Tips for Telling Stories: Selfish Sally and Other Characters

traitsOne of the features of Sims 4 — and Sims 3, as well — is a system of traits. There’s a wide range. We can create introverted loners, or out-going party animals. Our sims can be good or evil, clumsy, squeamish, neat, and the list goes on and on.

Unfortunately, the trait system doesn’t work too well in the game. Good sims will come up with “whims” to donate money to charities, and mean sims will sometimes go around picking fights, but for the most part the traits don’t have a huge effect on the game.

But they should have an effect on your story-telling.

Every character in your story should have a dominant trait, especially those secondary or minor characters who step onto the stage. Your main character, of course, will have many different traits, some positive, and some negative. Even with the lead character in your story, you should be able to choose one single trait that stands out from the rest. This is the key trait you’ll want to focus on in your story.

With less-important characters in a story, we don’t need to do quite so much character development. Instead, we can “zero-in” on a specific trait, highlighting it each time the character appears in a scene. It’s a bit like adding a musical theme, a motif that defines the character and tells the reader at once what to expect.

A perfect example is “Selfish Sally”. This was an example I picked up at a writer’s conference many years ago, and it makes such perfect sense, I’ve never forgotten it. The idea is this:

Whenever you show a character, always show the dominant trait in action.

Let’s look at Selfish Sally. She may be beautiful. She may be very intelligent. She may love horses and dogs. We don’t really care so much about those things, though, because her dominant trait is her selfishness. She thinks only of herself, wants more of everything, and certainly doesn’t like to share.

So, if we put Sally into a dinner scene, what’s she doing? She’s not engaging in chit-chat; she’s grabbing the biggest slice of pie or asking “Is there more ice cream?” or “Can I have seconds?” Or maybe she’s not even asking. Most likely she’s just pushing somebody aside to fill her own plate again. That’s how “Selfish Sally” always is.

Or we include her in a scene where our main character is asking for help. Is Sally listening? Not really. All she’s doing is talking about herself, turning the conversation around to her problems and what she wants.

Wherever we find Sally, she’s always acting true to character, always being her usual selfish self.

It’s a simple principle, really, and it’s one that can add interest to your stories. Give your characters a single strong trait by which you — and your readers — can quickly identify them. Keep them “in character” and let their traits help you build stronger stories.



4 thoughts on “Tips for Telling Stories: Selfish Sally and Other Characters

  1. I love looking at the interplay of traits as well. If you give sims two tandem traits they end up pretty interesting. Perhaps selfish Sally is also foodie or also a romantic and just can’t understand why no one understands how awesome she is.

    I had an evil family-oriented sim once. He was very self centered up until he had a family, after that he would run you to the ground to help his family. It was still all about him, but his definition of ‘him’ had changed. At work he was ruthless, but at home he was actually a pretty decent dad. Then again by then I had been plagued with evil sims so I was looking for variation.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Keeping at least one trait in mind is a good idea.

    Example: One character I’m writing about, one of his traits in-game is “Hot-Headed”. In the story, this still applies to some characters he interacts with. (one exception being his fiance) Basically, the less he cares about a character, the more likely he’ll blow up at them out of anger. (for whatever reason)

    Liked by 1 person

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