Monday, April 22, 2024

The Characters We Write Must Have Traits, Habits, and Flaws

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

I'm a people watcher. I'm sure most of you who are writers do the same. I pick up numerous character traits that way. I even read a cartoon the other day containing a terrific character trait, and I knew it would be perfect for one of my characters in my WIP. 

I keep a list of those I like—both good, bad, funny, and unusual traits. I've gathered these from people I know, things I've seen people do when I'm out and about. I've listed some but I have compiled an exhaustive list for me to choose my characters' traits. Here are a few of those.


  • Absentminded
  • Bites fingernails
  • Bold/blunt in speech
  • Collects things, always has a pocketful of rocks, paper clips, etc
  • Counts things
  • Cracks knuckles
  • Fickle
  • Flirt
  • Gullible
  • Hard of hearing
  • Hums
  • Jiggles foot or leg
  • Licks lips
  • Makes lists constantly
  • Nervous
  • Picks at nail polish
  • Polishes flatware
  • Purses lips and taps with index finger while thinking
  • Snaps fingers
  • Speaks loudly
  • Squeamish
  • Stutters
  • Taps foot
  • Twirls hair
  • Twitchy (can be a habit or physical problem)
  • Have you ever known anyone who can't pass a mirror without checking their hair, lipstick, or whatever?

Minor Character Flaws:
  • Aimless
  • Apologizes constantly
  • Clumsy 
  • Glutton
  • Gossip
  • Lazy and unwilling to do things
  • Naive
  • Nosey
  • Perpetually late
  • Poor decision-making skills
  • Poor hygiene
  • Preoccupation with one's physical features
  • Spoiled
  • Spacey

Major/fatal Character Flaws
  • Abusive
  • Addicted (can be drugs, gambling, smoking, sex, serial killer)
  • Always finding fault in others
  • Blames everyone but themself
  • Cruel
  • Deceptive
  • Greedy
  • Inconsiderate
  • Liar
  • Narcissistic
  • Possessive
  • Reckless
  • Revengeful
  • Short-tempered
  • Weak-willed

Don't forget phobias. Those can be really good to add to a character, especially for an antagonist. Why not have a serial killer who has arachnophobia or claustrophobia? You can find exhaustive lists online. 

What's your favorite trait from a book you're written or read? Join the conversation!


Ane Mulligan lives life from a director’s chair, both in theatre and at her desk, creating novels. Entranced with story by age three, at five, she saw PETER PAN onstage and was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. One day, her passions collided, and an award-winning, bestselling novelist immerged. She believes chocolate and coffee are two of the four major food groups and lives in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Instagram,Pinterest, The Write Conversation, and Blue Ridge Conference Blog.


  1. Thank you. This is a good list to have on hand.

  2. You've proven it Ms. Ane, I'm a "Character." :-)

  3. Thanks for clarifying some of these. I have a hard time creating characters and it helps to see how to label some traits.

    1. I agree. Lists are helpfull when choosing traits. I can't begin to remember them all.

  4. Chriswells.grace@gmail.comApril 22, 2024 at 10:52 AM

    So interesting. I can easily think of distinct characters: Mr Lorry, Miss Pross & Madame Defarge, and also Lydia Bennett spring to mind effortlessly.
    To label their traits specifically, however is mental work!
    Thank you for offering these great lists and technique, Ane. :)

    1. You're so welcome. And it truly is mental work, and often my mind will go blank. I have a notebook of all kinds of these, which I've built over the years. They truly are helpful.

  5. Great resource list, Ane. Thank you!

  6. I once created a character who constantly explained words to people. So aggravating! Thanks for a reminder to stay vigilant!

  7. Great lists, Ane! Thank you!