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I noticed while making one character that she was starting to come off as narcissistic. And rather than fix it, I decided to just keep it and see how many people actually see it. Since flaws are one of those things that characters need, I thought it would be nice for us to share our techniques for making subtle traits.
Have them be uncomfortable with being messy or dirty, check themselves in mirrors every so often, waste resources keeping clean.. One of my characters is very theatrical. I didn't even realize I was portraying them that way until I looked back, but it fits them very well. Flashy entrances, lots of Bling, obsession with proper greetings (So he can brag).
@Matues that's more vanity than narcissism (there IS a difference). A common trait among narcissist is that they can be very idealistic and romantic, to the point where they preoccupy themselves with fantasies or have very high standards for thing like relationships or their jobs. They are also generally insecure and vulnerable to shame and guilt. If you want more negative characteristics: narcissists are generally paranoid, distrustful of others and often deny responsibility. I have a couple of narcissists in my story and they're usually just self-centered, sensitive and try to intrude on other people's business. There's one who subconsciously wants people to rely on her, she wants to be the "responsible, reliable one" so she lets people stay at her place and borrow her things (she's rich so she's got a nice place and cool stuff). And she's generally really entitled and has something of a victim complex going. I'm not sure how negative all that is but it does end-up biting her in the ass eventually. The other narcissist is just sort of a douche. He's nobility but he insists everyone calls him by his first name and he's really outgoing because he wants to come across as a really laid-back and cool guy even though he's a control freak who tends to dominate conversations and is generally indifferent to other people's thoughts, feeling and opinions. That's probably more negative but it's also less subtle.
edited 1st Mar '13 8:27:52 PM by WSM
I am aware. My brain just misread that. Sorry. >.<
It's cool. Easy mistake
I never asked for this
Show the effect a person has on its surroundings, rather than the person itself. that's probably the best way to show personality traits. In Howls Moving Castle, (film) Howl never outright says he's a legendary heart breaker. We get that impression by the fact the housewives of the town have been coming up with ludicrous rumors of mythical scale about how he is seducing women to eat their beating hearts and whatnot. If he were just a normal Casanova, the rumors would be just as normal too (stuff like, "did you hear Ms. Gallaher was seen wandering around in the fields with him?") If people we're asked for their opinion of themselves, no one would normally go right out and say "I have low self esteem" or "I'm a bit narcissistic" unless they are half joking around friends, or its someone they truly trust. You have to look at the way they talk about everything ELSE about themselves. People with self esteem or acceptance issues (it doesn't have to be about everything, they could just have issues over one aspect of themselves) will try to avoid drawing attention to any unusual/embarrassing traits or hobbies they possess, because they see normal as a goal rather than something boring to be avoided. Like those friends who say they hate anime and then when you are close enough friends they admit they've watched like twenty series and only watch subs over dubs. Narcissists seek out followers rather than friends, and will try to push their views on followers who disagree. Not because they actually want to prove those views to other people. They want to prove them to themselves using people as a survey group.
"You like Castlevania, don't you?"
Show how they conceive of their surroundings and allow their negative traits to exist within that world in a way that seems consistent to them. Understand not just how, say, a vain person acts, but how they think—why they think their appearance is so important. Don't say it outloud, but let them think, oh, if I don't visit my stylist no one's going to take me seriously. A bit of a blunt example, but that's the sort of thing you can use to suggest the shape of their negative traits.
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