations, being a realist would be far more advantageous than being an optimist, and bring more happiness to the individual. A character might be cheerful because he is not at odds with the world and its imperfections. Accepting the world as imperfect helps some people accept their own flaws and weaknesses, and forgive other people for theirs.

In other situations, a character might have such trouble accepting the world as it is that realism becomes cynicism. Bear in mind that a cynic is not someone who has accepted the world's imperfections or moral ambiguities, but rather sees the world's imperfections and cannot accept them. Therefore, he becomes angry with the world or depressed about it. Cynics are often disappointed idealists.

If you want to craft a story about this character, you can either invent a challenge he once faced that caused him to adopt his current attitude, or invent a challenge that forces him to decide between his current attitude and that of someone else - perhaps his idealistic friend.

On the other hand, you could also tell the story from the idealist's point of view. Bearing in mind that it's usually idealists who have a tough time reconciling their ideals with reality, the story could put the idealist in a tough situation in which he/she is forced to choose between their idealism and the other character's realism.

Hope that provides a little food for thought.

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