Secret Weapon of the Clever Writer
The Static Trait is the small personal HABIT an individual character displays which reveals their personal Neurosis, their driving NEED, especially in stressful situations. This habitual or even ritual behavior acts as both their greatest source of trouble and the linchpin to their success. It's the individual character's "Accident Waiting to Happen".
The most obvious place to find visible Static Traits is in both Comedies and Tragedies. These stories (and movies) RELY on their characters' Static Traits to linchpin the plot.
What made Laurel and Hardy so funny, were the little neurotic habits -- the static traits -- that would appear under stressful situations. Abbot and Costello built whole routines on Bud Abbot's little twitchy responses. The climactic scene in every one of their movies involved Abbot in a panic attack. You spent half the movie going "Oh no! Don't! Don't! Don't!...AH! He did."
I don't watch tragedies as a rule, but just about every Greek play I've read involves the Protagonist acting on their Neurosis, the emotional need they can't -- or won't -- control which brings them crashing down.
Pandora acting on her uncontrollable Curiosity opened that box of ills.
Paris acting on his uncontrollable need for Love judged Venus as the loveliest goddess in a contest with Hera and Athena, to gain the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. Unfortunately, she was already married to a powerful and vindictive warlord.
Oedipus acting on his uncontrollable need for Recognition killed the king and married the queen, who just happened to be his biological parents.
Arachne acting on her uncontrollable Pride - bragged that her ability to weave was greater than a goddess's and was turned into a spider.
Prometheus acting on uncontrollable his need for Revenge - gave fire to mankind and was thus chained to a rock to be eaten alive by buzzards for the rest of eternity.
In stories that are Not tragedies, this neurosis-based habit DOES cause their downfall, but also comes to their rescue at the Climax then CHANGES by the end of the story, quite literally Showing that the character has conquered their neurosis.
The movie The Mummy is loaded with static traits. Just about every single character in the movie had a static trait based on their personal neurosis and either lived or died because of it.
> Evelyn's (Evie) personal neurosis was her obsession with being an Egyptologist. Her static trait had to do with books. If it was a book, she had to touch it. Evie's opening scene defined her character; she was filing books and knocked over an entire set of bookcases (rather like dominoes) because she simply HAD to put that book where it needed to be. The entire catastrophic release of the Mummy happened because she simply HAD to have (as well as open and read) the Book of the Dead.
-- Her Trait came to her rescue because her Habit allowed her to be able to Read ancient Egyptian, allowing her to be able to not only find the correct book to dispel the Mummy, but know which spell was the right one to use. She conquered her neurosis when she allowed the book to be destroyed.
> Evie's brother Jonathan's personal neurosis was greed. His static trait was kleptomania. If it was small and shiny, he had to have it. His opening scene involved showing off to his sister his latest theft. Because of his habit for picking up shiny things, he never quite lost the object he stole the key to the Book of the Dead.
-- His trait came to his rescue when he pick-pocketed the needed 'key' from the bad guys. However, he didn't conquer his neurosis. He walked out of that temple with a huge stash of gold.
> Rick' O'Connell's personal neurosis was that he was an outsider. He never quite fit in with whatever group he was with even his fellow Americans. His solution to everything, his static trait was "fight it". He was constantly leaping into one fight after another. Evie met him while he was in jail for being in a brawl. In every scene involving an attack of some sort, he was the first one to dive into the fight.
-- His trait came to his rescue when he needed to go on a one-on-one battle with a supernatural creature without immediately dying. He conquered his neurosis when he allowed Evie to destroy the monster with a spell rather than trying to do it himself.
> Beni's personal neurosis was cowardice. His static trait was freezing in place and shivering. He ended up working for Imhotep, because he simply did not have the guts to run away.
-- His trait NEVER came to his rescue, and in fact destroyed him.
> Imhotep's (the Mummy) personal neurosis was love. He got into trouble and became the Mummy - because he was in love with the pharaoh's concubine. Everything he did was to get his one true love back from the dead. His static trait was his single-minded focus on regaining his lost love at any cost.
-- Because Evie resembled his beloved, his neurosis made him grab for Evie -- which was his biggest mistake. If he had grabbed any other female, he would have gotten away with the resurrection of his beloved.
The movie CONSTANTINE is very much a "character-driven" story where a character's personality (and personal neuroses,) ruled the results of any given crisis.
> Those that changed and adapted -- lived.
> Those that couldn't -- died.
AND ~ Every character had a Static Trait, a Habit that outlined their individual neuroses.
> Constantine's static trait was chain-smoking.
> Angelica used a gun to fix all her problems.
> Balthazar, a half-demon, flipped a coin between his fingers.
> Gabrial, an angel half-breed, liked to pontificate on how very noble human-kind could be if their natural selfishness didn't get in the way.
> Beeman, John's buddy that supplied interesting toys and hard to find artifacts, collected bugs.
> Chas, a young cabby and John's other buddy, wanted to be an exorcist like John, so he was forever trying to follow John into dangerous situations.
> Father Hennessy, another of John's buddies, was an actual exorcist with a talent for sensing evil, though he couldn't actually see them the way John could, was an alcoholic.
If they faced and conquered their neuroses, their Static Trait changed a visible sign of the change that had happened within the character.
Of course, only a few people in the whole movie fixed their issues and changed their static trait. The rest died. However, being a Horror movie, this was pretty much expected.
How to use this in Fiction
Start with your character's personal neurosis and pick a small habit that shows their personal neurosis in action. This Habit should get them Into as much trouble as it gets them Out of trouble, and it should be the linchpin that either sets off or defuses the climactic scene.
Having a hard time finding your character's Personal Neurosis?
-- Try looking at your character's core Motivation. What obsessive habit would define this?
In Walt Disney's Beauty & the Beast
-- Gaston's motivation was his Selfishness in the form of Narcissism. "I deserve the best!" This was reflected in his static trait of always looking in the mirror. Even when hunting the Beast, he stopped to look at his own reflection.
-- Beast, in complete reverse of Gaston, utterly Refused to look into mirrors because his Original personal neurosis was exactly THE SAME as Gaston's: Narcissism.
They were BOTH obsessed with their APPEARANCE, but then, the movie's Premise was all about "Looking Beneath the Surface".
In Erotic Fiction...
-- The Static Trait should be Sexual in nature.
A woman who wears skimpy clothes.
A guy who wears tight jeans and/or leaves his shirt open to the navel.
Long Hair on either gender. This IS a sexual trait!
Fur, Leather, or shiny Plastic clothing on either gender.
An oral habit such as licking the lips, biting the bottom lip, chewing on pens, sucking on lollipops, or even smoking.
Physically Touching anyone they speak to.
Posing provocatively instead of merely sitting or standing.
For another example...
-- One of my Static Traits is redefining difficult concepts into simple terms. This comes from my obsession to write as clearly and concisely as I can, and is motivated by my personal neurosis of Avoiding Reality by creating fantasy worlds real enough to hide in. (grin)
DISCLAIMER: As with all my advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.
Looking for more of my Writing Tips & Tricks?
This is something new, I might try it sometime.
-- Just remember that if you use a 'habitual' static trait in the story, you might need to come up with a Reason for why they developed that habit, and a way to either fix that Reason, or simply come to terms with it by the story's end.
THIS is Perfect! (And cute too!)
-- However, in order to conquer her neurosis; her obsession with sex, she needs to STOP being obsessed with sex.
To do this, you need to consider WHY Evie is obsessed with sex.
-- That core issue hiding under her obsession is 1) what she needs to discover, and 2) conquer.
-- According to my research, (and talking to my girlfriends,) most people obsessed with sex aren't actually looking for Sex, per se. They're looking for Affection; for someone to Love them Emotionally. They're simply using sex to get the only form of affection they think is available to them, not realizing that sex isn't always 'affectionate' but a simple physical release, like going to the toilet. This tends to generate extreme disappointment, frequent broken hearts, and the impression that they are worthy of real Love.
So! For Evie to conquer her neurosis, someone (the Mummy?) would have to declare that they were In Love with her, then go out of their way to prove to her that she's actually worthy of being loved.
First of all, Lust, Being Horny, and Obsession with Sex are all the same things. They're just different ways of saying it. (Get yourself a thesaurus. Seriously.) The word "lust," however, can also be used as another way of saying "Extreme Hunger".
More importantly, you just made the same mistake you made in the previous post. (Face-palm.) You've mistaken a Symptom: Lust/Being horny, for a Cause: the Neurosis making the Lust happen.
Allow me to put this simply:
Symptom of the Problem: Need for Sex (lust).
Motivation: Relieve the need for Sex.
Neurosis: Whatever is causing the need for Sex.
What is the name of neurosis for wanting affection?
-- Google.com is your friend. Use It.
Can you make up any kind of neurosis (cause) from their motivation (symptom)?
-- Yep! Just make sure you Research the different kinds of Neurosis first! If you get it Wrong, your readers will hate-mail you all about it.
...so and so's motivation is to become rich, but their neurosis was reading? Does that make sense?
-- Of course it does. Students read all the time to get good grades in school so they can be rich later. To such students reading often becomes an obsession; a symptom of their Neurosis. --> Their need to become rich in the only way they were told would make them rich: Reading.
-- Yes because, a character's Neurosis is usually what creates the character's motivation to do something, even if the character is unaware of it.
But you wrote that if someone is having a hard time figuring out a characters neurosis, you look at their motivation.
-- Yes because the neurosis is usually, if not always, Already Built-In to the character -- without the creator even realizing it.
-- Stop trying to Find it, and just plain Give her a motivation for what she does. If she honestly doesn't have one, then you've successfully created a psychopath. Seriously.
Browsing through your work, I really, really like your tutorials. This one caught me because of the Greek Myth part; I have an old book (1925) on myths (In The Light Of Myth) I found in my grandmother's attic, that organizes the myths in their traits/themes (it's unfortunately very, er, Victorian-edited, and I don't take it seriously because it's not well translated compared with other copies I have, too focused on social themes X.x )
Anyways, like I said, I really like what you've done with these.
--I'm extremely fond of myths, though I prefer Celtic myths to Classical. Something you may or may not have figured out; once upon a time, Myths were he only form of Psychology available.
Yes, they were, and how people made sense of the world, whether why the sun rose or why people behaved in different ways. I think that they're fascinating glimpses into people stripped of modern conveniences. And I grew up with the Greek myths because that was all my school libraries had, but I've got a few copies of Celtic and Nordic mythologies... lol when we cleaned my late grandmother's attic, we found a lot of books; she liked to read, and collected books from yard sales and library sales. I think I've got a complete Time Life history set and a nearly complete Encyclopedia Britannica's Great Books of the Western World now So many books, and not nearly enough time to read them all, lol
I wish I could have so many books; I have 5 overloaded bookcases, most of them being from the attic. I've made some headway into them, but between work and school and trying to write/draw all at once, I never seem to get anywhere.
They do make for interesting research sometimes, though, especially the history books.
Then again, some are so full of progressive propaganda and interpretations its nauseating X.x
-- The history books are particularly useful for when you're writing stories set in that time period. The propaganda stuff tells you what people were worried about, and talking about back then.
-- The history books are especially useful if you're doing a story set in that time period, or earlier. All that propaganda stuff tells you what people were worried about, and talking about back then.
But thank you very much for posting this! I really found it helpful and a really good use of examples!
-- I am also highly frustrated by 'hints and tips' tutorials that imply they're talking about one thing then, but are in fact talking about something completely different. It's like, you need to Already Know the topic to Understand the topic.
When I was a beginning writer, I found that highly UNFAIR, so I refuse to write ANY of my tutorials that way. I use simple language, and clear examples in every tip I write. No author ego -- No Bullshit. Just; "This is how you do it, and this is why it works." And occasionally; "This is where I learned it."
I'm thrilled you appreciate my technique.
Yea, I completely agree with how you've chosen to do things and it is a very genuinely helpful way (especially about the ego-less bit lol amazing how many teachers think students are there to learn about them rather than the subject lol -.-') but premise - explanation - example is, I think at least, the best and most effective way of giving tutorials so thank you!
My character has an obsessive need for perfection — a meticulous desire to perfect every detail about everything she does. Stemming from this is her desire to be emotionally and physically strong and the hatred of her body shape. In her mind a slim, shapeless body is a good body because she was a late bloomer and tomboy, having no desire for curves that would just get in her way. She was used to this particular body and then suddenly began to have a more curvy body which brought on the feeling of being fat or ugly. This is all probably a factor of wanting to be in control because she couldn't control the death of her father, which was something that changed her drastically. Her desire for strength all comes from wanting to be able to control — to stop her feelings of weakness or keep something from happening. She could spend sleepless days working on perfecting a project or peeling her always dry lips in an attempt to make them smooth or always fingering with her weapon. The bad parts of this is that one detail could destroy her whole train of thought or make her beat herself up. The good parts of this is that she has an eye for detail and might be better at certain things because of that. She can also avert disaster by seeing something that could happen and fixing it. More often than not, though, this is a fatal flaw. As she matures and learns that there are worse things in life than a stain on her shirt, this resolves itself slightly and does not almost destroy her anymore, though she is, and always will be, quite obsessive compulsive — but will just know how to let things go. Sometmes.
I think that what I told you are good static traits and neurosises but I'm not exactly sure that I got everything.
The fanfic I'd mentioned in a different comment, I think the character I'm using for it has a static trait. In the series, he almost always loses to the hero because he has this need to be in control. So, he can come up with these great plans (and he's one of the smartest characters in the show), but once something unexpected happens, he can't seem to think on his feet (which is pretty much the exact opposite of the hero) and ends up doing the very first thing that comes to mind without thinking about it, which ends up with him losing. In my fanfic, I was wanting him to learn that he won't automatically lose if something unexpected happens so he shouldn't just give up, and then by the end, have him not freeze up in the middle of battle, and instead use his head.
The weird thing is, having an issue come to the rescue for someone seems wrong, but then I kind of realized that I was planning on him doing something without him thinking much about it, which would actually fix the main problem he had wanted fixed and at the same time be the turning point during this big fight scene. So I guess that would be having it come to his rescue if I word everything in that direction (I suppose his issue is a bit odd because it's a freezing up thing and also a spontaneous action thing, which is kind of opposite each other... That part of the fic might not be a static trait coming to the rescue thing because I don't think it was going to be stemming from him freezing up...).
I have a character named Tala. She is reverse shapeshifter -- In other words, she was born a wolf and when puberty hit, so did the ability to shift into a human. When she was young, her pack was slaughtered by hunters and she did nothing, even though she tried to call herself an Alpha. She is small and weak, but constantly trying to prove herself better by fighting anyone who is bigger or stronger than her. Her static trait would be the fighting, stemming from her obsession with physical strength, the need to be more powerful than the next person. Because of the world she lives in (Vampires, Half demons, Lycans) she always loses the fight, and comes close to death a lot of the time. If she were to get over her neurosis, she would stop fighting to solve problems, stop focusing on physical strength, and pay attention to the strength inside.
Do I have your explanation right?
This is her Motive; why she is always getting into fights.
Her static trait would be a small personal Habitual Action that gives this motive away, such as maybe using too many curse words, or glaring even when she's not mad.
Ichigo from 'Bleach' has a habit of glaring -- even when he's not actually angry, and his motive is very nearly the same: the urge to be stronger than anything that comes his way, but it's to protect those he cares about.
So the obsession with physical strength could stem from not feeling good enough? I noticed that she also has the habit of running he fingers through her hair when irritated or upset, and when she feels nervous or like she's being watched she does it more, as well as scratch the back of her neck, rub her skin (like, run her hands up and down her legs), readjust herself (she hates clothing), itch her skin etc.
I'm working on a female, always touching her face, hair, ears, scratching her head and and face specially when she's nervous. I'd say it comes low self-esteem and some kind of vanity ("Do I look good enough?")
But what kind of trouble could this habit get her in? And can this trait be misunderstood as anything else or is it really noticeable or might the reader think thats just what normal people always do?
Sounds like you definitely have a handle on the Static Trait.
But what kind of trouble could this habit get her in...?
-- Sorry sweety, but you're going to have to get that from your own psyche and creativity. After all, it's YOUR story -- not mine.
might the reader think thats just what normal people always do?
Well, go to the mall and find out. In any public place with a large number of random people, Someone is bound to have the habit your talking about. Observe them and the people around them. Get your answer first-hand.