Every writer wants their books to be full of characters that leap off the page, the kind of characters that readers can’t resist.
We want our books to be unputdownable, with readers waiting desperately for our next tale.
One of the things we must have to make that happen is well-rounded, complex, and interesting characters.
What they can’t be is entirely good.
They need bad traits and negative qualities to round them out and make them convincing and as real as we can make them.
Below, we’ll talk about why you need a list of negative personality traits for your characters, and we’ll follow that with a list of fifteen examples of negative character traits.
- Why You Need a Negative Traits List for Your Characters
- 15 Negative Personality Traits for Your Book Characters with Examples
Why You Need a Negative Traits List for Your Characters
We all have flaws and bad personality traits, whether we like to admit it or not, and your characters need these traits too. How else can they seem so real and relatable to the reader? We want to laugh and cry with these characters.
We want to cringe when we know their flaws will make them do something they shouldn’t. We want to cheer for them when they overcome their negative qualities and reach their happy ending.
You need to get to know your characters fully, including their negative character traits, and creating a list of negative personality traits for them can really help.
Here are just some of the reasons you need to include bad traits when creating your characters:
- You need a convincing villain. Naturally, they’re going to need a laundry list of bad personality traits. But don’t just make them evil for evil’s sake. Don’t forget the villain thinks they’re the hero in their own story. Look at their good traits too, and you’ll have a more fully-rounded villain that readers love to hate.
- Adding negative traits makes your characters more real, more complex, and highly memorable.
- Your characters will be deeper and have deeper motivations and internal thoughts. They’ll interact more realistically with other equally well-rounded characters.
- Give your main character a fatal flaw, and you’re giving them a weakness or a misbelief that they have to overcome to succeed. This gives you your character arc, showing how the main character changes and grows over the course of the story. It also drives the plot and adds tension and conflict to deepen your story and make it more interesting.
- While you shouldn’t overdo it and try to jam too many positive and negative traits into your characters, if you think about them as a whole person, bad traits and all, you’ll more likely come up with unique characters that no one else has.
Once you’ve come up with your basic character, here’s what to do with your list of negative personality traits and how to use it:
You need to really get inside the skin of each character and understand who they are and what makes them tick. You then need to make sure you choose negative traits that fit with who your characters are.
Don’t try to shoehorn negative qualities in there for the plot or convenience. They have to work with your characters’ personalities and inner core.
Also, try not to go for the most obvious negative traits and choose the first ones you think of. Try to dig deeper and find out what’s really going on with your characters and why.
Finally, you can use flaws in combination, blending them together to make a more unique and real character.
15 Negative Personality Traits for Your Book Characters with Examples
To get you started, we’ve chosen 15 negative character traits that you can use to develop and deepen your characters, along with some examples from other books.
1. Full of Pride
Who else could we add here but Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice? This beautifully illustrates what we said above. Adding negative traits to your characters doesn’t render them entirely unlikeable.
In addition, without Mr. Darcy’s pride, we’d really have no plot to this book.
Here’s an example of Mr. Darcy at his prideful best:
“He looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humor at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”
Lady Portia Featherington is a terrific villain in the Bridgerton books. She’ll happily manipulate anyone to get what she wants without thought or care for the consequences.
“Get them to invest, take every pound that they offer. Our fortunes will be restored.”
Someone who is pedantic can’t wait to correct others on the smallest of faults or errors. It’s not a serious flaw by any means, but it does add something interesting to a character.
Mary Bennet, also from Pride and Prejudice, is a great example of a pedantic character. While this isn’t a quote from Mary herself, it’s an excellent description of her from Jane Austen herself:
“Mary had neither genius nor taste; and though vanity had given her application, it had given her likewise a pedantic air and conceited manner, which would have injured a higher degree of excellence than she had reached.”
Spoiled characters can be great fun to write, and it’s interesting to watch them change and grow over the course of the story.
Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden is one such character:
“Mary’s lips pinched themselves together. She was no more used to considering other people than Colin was, and she saw no reason why an ill-tempered boy should interfere with the thing she liked best… When she had had a headache in India, she had done her best to see that everybody else also had a headache or something quite as bad.”
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Mean, and penny-pinching characters can be highly unpleasant, usually coupled with other equally unattractive negative traits.
Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park typifies this, with being miserly as just one of her many unattractive characteristics:
“Mrs. Norris had not the least intention of being at any expense whatever in [Fanny’s] maintenance. As far as walking, talking, and contriving reached, she was thoroughly benevolent… she knew quite as well how to save her own [money] as to spend that of her friends.”
Childish or immature characters can either stay that way and learn nothing or spend the length of the book growing up and accepting responsibility. This can be an interesting character arc to explore.
Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, really is the obvious character choice for this:
“Forget them, Wendy. Forget them all. Come with me where you’ll never, never have to worry about grown-up things again.”
Rash, thoughtless, imprudent, irrational, reckless – all words that apply only too well to one of the most well-known characters in literature. Who could forget Bertie Wooster of Jeeves and Wooster fame?
“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”
The only question is, will your foolish character stay the same throughout your book, or will they learn something along the way?
Some people just love being mean to others. They enjoy talking about them behind their backs, talking down to them, and feeling superior.
One of the best examples of a character starting out like this and then redeeming himself over the course of the story is Edmund Pevensie from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
“Up to that moment, Edmund had been feeling sick, and sulky, and annoyed with Lucy for being right, but he hadn’t made up his mind what to do. When Peter suddenly asked him the question, he decided all at once to do the meanest and most spiteful thing he could think of. He decided to let Lucy down.”
No one likes a bully, but they can make for good characters, especially if redeemed. There’s even a whole genre of bully romance where the hero and heroine fall for each other, despite him being a bully.
Draco Malfoy, and his henchmen, Crabbe and Goyle, are typical examples of high school bullies.
“Red hair and a hand-me-down robe? You must be a Weasley.”
“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little mudblood!”
We’re sticking with Draco Malfoy here too. He, and his father, Lucius, are both excellent examples of arrogant characters who really do think they’re above everyone else.
You can see that you can add more than one negative trait and blend them really well to form a more complex character that works beautifully.
An arrogant character is very likely to bully others simply because of their feelings of superiority.
“You’ll soon find out that some wizarding families are better than others, Potter. You don’t wanna go making friends with the wrong sort. I can help you there.”
11. Dishonest and Deceitful
Devious and dishonest characters who lie convincingly can also be manipulative. Again, you can mix two or more different traits to add depth to a character.
George Wickham from Pride and Prejudice is incredibly dishonest and attempts to manipulate Elizabeth Bennet into thinking ill of Mr. Darcy:
“The world is blinded by his fortune and consequence, or frightened by his high and imposing manners, and sees him only as he chooses to be seen.”
Whatever you think of the books, Fifty Shades of Grey is popular, and Christian Grey, the lead male character, is definitely possessive and controlling.
Here’s a quote from Ana realizing that he’s found out where she lives without asking her:
“I belatedly realize he’s not asked me where I live – yet he knows. But then, he sent the books, of course, he knows where I live. What able, cell-phone tracking, helicopter-owning stalker wouldn’t?”
While it is a quote from another character, it speaks volumes about the kind of person who would track someone down without asking.
Vindictive, vengeful characters can add a lot of tension to a story. They’re likely to be ruthless in pursuit of their revenge, and some may do whatever it takes to get it, despite what it might do to other people in their life.
While he certainly does have his reasons, Edmund Dantes from The Count of Monte Cristo is a great example of a vengeful character:
“I, who have also been betrayed, assassinated, and cast into a tomb, I have emerged from that tomb by the grace of God, and I owe it to God to take my revenge. He has sent me for that purpose. Here I am.”
14. Lust for Power
So many evil things can be done in the pursuit of power that you can incorporate a great many negative traits under this umbrella, including ruthlessness, arrogance, lack of mercy, cruelty, and more.
Safe to say, it never ends well in most books for the villain who chases power above all things.
Think of Voldemort from the Harry Potter books:
“There is no good and evil. There is only power. And those too weak to seek it.”
Greed, like the quest for power, can drive people to do terrible things. Both traits can be good ones for your villains as long as you add nuance to your characters with further negative traits and some positive ones as well.
Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol really is the epitome of miserliness and greed. Who else could we choose for a better example of greed than him?
“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”
What can we say to that except “Bah humbug!”
We hope we’ve given you some ideas for using negative traits and flaws to enhance even your greatest heroes and deepen their characters.
Think carefully about what traits your characters have, both positive and negative, to build well-rounded characters that people can’t forget.