Character Trait Entry: Critical

Definitioninclined to criticize severely; to evaluate judiciously


Being pushed hard as a child by parents or adults in positions of power; family abuse rooted in not measuring up or being good enough; exposure to a military education or experience; employment in an area where scrutiny at all levels is expected and held in high esteem

Characters in Literature: 

Headmistress Trunchbull (Matilda); Professor Snape (Harry Potter); Norma Bates 'Mother' (Psycho)


Critics have an eye for flaws and their high standards mean they expect nothing but top effort from themselves and others. As such, critical people can often hone a talent into something exceptional through a regime of discipline and determination. If ego can be set aside and instruction taken, people can achieve great things under the tutelage of someone who is both highly knowledgeable on a subject and critical enough to demand best efforts. When praise is given by someone who is critical, the person receiving it often feels extreme pride in knowing they earned the compliment 100%. When respect is given to a critical teacher, coach or person in authority who is seen as tough but fair, it is often accompanied by unshakable loyalty and gratitude.


Critics can often cause upset and hurt through their words and actions. People can feel as though their efforts are never good enough, or assume they are worthless in the eyes of the critic. Overly-critical people can cause low self esteem in others, damage relationships with those they love and make people feel guarded during interaction.  They often do not see the difference between encouraging someone to give their strongest effort and pushing someone until they feel worthless and bullied. Critics can break not bend, causing lasting damage and resentment.

Common Portrayals: 

Unyielding coaches, professors and teachers; nuns who run orphanages & schools; pressuring parents living their dreams through their children via sports/activities; Army boot camp trainers

Cliches to Avoid:

The overbearing parent or grandparent; a sadistic principal or teacher who enjoys brow-beating students; the older sister who is over critical of her younger siblings; the boss for whom nothing is ever good enough
Twists on the Traditional Critic: 

  • Critics are often portrayed as negative within a storyline, or even as villains. Try creating a critical character as a positive force, rather than a 'necessary evil' device for another character to succeed (like your typical coach/star athlete duo).
  • Most critics are seen as hardened individuals made that way by circumstances & the environment. Try to infuse soft-hardheartedness in your critic, or give us a critical character who is emotional &/ encouraging.
  • The critical character's biggest target is often themselves. They can drive themselves with high expectations and then hold others to the same standards. What happens when a critical, driven character is placed in a situation where the goal is to ensure a defeat of some kind, not success?
 Conflicting Characteristics to make your Critic unique or more interesting: lazy, impulsive; reckless; shy; eccentric


Theresa Milstein said...

I kept hearing, "Fifty points from Gryffindor," as I read this post. Snape was extra critical with the Gryffindor, but favored Slytherin. Such a great antagonist.

I'll be sad when you run out of character types.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I like this post! I'm in the stages of planning a new project, and you've given me something to think about here!

Mark said...

Aloha and hi from HI :)

A Bluddy (blog buddy) of mine told me about y'all, and I just wanted to say "put me in, coach..." I don't know that you need another muse, but y'all are writing some great stuff, so mahalo!

Loree Huebner said...

Love the "twist on traditional" tips you posted.

Great info!

Heather said...

"An eye for flaws," I love that! Something to keep in mine while writing envious characters. As always, you picked the perfect character for envy!

Mirka Breen said...

I especially liked the mention of avoiding the ‘critical character clich├ęs.’ How tempting they are, and how ultimately flat.

Becca Puglisi said...

Love the positives here. It's so often viewed as negative, but when tempered, being critical is a useful and powerful trait.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

The photo of Snape is perfect for this post! Critical people and characters can be very complicated, which is why I love your twists on the traditional critic-fantastic!

Kelly Hashway said...

Eccentric is such a good trait to mix with critical, and it can also be a motivator for being critical. So many possibilities there.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I enjoy the way you analye so many aspects of a trait, giving it more dimension.

Laura Pauling said...

I think it's really hard to make a critical character likeable. Snape is a great example. I think it's even harder when it's the main character. They make great antagonists though!

Carrie Butler said...

So true about the cliches, and I loved the twists. Great post! :)

Traci Kenworth said...

I have to agree that it's may be hard
to make a critical character
sympathetic, but it would be a
challenge to try. I like my challenges--

Leslie Rose said...

Snape is a wonderful example. He ended up being one of the most multi-dimensional characters in the series, but his critical nature made us slow to warm up to him at all. I also love Gandalf's cranky critical side in LOTR.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My family and I watched the first Harry Potter movie (again) the weekend. Snape was the perfect choice for this post. :D

Kim Van Sickler said...

"What happens when a critical, driven character is placed in a situation where the goal is to ensure a defeat of some kind, not success?" You could end up with a brilliant character like Sue Sylvester on Glee.

Marsha Sigman said...

Snape is such a rich brilliant character. Also The

Now I'm going to have to rethink one or two of my characters!