Character Trait Entry: Honesty

Definition:
To be forthright, truthful, candid

Causes:
Growing up with a strong moral center or in an environment where truthfulness is placed in high regard; a desire to help; having strong ethics; a religious background/upbringing where lies are viewed as sin

Characters in Literature: 
 Harriet in Harriet the Spy; Joachim Ziemssen in The Magic Mountain

Positives:
Honest people are seen as trustworthy and without dark ulterior motives--if they did they would be viewed as manipulative, not honest. If you need a candid evaluation or someone to bounce an idea off of, an honest person is gold beyond measure. Honesty is one of the most valued traits, heavily relied on during tight situations and stressful times. Many people who are honest are also highly objective, and can weight pros and cons effectively.

Negatives:
Honest people can lack the social skills to judge when complete honesty is not wanted or needed. People with this trait often also give advice unsolicited, which is not always appreciated, or they see things in such black and white lines that their honesty can come across as brutal. Honest people sometimes have a hard time maintaining friendships because they do not understand that often a listening ear is what is wanted, not an open assessment of the situation or truthful opinion.

Common Portrayals:
A by-the-rules kid in the classroom; the co-worker who is always reporting going-ons to the boss out of a sense of duty; the brutally truthful wife who offers her honest opinion unsolicited to advise her husband and family friends; the sheltered teen who believes everything she's told because of her own honest disposition.

Cliches to Avoid: 
 Tattle-tail little brother or sisters as a plot device; the honest, trusting nature of a focal character softening the antagonist's heart, the honest girl corrupted by a 'bad boy'

Twists on the Traditional Honest: 
  • Put a character who embraces honesty into a situation where she freely chooses dishonesty for the greater good
  • Have a character feel the effects of brutal honesty so it leads to enlightenment and self growth
  • Give your honest character a compulsion to flout authority or break the law
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Honest unique or more interesting:

Sensitive, selfish, violent, motivated, jealous, risk-taker, promiscuous


21 comments:

tracikenworth said...

Honesty is something to treasure in today's world. In a fictional character though, it can be the death knell. If everything is told "up-front" there'd be no conflict. So, I think you have to give your honest characters something/some reason NOT to reveal the truth and in that way, you challenge what they stand for on so many levels.

Angela Ackerman said...

Absolutely Traci. With Honesty, it's all in how it's used.

It can be an opportunity for self awareness and growth, because honesty CAN hurt, it can cause conflict...and these things go against the motivations of an honest character. So that moment of realizing that honesty has a dark side and that unintentionally the POV character has has caused pain or hurt...great internal conflict. :)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Angela

SP Sipal said...

Great insight. And I like what Traci said too. The main character I'm working with now has exactly this dilemma. For the sake of her family, she's forced to lie, and it creates a lot of conflict within herself and with a new friend.

I love all the resources you provide here, Angela!

Susan Blakeney said...

Thanks for the insights. A character I'm contemplating needs a bit more conflict and this post and the follow-up comments have given me much food for thought--honest!

L.J. said...

Sometimes honesty is not always the best policy, especially when you want to thicken the plot. One lie, especially by someone who is usually very honest, can set the stage for a whirlwind of events.

I love all of the ideas you ignite with these posts!

Anonymous said...

Another great insight - thanks Angela!

Shauna (murgatr)

Rachna Chhabria said...

In today's world,honesty is hard to find. In a character:honesty could end up being a flaw rather than an asset. To be truthful, honest characters have a tendency to come across as boring.

Elana Johnson said...

Oooh, honesty. Such a tricky topic. I think our natural instinct is to lie to save ourselves, and to create a perfectly honest character would be hard...

Medeia Sharif said...

I've created characters that were bluntly honest and hurt people's feelings as a result, which added conflict to a story.

I agree about those cliches.

Have a great weekend.

Jeff King said...

Nice... this one will help me a lot.

Becca Puglisi said...

Honesty's a hard one because pretty much everyone values it, but it doesn't make for a very exciting character. Great ideas on how to add drama with an honest character.

Carrie Butler said...

I always love the twists and conflicting characteristics at the end. You both have such wonderful insight into these things. :)

LynNerd said...

Thanks for pointing out how to use a character's honesty in our writing to add more conflicts and plot twists. You gave me lots of good ideas.

Damyanti said...

I love the pointers you give about the qualities that can be combined with 'honesty' to create conflict and reader interest! Thank you.

LV Cabbie said...

Another great post

My files are growing by leaps and bounds!

Lynn said...

I really like this. Honest. :) Thank you for much.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Wonderful overview of honesty and honest people. I know and adore a few REALLY honest people and it's true, sometimes they can be a bit too honest when it isn't necessarily called for. : )

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

Thank you. We are honest about most things...

Sorlin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sorlin said...

Very interesting. I have this character in a story named Reina Abaya who is honest to a fault This is a very helpful reference!

I was a lurker for a while back as I often foundthe Emotion Thesaurus to be invaluable. I come back after a long hiatus and see you've created new Thesauruses with great quality. Sorry for taking so long, but you can consider me an official follower now!

Angela Ackerman said...

Wow guys, thanks again for all the great comments!

Confession time: this entry really made me think as I wrote it...about myself, and how others perceive me. Honesty is one of my core traits.

Once I realized the negatives of this trait (some of which I definitely struggle with) that awareness led to personal growth. Now I think first before offering advice or opinions, asking myself if honesty is what is needed and wanted in the situation.

Anyway, just wanted to share that--hugs all 'round! :)

Angela

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