Neuroticism is one of the more interesting personality traits. Neuroticism refers to the ability to cope with negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, guilty not exactly how often you experience these emotions. This is also known as emotional stability. It would be unrealistic to say that people never experience these emotions, it's a human emotion, but the spectrum can deal with people who don't know how to cope with negative emotions and people who can cope with emotions with little to no upheaval of their everyday lives.
There are many books that describe characters and their varying degrees of neurosis. There are characters like Sophie Mercer from Rachel Hawkin's Hex Hall Series and Jamie from Sarah Rees-Brennan's Demon's Lexicon Series tend to resort to humor to deal with fear and other negative emotions.
Small things such as having strange tendencies to cope with anxiety inducing situations. These are just quirks and and everyone has them, but there are varying degrees of neuroses. There are a few stories out there that deal with neurotic tendencies that interfere with every day life. Things like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or severe phobias interfere with the daily lives of people and characters in fiction stories as well. In the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Melinda goes nearly mute from PTSD after being date raped at a party. Other characters such as Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time who due to his unique form of autism has social phobias. These aren't bad negative ways of dealing with life altering events, people can only react. In other stories such as C.J. Omololu's Dirty Little Secrets, the main character Lucy has to deal with her mother's own neurosis as a severe hoarder after a bitter divorce.
The conflicts of these novels either deal with a character overcoming a certain neurotic tendency (i.e. Melinda learns to speak up for herself, Christopher learns to overcome his fears to solve a mystery) or the dealing with parents who have trouble coping with stress such as Janie's alcoholic mother from Lisa McMann's Dreamcatcher series.
So knowing this, how do you think those traits interact with the traits of other characters in your stories. Mixing and matching these various traits can bring out some very interesting plot twists and character developments. Think of character with a high level of neurosis and low on openess. How would they fair in a dystopian novel for example or a contemporary story? What about a character who is high on agreeableness and low on conscientiousness? How would they fair in a paranormal romance or a thriller?
In my opinion, putting a character with traits that you wuold expect in an extraordinary circumstance yields for a chance to show strong character development as the character adapts to their surroundings. Just think about how the traits your character has and the situation they are in? Do they fit the circumstances? How do their traits grow over time? Certain situations can cause other tendencies to become stronger and others to fade away.
Thanks for reading. I hope this gets the creative juices flowing and thinking of characters in a different way. Happy writing.
Najela is a recent graduate from UC Riverside with a dual degree in Psychology and Creative Writing. She is actively trying to combine the two majors while working as a Behavioral Interventionist for children that have autism. She is current pursuing a Master's Degree in Exceptional Student Education and working on an illustrated college guidebook set to release hopefully by (late) November 2011. You can follow her at her website or her tumblr.
Thank you so much, Najela, for putting together this interesting and informative series of posts!