Character Traits Entry: Dishonest

Definition: untrustworthy; lacking honesty, untruthful

Characters in Literature: The Great Gatsby; Rita Skeeter (Harry Potter) Pinocchio, Pirate Characters (ie Jack Sparrow; Captain Hook)

Common Portrayals: Pirates, Gamblers, Swindlers, Politicians, ‘the bad kid’, the co-worker who lies and uses ill-gotten information on others to climb the corporate ladder, Bank Robbers, Pedophiles, Drug addicts, cheating spouses

Clichés to Avoid: con-artist twenty-somethings running a scam on elderly/grandparents for money; the cop on the take; ‘the sullen bad boy’ teen; dishonest big corporations; the rich cheating husband; a falling for a rogue and then being shocked at eventual dishonesty/betrayal, used car salesman

Twists on the Traditional Dishonest Character:

  • Why do dishonest sorts always need to be rich jerks, seedy street folk or people who are bad to the bone? Try a dishonest nun! Let’s see a funeral director lie to a grieving family. Better yet, how about a doll-haired, cookie-baking granny who can lie through her teeth!
  • I would love to see a genuine dishonest-to-honest transformation that came about because of an internal epiphany, not through the love/guidance of someone else. Show us people can change, but they don’t need other people to ‘show them how’.
  • Create a scenario where dishonesty is the best course and will cause the least amount of hurt to others, and the stubborn, dishonest character chooses to be honest in order to go against ‘what other people deem as right’.


This sample, along with the rest of the character trait entries, has been expanded into book form! Together, THE NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER FLAWS and THE POSITIVE TRAIT THESAURUS: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO CHARACTER ATTRIBUTES contain over 200 traits for you to choose from when creating unique, memorable 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 Negative 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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[…] Dishonest […]

9 years ago

This feature is always terrific, but I especially like your suggested twists. Really thought-provoking.

9 years ago

This is so interesting–I love this post! I love how you identify potential causes of dishonesty. As with any character flaw, to keep a reader engaged, it helps to have a level of understanding as to why a character might have turned out a certain way.

Medeia Sharif
9 years ago

Great suggestions at the end!

I’m writing a dishonest character at the moment, so this helps.

Laura Pauling
9 years ago

I love dishonesty – and I go to church! Secrets, lies, betrayals – love them all. And then you had to go and paste in my favorite guy of all times. Jack/Johnny!

Juliana L. Brandt
9 years ago

I like this one! And isn’t it true, that dishonest people will change only when they’ve figured things out and not because someone has shown them the light? At leave I’ve found this to be true 🙂

Great post.

Julie Musil
9 years ago

This is awesome! I love the idea of making an seemingly innocent person be dishonest. How fun.

Angie Cothran
9 years ago

Awesome post Angela. I’ve got some very trustworthy pirates in my WIP, it’s nice to know I’m breaking a cliche.

Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

A perfectionist liar. I’d love to see that!

Ange, you picked this trait just so you could talk about pirates, didn’t you? I’ll be sure to leave all the zombie-related traits for you, too.

Becca Puglisi
9 years ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

Jemi Fraser
9 years ago

I’d like to see that kind of transformation too 🙂 Nice list!

Jeff King
9 years ago


Carrie Butler
9 years ago

“There is a certain reliability with someone who is dishonest in the sense that you can count on them to always act untrustworthy unless truth directly benefits them.” Absolutely! In fact, it perfectly describes one of the characters in my manuscript. The fun part is the challenge of making him a redeemable character. By the end of the book, I want people to hate the fact that they actually like him. 😉 Great post!

Lisa Gail Green
9 years ago

Oh my gosh! This actually just inspired an interesting thought… I will have explore. Thanks! 😀

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

Ha, thanks guys! I agree, there is something incredibly appealing about a dishonest character–often their motivations are not simple, and being honest does not always mean ‘being a bad person’.

I love pirates and especially Jack! How could I not post a pic of him here, lol?

9 years ago

This one holds a special place in my heart because I’ve come to love the character of Jack Sparrow so much! He is the perfect example of how to take a clique and turn it completely around.

9 years ago

Ooh! Ooh! Smeagol/Gollum! Or Saruman!

9 years ago

oh good post and dreamy pic 🙂 I’ll have to remember this when I write my next – book of thieves.

Stina Lindenblatt
9 years ago

I’m going to start pre-planning my next book soon. I’ll definitely be hanging out on this site when I do. 😀

(Not that I don’t normally)

SP Sipal
9 years ago

You forgot the “Captain” to Jack Sparrow. Of course, I had to read anything that started with his picture! 🙂

Captain Jack is an interesting example because he is honest in his dishonesty. Remember — “Pirate!”

Yes, I know this post is about more than Johhny Depp, but I can’t seem to talk about anything else. 🙂

I love these character resources you post because I do struggle with character, and when I do, resources like yours, and envisioning a real person I know or an awesome character like Captain Jack, truly helps!

9 years ago

Thank you for such a thorough post with so much detail. You got me to think this morning!
Donna V.

9 years ago

LOVE the picture you referenced for the character trait: so fitting. A dishonest character can adds such flaws and depth to our writing. Thanks bunches!!