A New Use For Character Traits

A common discussion in my, and many, reading classrooms has to do with main characters, character traits, wants, and needs. Giving kids time to think about and draw connections between these important story elements. My part of the conversation might sound something like this,

“Let’s think about your main character. They are very important because the story is about them. The more you understand about him or her, the more you will understand about the story and about how the story will go.”

And student responses might sound something like this,

“Well, she’s the kind of character who wants to do things by herself. But then she messes up and needs help.”

“He is a very friendly character and is nice to everyone. But I think he is lonely too.”

“He is loud. And funny. And he wants everyone to listen to him. I think that is why he is so loud.”

“She is a book reader. And she is confident. Because she knows she can find answers in books. So she is smart.”

“He is a worried character. And the worry makes him quiet. And because he is quiet he doesn’t explain what is bothering him.”

I made up the responses listed above. They are composite responses that students and I have batted around while discussing main characters, even secondary characters. We spend a lot of time discussing our characters’ traits. And every once in a while we ask our kids to identify their own traits.

But what if we spent some time naming our personal character traits?

If we examined our personal character traits how could we use that knowledge? In a book we use knowledge of our main characters to predict how they are going to handle situations. To warn ourselves of problems coming because we know what our character is about to do. To feel confident when we see a situation perfectly built for our main character, one in which their response will be top notch and they will shine. And the opposite as well, sometimes we know our main characters better than they know themselves and we want to warn them away!

Since we are our own main character, shouldn’t we put a little more effort into naming our strengths and weaknesses? Shouldn’t we begin recognizing how we will handle situations – preparing ourselves better for them when they are rapidly approaching? Shouldn’t we know when to reach out for help, overcoming our own character’s desire to “do everything myself” even though it doesn’t usually go well when we act that way? Shouldn’t we remind ourselves about the times things didn’t go well and try not to repeat those behaviors? Instead try to reach for the behaviors that ended with more favorable results?

Can we write ourselves a little better as the hero in our own story? I think it is worth a try!

2 thoughts on “A New Use For Character Traits

  1. What an insightful post. I wholeheartedly agree. At my age, I’ve discovered the huge benefits of introspection and honesty when it comes to myself. I want to fall in love with a main character and I think it’s important that we live our lives in a way that allows us to fall in love with ourselves.


  2. Great concept and well worth a terrific post. So many ways to do what you are talking about. Thank you for the reminder and assertion to be the best version of ourselves which also means finding out what that might look like! This is a complicated notion but you deliver it in such a measured, thoughtful manner- it makes it within reach and accessible to all.


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