This list of character traits will give you the ammunition you need to draw your readers into the story and make them sit on the edge of their seat.
Ever notice how the victims in suspense novels are usually women or even young girls?
Ever notice that villains are often highly intelligent?
This is because these character traits speak to our emotions on a subconscious level. They cause us to react in certain ways.
Here is a list of character traits for characters in certain roles that will have your readers begging for more.
Would Hannibal Lechter have been so creepy and evil if he had a normal level of intelligence?
Give this some real thought. I’m pretty sure you will answer no.
This is because human beings are naturally very suspicious of extremely high intelligence.
Yes, deny this dirty little secret as much as you want, it is true.
Genius is both mysterious and intriguing (the reader wants to find out more) and frightening (the reader is suspicious because he doesn’t know how this intelligence might harm him).
This is why we have the phrase Evil Genius. Have you ever heard the phrase Good Genius or Heroic Genius?
Take my word for it. If you want your readers to be intrigued and suspicious of your villain give him a PhD.
“Wouldn’t you agree Dr. Lechter?”
“Yes, I would Dr. Moriarity.”
On the other side of the coin, heroes are more appreciated if they are of normal intelligence. This way the reader can empathize with him more.
Heroes can’t be too perfect.
Take a look at Huckleberry Finn.
He’s a tobacco chewing, school skipping, runaway and not ashamed of any of it.
If you do have a hero who has a higher than average intelligence you must compensate for this by giving him some typical human flaws. Perhaps he likes to play the horses or has a drinking problem.
The Point Is Heroes Need To Be Human
First establish their humanity in the mind of the reader.
Show their love of their daughter, shoveling snow for their 80 year old neighbor, cheering for the local sports team during a losing season.
Once you have done this you’re golden.
Depending on the story you can have your hero chasing villains through obstacles a normal human could never possibly survive.
But, the thing that really defines a hero compared to someone else, is their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the good of the community or a higher cause.
This is what elevates Huckleberry Finn.
He knows in his heart of hearts that slavery is wrong. He is willing to sacrifice himself so that Jim can become free.
“Just because you’re taught that something’s right and everyone believes it’s right, it don’t make it right.”
Well said Huck.
This characteristic exists within us all and it is what draws readers to heroes.
Frequently in suspense stories the kidnapping victim is a young girl. Likewise, the stalking victim is a young woman.
Now ladies, don’t accuse me of being sexist. But this is something primordial that speaks to us on a biological level.
If women are more susceptible to attack than men, young girls are even more so.
Which one of us wouldn’t sacrifice ourselves to protect a child? But, little girls evoke this emotion even more strongly than little boys.
It boils down to protecting the nest on a biological level and protecting the future of our species on an ideological level.
The list of character traits can go on an on. You will see what works and what doesn’t as you write and revise.
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