Character Trait Entry: Shy

Definition: disposed to avoid a person or thing; hesitant in committing oneself

Characters in Literature/Popular Culture: Lena (Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants), Edward Scissorhands, Celie (The Color Purple)

Common Portrayals: the new kid at school, the shy little brother or sister

Clichés to Avoid: the wallflower at the school dance; the shy girl/boy living in the shadow of a popular and successful sibling; the socially-awkward genius

Twists on the traditional shy character: 

  • Shy characters are so often quiet and retiring. For a twist, give your shy character a booming voice or a terrible temper
  • Villains are hardly ever shy. One who has to overcome his fears to achieve his dream of world-domination would be interesting
  • Instead of your character having to overcome his shyness, let it benefit him in achieving his goals
  • Make your shy character glamorous or drop-dead gorgeous instead of drab, bland, and fashionably clueless

Build a worthy protagonist with a mix of unique strengths that will help him overcome obstacles and achieve meaningful goals.

This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded into book form. Together, the bestselling NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 traits for you to choose from when creating memorable, compelling characters. Each entry contains possible causes for the trait, as well as positive and negative aspects, traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict, and associated behaviors, attitudes, thoughts, and emotions. For more information on this bestselling book and where it can be found, please visit our bookstore.

Love working online and having your favorite description resources in one place? We’ve got you covered. The entries from the Positive Trait Thesaurus book have been integrated into our online library at One Stop For Writers. Now you can search and cross-reference between all our thesaurus collections quickly and easily. Interested in viewing a free sample? Register at One Stop and see all that this intuitive library for writers has to offer.

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Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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12 Responses to Character Trait Entry: Shy

  1. kate says:

    Which guidebook has the “shy” category?

    • Hi, Kate! We have a few entries that could work, depending on whether or not you’d consider that trait to be a flaw for your character or a positive attribute. Here are the definitions for those entries and where they can be found:

      Timid (Negative Trait Thesaurus): easily cowed; lacking bravery, courage, and self-assurance

      Withdrawn (Negative Trait Thesaurus): detached from others, having retreated inside oneself

      Introverted (Positive Trait Thesaurus): being inclined to explore one’s inner mental landscape more so than the outer world

      All these entries can also be found at One Stop For Writers. I hope this helps!

  2. Selene Hughes says:

    I’m a little shy myself, so ‘shy’ is easy to write for my MC. But now she’s also absolutely gorgeous and charismatic – despite just wanting to be left alone. Thanks!

  3. Great post. Wonderful examples of shy people in movies. I’ve seen two out of the three movies.

  4. Sarah says:

    A lot of the super-shy kids I’ve worked with were really loud and controlling at home, so there’s really something to that! Great post!

  5. I adore the idea of a shy character with a booming voice. Quirks can be so entertaining. Great post! 🙂

  6. kara says:

    Yes! This is a perfect post for me, my MC’s love interest is shy, and shy is very hard to write! Thanks. 🙂

  7. Heather says:

    This is good stuff! Just reading the causes and twists gave me idea. 🙂

  8. Interesting post. Thank you, dear lady. How about a shy politician or public figure? Wouldn’t THAT be a refreshing change? What’s that saying … better to remain silent and be thought the fool than to speak, and remove all doubt.

  9. I can identify with this. Definitely a hindrance…

  10. This is the perfect post for me – I’m having trouble developing a shy character at the moment. Thanks

    Wagging Tales – Blog for Writers

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