Character Traits as Sliding Scales

Epic Quest

I’m going to get right into the first writing discussion here on Epically Written by borrowing an idea from a little podcast called Writing Excuses. OK, maybe not little per say, maybe the one of the most popular (if not the most popular) fantasy writing podcasts out there.

If you want to check out the episode in question, I’ll put the link up at the end of this post.

So the technique that was discussed in the episode was Three Pronged Character Development. Basically, you take three character traits (Brandon Sanderson took Proactivity, Competence and Sympathy) and you slide them up or down to create different types of character.

For instance, if you slide Proactivity and Competence down, but Sympathy way up, you end up with Harry Potter. But if you slide Sympathy way down, Competence up a little and Proactivity way up, you get Voldemort (ack! I mean, er, He Who Must Not Be Named).

You can even get rid of these traits and slot in your own. How about Cooperative, Charming and Heroic? Let’s slide Cooperative and Heroic right down, but Charming up, and we could end up with Nicomo Cosca from the First Law universe. Or let’s slide Cooperative right up, but Charming and Heroic down, and maybe we end up with Elric of Melniboné? Or crank everything to maximum and we have Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (and most of the Fellowship besides).

Depending on the traits you choose, you can really skew in favour of a protagonist or antagonist. But if you were to leave what we consider more “good” traits in the mix and play with the sliders, you could create an antagonist who becomes really relatable to readers.

Now, Brandon Sanderson admits that this technique may not always be useful when you’re initially creating your characters. I have to agree. This method can be somewhat limiting, leading a writer to overlook the finer nuances of a character if he isn’t careful. But what this approach is useful for is troubleshooting. When you run into a wall with a character and you’re not sure what is missing that’s stopping them being interesting/engaging. So, play with this technique and see what it can do for you.

Again, a lot of this is retread from that Writing Excuses episode, but I felt it was really valuable advice and had to get it down for those who are not familiar with the podcast.

Epic Quest Time!

Alright, here’s your first ever Epic Quest! I encourage you to visit the About/Epic FAQs page to read up on what these are. In simple terms, I give you a writerly exercise to go and try out


Epic Quest #1 – “The Character Generator”

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is a simple one. Go and create a character from scratch using this three-trait slider system. Choose any three traits you want. It’s up to you whether you give your character a backstory (keep it brief), but you must also name your character.

It would be great if you came back to the blog afterwards and shared your character with us all, too!


Writing Excuses Link: Writing Excuses 9.13: Three Pronged Character Development

Enjoyed this post? Why not join the discussion in the comments below? Go on, it’s sure to be epic!

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4 comments

  1. Originally Posted by “everwalker”:

    Character name: Thea Cirrus
    Sister, soldier and sociopath.
    A fae from the Roman era who followed her older brother into exile in the mortal world and lands in the middle of an invaded country.

    “By the standards of your people, you are my superior. But by the standards of mine, you never could be.”

    (Thanks, Cajradonich, for the neat summary style!)

  2. Originally Posted by “cajradonich”:

    Character Name – Myrna Kir’ash
    Irascibility – high. Sympathy – low. Loyalty – high.
    An enigmatic young woman of noble blood turned mercenary.
    “Do you think you know why I have chosen to live like this? So have many others. But guess what? They were everyone of them wrong. Keep your speculations to yourself.”
    -Cajradonich

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