Character Trait Entry: Impulsive

Definition: acting on desires, whims or inclination without forethought

Causes: Living in an environment that encourages risk taking; a strong inclination to live in the moment and without boundaries; rebelling against a upbringing of rigid rules and expectations; selfishness; ADD or ADHD; a reaction to a near-death experience that brings home one's own mortality

Characters in Literature: Romeo (Romeo & Juliet); Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gabels); Fred & George Weasley (Harry Potter)

Positives: Impulsive characters are always interesting to be around as they are catalysts for change and conflict. Their ability to do and say what they please can be viewed by others as the ultimate freedom. Things 'happen' around these types, creating entertainment for others. If the impulsive character is also loyal to a friend, family member or cause, there is no limit to what they would do in a time of need. 

Negatives: Impulsives create problems for those who hold to forethought and careful planning, causing friction in friendships. Because Impulsives are reactive, they do not think about how their actions affect other people or the big picture until it's too late. These characters can take a situation from bad to worse, and lose the trust of others or be viewed as selfish. Impulsive characters are volatile, ruled by emotion. Impulsives are also more prone to addiction because of their inability to apply the breaks to their own behavior.

Common Portrayals: Dare-devils & adrenaline junkies; people with ADD or ADHD; kids labeled with 'behavior problems'; Artists, Actors & creative types; Hoarders; Shoplifters; Shop-a-holics; People prone to violence; Mobsters & criminals; Celebrities; Teenagers

Cliches to Avoid: The troublemaker student; impulsive sex leading to pregnancy; the 'single impulsive choice resulting in terrible consequences' as a plot device (especially when impulsive behavior is not a character trait); pairing impulsiveness with stupidity; the 'straight-laced girl who acts impulsive to fit in' plot device

Twists on the Traditional Impulsive:
  • Impulsives whose actions end in a good result instead of a bad result, and this causes unforeseen conflict. Think about it--usually bad things have to happen to get our characters into trouble. Wouldn't it be great to see the opposite? A challenge yes, but being able to offer something new to readers? Oh so worth it!
  • Characters who are both impulsive and intelligent. Because Impulsiveness is often paired with doing something stupid, wouldn't it be great to see a character's inner conflict because of his or her's opposing traits?
  • An organized, thoughtful character who must embrace impulsiveness for the greater good. So, rather than a personal gain, the character's impulsiveness is the key to something bigger. This would create a lot of inner turmoil, embracing a trait so unsuited to one's personality.

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Impulsive unique or more interesting: Selflessness, Kindness, Intelligence, Shyness, Lazy; Moral

25 comments:

Laura Marcella said...

Great post! Anne Shirley is one of my favorite literary characters. She was impulsive resulting in plenty of hilarious disasters, but she never made the same mistake twice!

Rene Peterson said...

One of my favorite book characters when I was growing up was Katie John - who was impulsive in the extreme. I loved living vicariously through her exploits. Fred and George Weasley are now two of my son's favorite book characters. He also loves Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes. All impulsive characters living life on the edge.

Angela Ackerman said...

Loved Anne of Green Gabels. Her heart was always in the right place, wasn't it? And Calvin--that's a great example! Thanks, both of you. :)

Heather said...

This is a fun one! And I love the twists on the traditional. Fred and George are such a perfect example of impulsive done right, great choice of pictures!

Deb Marshall said...

Anne is my all time fave character. Packing like a mad woman right now and wanted ti say thanks for this post. Going to delve into it on my write day next.week.!

Silent Pages said...

I love impulsive characters. ^^ And I can think of a few in my own writing when I read this post...

My ambassador who can't keep his mouth shut, my completely INSANE character whom I love to pieces... XD

This'll be good to look at again when I'm trying to develop their personalities. ^^ So, thank you! Your posts are always great.

The Golden Eagle said...

I love the idea of forcing an organized character to be impulsive; that would be an interesting challenge!

Carrie Butler said...

I love writing impulsive characters--especially those who scramble to mentally justify their actions afterward. :D Great post!

Lisa Gail Green said...

One of my MC's is extremely impulsive, and boy was he fun to write!! :D

Matthew MacNish said...

I love how impulsive characters can walk a fine line between inspiring and annoying. Sometimes managing both at once.

Not Fred and George though. They were never annoying. Loved 'em!

LynNerd said...

Adding a twist to traditional impulsive characters sounds intriguing. And quite challenging!

Susanne Drazic said...

Great post. I think I'm going to try and add a few impulsive characters to my current writing project. Will probably help to liven it up.

tracikenworth said...

A hard character to wrestle into doing what their supposed to in a story. They tend to get carried away with things. Sometimes, it leads to a better story though. Great character trait as always!!

Jeff King said...

ohhh--- i love this one!

Bish Denham said...

Most excellent Angela. (Am I the only one who got thoroughly irritated by Anne?)

Stacy said...

Great post. Impulsive characters are often some of the most entertaining in fiction, and they're great for conflict. The Weasley's were an excellent example.

Debbie Maxwell Allen said...

This was a good one. I think it's been a while since I've made a character impulsive. It's a great reminder!

~Debbie

Clarissa Draper said...

Another great post.

My editor is on my about my always smiling characters so I'm going to have to go through your blog and look for better ways to express a smile.
Thanks!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

LOL This is totally me. :D

Beth said...

I love these posts! Who doesn't adore Anne Shirley? You've given us some great ideas, as always.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Loved this post. The main character in my book is extremely impulsive. You have given me plenty of great ideas. Thanks for this awesome post.

Carol Riggs said...

Fred and George, yaaaay! Definitely Anne Shirley, too. Another great entry for character traits...will have to consider impulsiveness for my characters. I have to make sure they're not all the same (rational, logical, think-before-you-act kind of people). :)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Fred and George were such lovable impulsive characters. I'm so glad you used them as examples. This helped me to see that being impulsive is not always a negative trait.

Gail Shepherd said...

I definitely warm up to impulsive characters the most. I think a lot of us love to see characters who are super free, even if it gets them in trouble, because as humans in society, we are expected to control ourselves constantly. There's a fascinating article in NYT magazine -- maybe last week? About how having a lot of choices, and decisions, to make, erodes our self control and will power.

Leah Banicki said...

Would Sherlock Holmes be considered impulsive? He was extremely good at defending his every action with some personal logic he had.
Gonna play around with a variation on an impulsive character, thanks for the information. Good brain candy

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