Character Traits Entry: Dishonest

Definition: Untrustworthy; Lacking honesty, untruthful

Causes: Being embedded in an environment where distrust, crime, violence or abuse is common; parental role modeling where trickery/lying is the norm; being in a position of power where looking the other way results in reward; feeling mistrust of others and reacting in kind; a lack of empathy; fear of what truth will bring

Characters in Literature: The Great Gatsby; Rita Skeeter (Harry Potter) Pinocchio, Pirate Characters (ie Jack Sparrow; Captain Hook)

Positives: There is a certain reliability with someone who is dishonest in the sense that you can count on them to always act untrustworthy unless truth directly benefits them. Dishonest people can often 'be bought' and will remain loyal as long as there is a mutual benefit. The dishonest can often be swayed to do things that honest people would not, so if the price is right, a person who embraces dishonesty might do the dirty work for you.You know where you stand with someone who is dishonest and can keep secrets close to the vest without temptation.

Negatives: The dishonest tend to not have close friends or meaningful relationships--their inability to trust others will always create a closeness barrier. People with this trait are afraid of being hurt and often have a negative look on life and those they share it with. Dishonest people find it difficult, if not impossible, to put trust in others. The Dishonest also may become scapegoats just because of the mistrust people feel and if they are directly involved in a situation with conflicting viewpoints, the person known for dishonesty will always be devalued against anyone else.

Common Portrayals: Pirates, Gamblers, Swindlers, Politicians, 'the bad kid', the co-worker who lies and uses ill-gotten information on others to climb the corporate ladder, Bank Robbers, Pedophiles, Drug addicts, cheating spouses

Cliches to Avoid: con-artist twenty-somethings running a scam on elderly/grandparents for money; the cop on the take; 'the sullen bad boy' teen; dishonest big corporations; the rich cheating husband; a falling for a rogue and then being shocked at eventual dishonesty/betrayal, used car salesman

Twists on the Traditional Dishonest:

  • Why do dishonest sorts always need to be rich jerks, seedy street folk or people who are bad to the bone? Try a dishonest nun! Let's see a funeral director lie to a grieving family. Better yet, how about a doll-haired, cookie-baking granny who can lie through her teeth!

  • I would love to see a genuine dishonest-to-honest transformation that came about because of an internal epiphany, not through the love/guidance of someone else. Show us people can change, but they don't need other people to 'show them how'.

  • Create a scenario where dishonesty is the best course and will cause the least amount of hurt to others, and the stubborn, dishonest character chooses to be honest in order to go against 'what other people deem as right'.

Conflicting Characteristics to make the Dishonest unique or more interesting: Moralistic, Compulsive, Perfectionism, Friendly, Affectionate, Courageous, Nervous, Optimistic

21 comments:

tracikenworth said...

LOVE the picture you referenced for the character trait: so fitting. A dishonest character can adds such flaws and depth to our writing. Thanks bunches!!

irishoma said...

Thank you for such a thorough post with so much detail. You got me to think this morning!
Donna V.

SP Sipal said...

You forgot the "Captain" to Jack Sparrow. Of course, I had to read anything that started with his picture! :-)

Captain Jack is an interesting example because he is honest in his dishonesty. Remember -- "Pirate!"

Yes, I know this post is about more than Johhny Depp, but I can't seem to talk about anything else. :-)

I love these character resources you post because I do struggle with character, and when I do, resources like yours, and envisioning a real person I know or an awesome character like Captain Jack, truly helps!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm going to start pre-planning my next book soon. I'll definitely be hanging out on this site when I do. :D

(Not that I don't normally)

mshatch said...

oh good post and dreamy pic :) I'll have to remember this when I write my next - book of thieves.

alaw said...

Ooh! Ooh! Smeagol/Gollum! Or Saruman!

Heather said...

This one holds a special place in my heart because I've come to love the character of Jack Sparrow so much! He is the perfect example of how to take a clique and turn it completely around.

Angela Ackerman said...

Ha, thanks guys! I agree, there is something incredibly appealing about a dishonest character--often their motivations are not simple, and being honest does not always mean 'being a bad person'.

I love pirates and especially Jack! How could I not post a pic of him here, lol?

Lisa Gail Green said...

Oh my gosh! This actually just inspired an interesting thought... I will have explore. Thanks! :D

Carrie Butler said...

"There is a certain reliability with someone who is dishonest in the sense that you can count on them to always act untrustworthy unless truth directly benefits them." Absolutely! In fact, it perfectly describes one of the characters in my manuscript. The fun part is the challenge of making him a redeemable character. By the end of the book, I want people to hate the fact that they actually like him. ;) Great post!

Jeff King said...

Nice...

Jemi Fraser said...

I'd like to see that kind of transformation too :) Nice list!

Becca Puglisi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Becca Puglisi said...

A perfectionist liar. I'd love to see that!

Ange, you picked this trait just so you could talk about pirates, didn't you? I'll be sure to leave all the zombie-related traits for you, too.

Angie Cothran said...

Awesome post Angela. I've got some very trustworthy pirates in my WIP, it's nice to know I'm breaking a cliche.

Julie Musil said...

This is awesome! I love the idea of making an seemingly innocent person be dishonest. How fun.

Juliana L. Brandt said...

I like this one! And isn't it true, that dishonest people will change only when they've figured things out and not because someone has shown them the light? At leave I've found this to be true :)

Great post.

Laura Pauling said...

I love dishonesty - and I go to church! Secrets, lies, betrayals - love them all. And then you had to go and paste in my favorite guy of all times. Jack/Johnny!

Medeia Sharif said...

Great suggestions at the end!

I'm writing a dishonest character at the moment, so this helps.

Sarah said...

This is so interesting--I love this post! I love how you identify potential causes of dishonesty. As with any character flaw, to keep a reader engaged, it helps to have a level of understanding as to why a character might have turned out a certain way.

Beth said...

This feature is always terrific, but I especially like your suggested twists. Really thought-provoking.

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