Definition: inclined to criticize severely; to evaluate judiciously
Characters in Literature: Headmistress Trunchbull (Matilda); Professor Snape (Harry Potter); Norma Bates ‘Mother’ (Psycho)
Common Portrayals: Unyielding coaches, professors and teachers; nuns who run orphanages & schools; pressuring parents living their dreams through their children via sports/activities; Army boot camp trainers
Clichés to Avoid: The overbearing parent or grandparent; a sadistic principal or teacher who enjoys brow-beating students; the older sister who is over critical of her younger siblings; the boss for whom nothing is ever good enough
Twists on the Traditional Critic:
- Critics are often portrayed as negative within a storyline, or even as villains. Try creating a critical character as a positive force, rather than a ‘necessary evil’ device for another character to succeed (like your typical coach/star athlete duo).
- Most critics are seen as hardened individuals made that way by circumstances & the environment. Try to infuse soft-hardheartedness in your critic, or give us a critical character who is emotional &/ encouraging.
- The critical character’s biggest target is often themselves. They can drive themselves with high expectations and then hold others to the same standards. What happens when a critical, driven character is placed in a situation where the goal is to ensure a defeat of some kind, not success?
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.
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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, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
Marsha Sigman says
Snape is such a rich brilliant character. Also The Trunchbull.lol
Now I’m going to have to rethink one or two of my characters!
Kim Van Sickler says
“What happens when a critical, driven character is placed in a situation where the goal is to ensure a defeat of some kind, not success?” You could end up with a brilliant character like Sue Sylvester on Glee.
Stina Lindenblatt says
My family and I watched the first Harry Potter movie (again) the weekend. Snape was the perfect choice for this post. 😀
Leslie Rose says
Snape is a wonderful example. He ended up being one of the most multi-dimensional characters in the series, but his critical nature made us slow to warm up to him at all. I also love Gandalf’s cranky critical side in LOTR.
Traci Kenworth says
I have to agree that it’s may be hard
to make a critical character
sympathetic, but it would be a
challenge to try. I like my challenges–
Carrie Butler says
So true about the cliches, and I loved the twists. Great post! 🙂
Laura Pauling says
I think it’s really hard to make a critical character likeable. Snape is a great example. I think it’s even harder when it’s the main character. They make great antagonists though!
Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina says
I enjoy the way you analye so many aspects of a trait, giving it more dimension.
Kelly Hashway says
Eccentric is such a good trait to mix with critical, and it can also be a motivator for being critical. So many possibilities there.
Cynthia Chapman Willis says
The photo of Snape is perfect for this post! Critical people and characters can be very complicated, which is why I love your twists on the traditional critic-fantastic!
Becca Puglisi says
Love the positives here. It’s so often viewed as negative, but when tempered, being critical is a useful and powerful trait.
Mirka Breen says
I especially liked the mention of avoiding the ‘critical character clichés.’ How tempting they are, and how ultimately flat.
“An eye for flaws,” I love that! Something to keep in mine while writing envious characters. As always, you picked the perfect character for envy!
Loree Huebner says
Love the “twist on traditional” tips you posted.
Aloha and hi from HI 🙂
A Bluddy (blog buddy) of mine told me about y’all, and I just wanted to say “put me in, coach…” I don’t know that you need another muse, but y’all are writing some great stuff, so mahalo!
Dianne K. Salerni says
I like this post! I’m in the stages of planning a new project, and you’ve given me something to think about here!
Theresa Milstein says
I kept hearing, “Fifty points from Gryffindor,” as I read this post. Snape was extra critical with the Gryffindor, but favored Slytherin. Such a great antagonist.
I’ll be sad when you run out of character types.