Ok, you’ve chosen your core virtues and vices for your character, and you’re ready for the big leagues. If you haven’t visited the Choosing Virtues and Vices Page, we suggest you do that before continuing.

Now we’re going to make your character have some serious depth. Everyone likes depth. Isn’t that what people are always trying to attain in coffee shops?

  1. Remember those five virtues and vices we talked about before? Whip ‘em out! You should have ONE peak virtue or vice for your character and FOUR second-tier virtues and vices, two of each. Alright, start your engines, because layered virtues and vices create characters that leave others in their dust.

  2. Pick out four MORE virtues and vices that relate to your character, but only some of the time. Feel free to choose from the list you made when you weeded out applicable attributes back in Choosing Virtues and Vices. If your character’s peak attribute is a vice, you may want to choose more vices now. If your character’s peak attribute is a virtue, you might go for more virtues. Yes, we are forcing you to think of your character critically. The point here is to round out all the scenarios in which your character could be placed and account for them.

  3. Check back with the main lists of Virtues and Vices now to make sure you’ve gotten all the attributes you think apply. You should be able to run down those mega lists of virtues and vices and rule out a bunch of them as almost laughable with respect to your character. This is a great moment and should not be overlooked. You know your character so well that you know she would never be lustful or that he would nevershow mercy (the very thought!). Rejoice!

  4. Alright, calm down. Take a look at all those attributes. Are there any of the Seven High Virtues in there? How about any of the Seven Deadly Sins? If you chose one of these for the peak attribute, your character is almost definitely a hero or villain, respectively. If you chose one or more of these as second-tier attributes, your character is probably heroic or villainous in some way, respectively. If your chose one or more of these in the third-tier, your character may be suppressing heroic or villainous tendencies (respectively) that you get to play around with later. Be careful about teetering back and forth. A character who possesses both Charity and Envy, for example, is a powerful character, probably one of the main characters, since their inner conflict must be so extreme. Make a note (capitalize, bold, underline, etc) of any of the fourteen major virtues and vices and move on. (Just a tip, we find it’s best to only have one of the Fourteen Major Attributes in one character. Writing for two or more can get exhausting. But hey, if it works for you, do it!)

  5. Layering Scenario A: When your character is hiding something, they are layering virtues and vices. Try that now. What attribute does your character not want other characters to know about? How do they compensate for that? If your character is choosing to exhibit their peak attribute and hide a second-tier or third-tier attribute, what does that tell you (maybe that they lie often)? If they’re using a third-tier to hide a peak attribute, that should tell you something else (maybe that they don’t often lie). How about when your character is hiding something positive?  How about who your character is lying to? Or why they feel the need to hide? Does that change the way they react? We hope you’re writing this down for later!

  6. Layering Scenario B: Character growth is the name of the game. Most characters are on a sliding scale, moving back and forth between exhibiting more virtues or more vices depending on the situation. But, what about their overall progression through the story? Through the course of the story, you might keep a third or even second tier attribute from your readers only to punch them in the face with it at the end. “Ha, this is what my character is actually like!” Hiding a peak virtue or vice is extremely difficult, especially if it’s one of the Fourteen Major Attributes. If a character is hiding a peak vice, that’s probably your main villain, same goes for heroes with a virtue.
  7. Layering Scenario C: Consider replacing a few attributes with new ones as the story progresses. As your character learns more stuff - in short, as plot happens to them - they will naturally change. You can plot that now (highly recommended), or let the character present these changes to you over time (still effective, but you might lose track of a clear path for the character over time). Try to think of replacements that make sense (Pride replaced by apathy, yes. Pride replaced by Lust, maybe. Pride replaced by Misogyny, though? That’s just silly). If your character’s peak attribute is replaced, be afraid. That character has experienced something so monumental that they have been fundamentally changed by the plot. They are now extremely interesting and probably one of your main characters. Anyway, it is more likely that your character will gain and/or lose some second or third tier attributes. Think about dropping a vice in favor of a virtue because of some major plot point, or the other way around. That’ll teach ‘em to go on adventures!

  8. Shuffle. If your character’s peak, second, and third tier attributes seem weird or off-kilter now, fix them! Often times, a third-tier attribute is actually more interesting or more used by a writer than a second-tier attribute. If you find yourself doing this, switch the two. Otherwise, your character is being someone he or she usually is not all the time.

  9. If you’ve added or taken away a bunch of attributes, so that now you don’t have nine total (1 peak, 4 second-tier, and 4 third-tier), don’t feel bad. You’re not hurting our feelings or breaking the rules or anything. This is merely a guide to help you build your cheat sheet. Coloring outside of the lines is a-OK!
  10. We’re going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve been thinking about your plot this whole time and how it’s going to affect your characters’ outlook on the world. Good! If you have further questions about this section, feel free to ask.

Alternatively, you can think of the peak attribute as the thing most hidden by the character and the second-tier and third-tier attributes as his second and third lines of defense against the world.

If that’s true, then your character has four attributes that he’s slinging around all the time that probably aren’t even close to who he actually is. Then he’s got another four that are closer to his true self, but still basically a front. In this case, the peak attribute of your character is known only to his closest friends (and possibly his worst enemy). If this works for you, by all means, do it!