Character Trait Entry: Cautious

Definition:  watchful or careful; alert to risk

Causes: experiencing negative consequences first-hand or witnessing them happen to others; a bad track record regarding risk-taking; overly protective parents; being given responsibility over others at a young age; believing in superstition and 'bad luck'; exposure to danger long-term; being a leader or adviser to people whose welfare depends on sound judgement

Characters in Literature: Elrond (Lord of the Rings); Hermione Granger (Harry Potter); Stanley Yelnats (Holes)

Positives: Cautious people are observant, connected to their environment and are aware of shifting dynamics. When emotions are high, cautious characters can restore balance and apply reasoning techniques to bring people back to a place where they can make decisions with a clear head. Cautious characters try and look before they leap, think before they act and generally are the ones still alive at the end of a Horror movie.

Negatives:  Cautious characters can sometimes be seen as mood-killers when others want to be spontaneous. Worried about possible risks, this character type relies on data and fact--they need to know the possible variables and potential outcomes before they act. They also see it as their duty to point out risk factors to others, which can be viewed 'mothering'. Cautious people may have a hard time relaxing in an environment that is not part of their comfort zone and may be adverse to trying new things. If too much of a path is unknown, they are often unable to commit to it.

Common Portrayals: Parents, politicians worried about voters; health and critical care specialists (surgeons, doctors, nurses and hospital staff); the police, firemen and other first responders; military leaders; publicists; people keeping secrets

Cliches to Avoid: The sheltering parent who practically bubble-wraps their kid before letting them out the door; the teacher or committee that over plans, sucking all the fun out of an event; a cautious character used as a plot device, warning the main character that their reckless ways will land them in deep trouble...and then it does
 Twists on the Traditional Cautious:  
  • Anyone bearing responsibility for others is naturally cautious. However, few truly dangerous situations allow time to plan. Put a Cautious character responsible for more than himself in a situation with a high stakes and a ramped up 'ticking clock', forcing them to act.
  • Do caution and instinct go hand-in-hand, or do they lay at opposite ends of the spectrum? Explore this relationship with a cautious character--will their instinct lead to caution, or does caution actually hamper their instincts, forcing them to stop and think about the pros and cons rather than act in a way that feels natural?
 Conflicting Characteristics to make your Cautious Character unique or more interesting: Lazy, Independent, Irresponsible; Eccentric, Witty, Disorganized

12 comments:

JeffO said...

"Cautious characters ... generally are the ones still alive at the end of a Horror movie."
Hah! That's a good one. This nails me perfectly, and my two daughters as well. Though I was neither overprotected as a child nor overprotecting as a parent.

Traci Kenworth said...

I love the character of Elrond. Cautious--but not afraid to fight for those he loved. My hero is this sort of person in the wip I'm editing at the moment. He needs to be since its a horror story, lol...

Natalie Aguirre said...

Seeing Elrond makes me want to watch those movies again. Thanks for the great post.

Michael Horvath said...

The joke around the African-American part of my family is that "the black guy always dies first" in a movie. After watching that happen over and over they are almost 100% accurate. Now maybe if they make him less cautious or even give him a line he might live a little longer. lol

Bish Denham said...

Elrond is a perfect choice! Cautious, but not to a fault. Cautious in wanting to expose all the possible consequences, to not rush in making a decision. Caution with wisdom.

patonlorraine said...

I enjoy your character traits posts!

Now I'm mulling over how to merge cautious and irresponsible traits into one character. Hmmm... :)

Leslie Rose said...

Love Elrond. Especially because when push comes to shove he does send the elves to fight the Uruk Hai. You go, Elf. You know when a cautious character acts, they mean business.

Elisa Nuckle said...

This came at a perfect time! I'm writing a WIP where the character is cautious but still independent. However, she has a lot of people depending on her, or she feels she does, and I didn't want to create a cliche cautious person. So thanks for this! =D

Bonnee Crawford said...

Love these entries of yours! :)

L.B. Gale said...

Rick in The Walking Dead comes to mind. I haven't seen the finale yet, but I know that this season his caution has been a focus of the plot. Lots of drama comes from pitting the cautious hero against the reckless/gunslinger type of hero.

Monica T. Rodriguez said...

Like @patonlorraine, I'm now wondering if it's realistic to have my character be impulsive, though he feels a great responsibility for his brother (who he partly raised). Sounds like they're in contradiction. OTOH, you've also said the contradiction may be good!

Becca Puglisi said...

An impulsive/responsible combination sounds like a great character combo. Very unusual, but realistic if you write it consistently. This is how you create unique characters, so I say go for it!

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