Character Trait Entry: Impulsive

Definition: acting on desires, whims or inclination without forethought

Characters in Literature: Romeo (Romeo & Juliet); Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gabels); Fred & George Weasley (Harry Potter)

Common Portrayals: Dare-devils & adrenaline junkies; people with ADD or ADHD; kids labeled with ‘behavior problems’; Artists, Actors & creative types; Hoarders; Shoplifters; Shop-a-holics; People prone to violence; Mobsters & criminals; Celebrities; Teenagers

Clichés to Avoid: The troublemaker student; impulsive sex leading to pregnancy; the ‘single impulsive choice resulting in terrible consequences‘ as a plot device (especially when impulsive behavior is not a character trait); pairing impulsiveness with stupidity; the ‘straight-laced girl who acts impulsive to fit in‘ plot device

Twists on the Traditional Impulsive:

  • Impulsives whose actions end in a good result instead of a bad result, and this causes unforeseen conflict. Think about it–usually bad things have to happen to get our characters into trouble. Wouldn’t it be great to see the opposite? A challenge yes, but being able to offer something new to readers? Oh so worth it!
  • Characters who are both impulsive and intelligent. Because Impulsiveness is often paired with doing something stupid, wouldn’t it be great to see a character’s inner conflict because of his or her’s opposing traits?
  • An organized, thoughtful character who must embrace impulsiveness for the greater good. So, rather than a personal gain, the character’s impulsiveness is the key to something bigger. This would create a lot of inner turmoil, embracing a trait so unsuited to one’s personality.


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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[…] Impulsive […]

3 years ago

So many of my characters could be described as intelligent and impulsive. Their intelligence gives them so many interesting ways to make bad decisions. ‘

Leah Banicki
8 years ago

Would Sherlock Holmes be considered impulsive? He was extremely good at defending his every action with some personal logic he had.
Gonna play around with a variation on an impulsive character, thanks for the information. Good brain candy

Gail Shepherd
9 years ago

I definitely warm up to impulsive characters the most. I think a lot of us love to see characters who are super free, even if it gets them in trouble, because as humans in society, we are expected to control ourselves constantly. There’s a fascinating article in NYT magazine — maybe last week? About how having a lot of choices, and decisions, to make, erodes our self control and will power.

Cynthia Chapman Willis

Fred and George were such lovable impulsive characters. I’m so glad you used them as examples. This helped me to see that being impulsive is not always a negative trait.

Carol Riggs
9 years ago

Fred and George, yaaaay! Definitely Anne Shirley, too. Another great entry for character traits…will have to consider impulsiveness for my characters. I have to make sure they’re not all the same (rational, logical, think-before-you-act kind of people). 🙂

Rachna Chhabria
9 years ago

Loved this post. The main character in my book is extremely impulsive. You have given me plenty of great ideas. Thanks for this awesome post.

9 years ago

I love these posts! Who doesn’t adore Anne Shirley? You’ve given us some great ideas, as always.

Stina Lindenblatt
9 years ago

LOL This is totally me. 😀

Clarissa Draper
9 years ago

Another great post.

My editor is on my about my always smiling characters so I’m going to have to go through your blog and look for better ways to express a smile.

Debbie Maxwell Allen
9 years ago

This was a good one. I think it’s been a while since I’ve made a character impulsive. It’s a great reminder!


9 years ago

Great post. Impulsive characters are often some of the most entertaining in fiction, and they’re great for conflict. The Weasley’s were an excellent example.

Bish Denham
9 years ago

Most excellent Angela. (Am I the only one who got thoroughly irritated by Anne?)

Jeff King
9 years ago

ohhh— i love this one!

9 years ago

A hard character to wrestle into doing what their supposed to in a story. They tend to get carried away with things. Sometimes, it leads to a better story though. Great character trait as always!!

Susanne Drazic
9 years ago

Great post. I think I’m going to try and add a few impulsive characters to my current writing project. Will probably help to liven it up.

9 years ago

Adding a twist to traditional impulsive characters sounds intriguing. And quite challenging!

Matthew MacNish
9 years ago

I love how impulsive characters can walk a fine line between inspiring and annoying. Sometimes managing both at once.

Not Fred and George though. They were never annoying. Loved ’em!

Lisa Gail Green
9 years ago

One of my MC’s is extremely impulsive, and boy was he fun to write!! 😀

Carrie Butler
9 years ago

I love writing impulsive characters–especially those who scramble to mentally justify their actions afterward. 😀 Great post!

The Golden Eagle
9 years ago

I love the idea of forcing an organized character to be impulsive; that would be an interesting challenge!

Silent Pages
9 years ago

I love impulsive characters. ^^ And I can think of a few in my own writing when I read this post…

My ambassador who can’t keep his mouth shut, my completely INSANE character whom I love to pieces… XD

This’ll be good to look at again when I’m trying to develop their personalities. ^^ So, thank you! Your posts are always great.

Deb Marshall
9 years ago

Anne is my all time fave character. Packing like a mad woman right now and wanted ti say thanks for this post. Going to delve into it on my write day next.week.!

9 years ago

This is a fun one! And I love the twists on the traditional. Fred and George are such a perfect example of impulsive done right, great choice of pictures!

Angela Ackerman
9 years ago

Loved Anne of Green Gabels. Her heart was always in the right place, wasn’t it? And Calvin–that’s a great example! Thanks, both of you. 🙂

Rene Peterson
9 years ago

One of my favorite book characters when I was growing up was Katie John – who was impulsive in the extreme. I loved living vicariously through her exploits. Fred and George Weasley are now two of my son’s favorite book characters. He also loves Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. All impulsive characters living life on the edge.

Laura Marcella
9 years ago

Great post! Anne Shirley is one of my favorite literary characters. She was impulsive resulting in plenty of hilarious disasters, but she never made the same mistake twice!