Character Trait Entry: Guarded

Definition: Cautious or circumspect; to withhold from a place of doubt, mistrust or fear

Characters in Literature: Lucius Malfoy (Harry Potter); Brimstone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone); Roland Deschain of Gilead (The Gunslinger/Dark Tower Series)

Common Portrayals: Politicians, policemen, military personnel, criminals, prisoners of wars, battered women, abused or neglected children, leaders bearing sole responsibility for people that are at a disadvantage or at risk in some way

Clichés to Avoid: The lone, tortured hero with no past; mentally ill patients mistrusting their doctors; paranoid governments unable to work together to settle on a critical life-or-death issue yet must for the plot to succeed; the character who becomes guarded because of a crippling romantic betrayal or loss

Twists on the Traditional Guarded Character:  

  •  With heroes, a guarded personality type is often accompanied with strong intuition, heightened observation skills and sometimes fast reflexes, all of which allow them to act quickly even though a guarded nature should say otherwise. Make it harder on your survivalist hero or villain by not giving them ultra-developed intuition or physical attributes that overpower the negatives of a guarded trait.
  • Place the naturally secretive or guarded character in a situation that demands trust and openness to succeed.
  • Guarded characters usually embrace this side of their nature, believing it to be a trait of survival. Why not create a character who does not like feeling that he must question before choosing and dislikes holding back before trusting. Let his quest to let go of his guarded nature become part of his character arc (but not via romantic elements).


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.

Thesaurus Pair


Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, an online library packed with powerful tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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8 years ago

I have a character that fits this very well. He’s the sole survivor of an attack that razed his village when he was a child. He was tortured by the enemy and forever carries the physical and mental scars. He undergoes intensive martial arts training to try to quiet his mind and focus his discipline, but he cannot find the mental balance needed. His physical stamina and skill vastly improve, but he’s driven out of the monastery because they fear the danger in his volatile temperament. As you mentioned that this guardedness can be a hindrance – he never shakes the nightmares and bad memories and often wakes confused and scared and won’t sleep again for days. His intuition suffers because he’s paranoid that the world is full of dangers.

8 years ago

Thanks for the great post. I’m glad I found this blog, and you have just helped me flesh out one of the villains I’m working on.
AM Burns

Mary Witzl
8 years ago

In the EFL class I’m teaching, we’re covering personality traits right now — your blog post today is good reinforcement!

Kayelle Allen
8 years ago

OMGosh… I am now an esteemed stalker of this site. Awesome. How could I have been writing this long and not known about this blog? The horrors! I can only chalk it up to today being Halloween… *shudders*

Thank you for an awesome post and the many wonderful resources here. Woot!

Marsha Sigman
8 years ago

Ahhh, Roland. He may be the most tortured and most loved of all the characters I’ve ever read about.

Definitely hard to write! Great post!

8 years ago

I have to tell you this comes at a perfect time. THANK YOU!

C.R. Evers
8 years ago

another great list! Way to go! :0)

Jan Markley
8 years ago

Great post Angela! I cross posted it on my blog today!

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

Thanks, Elizabeth! So glad you found us.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina

I enjoy this site so much. I just tweeted it, I think it’s so helpful.

Angela Ackerman
8 years ago

Thanks Southpaw, Trish & Carrie!

Ha, you know me Becca–LOVE the Dark Tower & Roland. Can’t wait for the movie!

Traci, I think all great characters need to be somewhat guarded. Definitely we need to keep the reader in mind and not create such aloofness that the reader feels alienated. Thanks!


Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

What a surprise and delight to
find the cover of The Dark Tower
series for your blog. Definitely
guarded characters can liven up a
plot, but you’re right we have to be
careful of keeping the reader
alienated from knowing them. My wip has a guarded character as my protagonist, I guess I love to do things the hard way. I do hope the
reader gets to know him and come along on the story with him.

Carrie Butler
8 years ago

Very nice! 🙂

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

I wondered when you’d sneak Roland into this thesaurus ;). Great job.

Tricia J. O'Brien
8 years ago

Oooo, good one, Angela. Lots to think about.

8 years ago

I really love this series!