Definition: lacking coherence or orderliness; a lack of systematic structure
Characters in Literature & Film: The 7 Dwarves (Snow White); Charlie (the Perks of Being a Wallflower); Clark Griswold (National Lampoon Vacation)
Common Portrayals: Writers, artists and other creative types; hoarders; the elderly; geniuses; the mentally ill; characters in slapstick comedy roles; red necks; messy teenagers
Clichés to Avoid: The ‘mad’ scientist; the eclectic wizard, the harried mother/aunt/grandmother/teacher with too many kids to keep track of; using a disorganized antagonist or gang of thugs as a plot device so the hero may easily defeat them
Twists on the Traditional Disorganized Character:
- Disorganized protagonists are never portrayed at their bleakest, or they have positive traits which negate their irresponsibility, leading to an ‘all is forgiven’ scenario. Challenge yourself to write a character who is extremely disorganized and excels at consistently disappointing others. How will you balance such a character to still make them likable to the reader?
- This character type is used to disappointing others and then shrugging it off as, ‘Sorry, but that’s how I am. Forgive me?’ What happens when someone they count on in turn lets them down in a huge way–an unforgivable way?
- Show us a character who views her own disorganization with contempt, and pair it with the drive to change. As initial failures mount, this will give the reader a view of ironic self-disappointment.
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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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.
Hey, I thought this post was about me! LOL
My goal this month is to become organized.
Mirka Breen says
Not me, but this type feels so familiar… maybe it fits many people around me.
If only we organized types could fix it… No amount of organizing another person can work. And you better believe we try.
The interesting thing for me about the scattered types is the effect they have on others.
Melinda S. Collins says
Hehehe…. I couldn’t help but giggle when I saw this character trait entry. I’m fairly OCD with certain things, but when it comes to my writing space, I have what I like to call ‘organized chaos.’ Nobody else would be able to make sense of the piles and piles of books and papers, but if you asked me where a particular post-it note was, I could find it in 2 seconds flat – haha! So I guess I can relate a little to Clark Griswald in that aspect. 🙂
Uh… Stupid thing. I’ll just move these books over. I’ll mop that up later. Any way I never have any problem being organized.
Jemi Fraser says
Perfect pic for this one!! I read one novel a while back where one of the MCs was disorganized in personal life & organized in professional – it was very well written 🙂
Arlee Bird says
That sounds like the way my wife would describe me.
I love this description and now it makes me want to write a character like this. What fun! So many complications could arise.
Wrote By Rote
Angela Ackerman says
LOL, I love reading everyone’s own read into personal disorganization. I think writers operate in a ‘Order Within Chaos’ mode a lot of the time. Or, what we do appears to be disorganized to others, but to us, it all fits and makes sense.
I love this trait, because there is so much you can do with it, and it creates empathy with the reader, because we all feel we struggle with it at some point or another. 🙂
Miranda Hardy says
You’ve discribed my everyday life. lol
Love that movie. Great trait!
Becca Puglisi says
Oh my gosh. Al will be so proud to see Clark featured on our blog. Great choice!
Dane, that’s a good point. EVERY character needs some good qualities to make them relatable. Clark, for example, is very loyal and ridiculously optimistic. Our characters need both negative and positive qualities to make then well-rounded, believable, and likable.
Dane Zeller says
Stimulating topic. Disorganized characters come to mind quickly, mostly played by John Candy: “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” and “Uncle Buck.” No detective has been disheveled as much as the one-eyed Peter Falk in “Columbo.”
In creating a disorganized character, doesn’t he or she have to have one heck of a redeeming quality, especially if they are the protagonist or a significant character?
I’m just brainstorming on this. Can you think of an important character who is totally disorganized without one important positive trait? I could be wrong.
Rebecca Kiel says
The photo of Clark made me laugh. (And then cough because I have a cold.) Disorganized is a great trait to highlight. Characters who are highly disorganized in one arean and meticulously organized in another interest me.
Anne Gallagher says
Oh this is so me!
Natalie Aguirre says
Love how you picked Chevy Chase in that movie as an example. Awesome.
I’m the opposite. Super organized maybe to the extreme.
Katrina S. Forest says
My photo would work quite well on this entry too. Though, in my defense, may I add “rampaging one-year-old” to the list of causes?
I am this to a degree at times but then I tend to go through periods of disorganization of my desk to comfortable neatness. It just depends.
Ah, Clark W. Griswold. Sad to say, that may have been Chevy Chase’s finest moment on the big screen.
You could have used a picture of me in front of my desk for this one. As a supremely disorganized person, I will tell you one of my greatest triumphs on a day-to-day basis is when I remember an address or phone number I need, look at the mountain on the desk, and reach underneath to the exact spot where that paper is.