Character Trait Entry: Guarded


Cautious or circumspect; to withhold from a place of doubt, mistrust or fear


Growing up in an abusive home; living in a volatile or uncertain environment; suffering a great loss or hurt in the past; exposure to the humiliation or the downfall of another; having a deep understanding of actions and consequences through experience
Characters in Literature: 

Lucius Malfoy (Harry Potter); Brimstone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone); Roland Deschain of Gilead (The Gunslinger/Dark Tower Series)


A guarded character is both cautious and slow to trust, an ideal survival trait. Tested heroes (and villains!) who have proven themselves in battle or seen the darkness behind the light are guarded simply by reflex--they understand their life or the lives of others may depend on it. Guarded characters are information seekers--they do not make decisions lightly or in haste, and can make excellent leaders in difficult situations.


Because guarded characters weigh situations before acting and are watchful for change that will end in a negative, spontaneity can suffer. These character types can be secretive or seen as moody and often have an under-developed sense of humor. Even people who are deeply embedded in a guarded person's life may feel that there is a wall keeping them from knowing him or her completely. Guarded people can have a hard time letting go and enjoying the moment, and they are tentative in giving themselves over to emotion. They question the motivations of others and sometimes this can spoil the moment when something is offered freely and genuinely.

Common Portrayals: 

Politicians, policemen, military personnel, criminals, prisoners of wars, battered women, abused or neglected children, leaders bearing sole responsibility for people that are at a disadvantage or at risk in some way

Cliches to Avoid:

The lone, tortured hero with no past; mentally ill patients mistrusting their doctors; paranoid governments unable to work together to settle on a critical life-or-death issue yet must for the plot to succeed; the character who becomes guarded because of a crippling romantic betrayal or loss

Twists on the Traditional Guarded:  
  •  With heroes, a guarded personality type is often accompanied with strong intuition, heightened observation skills and sometimes fast reflexes, all of which allow them to act quickly even though a guarded nature should say otherwise. Make it harder on your survivalist hero or villain by not giving them ultra-developed intuition or physical attributes that overpower the negatives of a guarded trait.
  • Place the naturally secretive or guarded character in a situation that demands trust and openness to succeed.
  • Guarded characters usually embrace this side of their nature, believing it to be a trait of survival. Why not create a character who does not like feeling that he must question before choosing and dislikes holding back before trusting. Let his quest to let go of his guarded nature become part of his character arc (but not via romantic elements).
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Guarded unique or more interesting: 

Lazy, reckless, impulsive, polite, charming, honest


Southpaw said...

I really love this series!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Oooo, good one, Angela. Lots to think about.

Becca Puglisi said...

I wondered when you'd sneak Roland into this thesaurus ;). Great job.

Carrie Butler said...

Very nice! :)

Traci Kenworth said...

What a surprise and delight to
find the cover of The Dark Tower
series for your blog. Definitely
guarded characters can liven up a
plot, but you're right we have to be
careful of keeping the reader
alienated from knowing them. My wip has a guarded character as my protagonist, I guess I love to do things the hard way. I do hope the
reader gets to know him and come along on the story with him.

Angela Ackerman said...

Thanks Southpaw, Trish & Carrie!

Ha, you know me Becca--LOVE the Dark Tower & Roland. Can't wait for the movie!

Traci, I think all great characters need to be somewhat guarded. Definitely we need to keep the reader in mind and not create such aloofness that the reader feels alienated. Thanks!


Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I enjoy this site so much. I just tweeted it, I think it's so helpful.

Becca Puglisi said...

Thanks, Elizabeth! So glad you found us.

Jan Markley said...

Great post Angela! I cross posted it on my blog today!

C.R. Evers said...

another great list! Way to go! :0)

mshatch said...

I have to tell you this comes at a perfect time. THANK YOU!

Marsha Sigman said...

Ahhh, Roland. He may be the most tortured and most loved of all the characters I've ever read about.

Definitely hard to write! Great post!

Kayelle Allen said...

OMGosh... I am now an esteemed stalker of this site. Awesome. How could I have been writing this long and not known about this blog? The horrors! I can only chalk it up to today being Halloween... *shudders*

Thank you for an awesome post and the many wonderful resources here. Woot!

Mary Witzl said...

In the EFL class I'm teaching, we're covering personality traits right now -- your blog post today is good reinforcement!

mystichawker said...

Thanks for the great post. I'm glad I found this blog, and you have just helped me flesh out one of the villains I'm working on.
AM Burns

Realmwright said...

I have a character that fits this very well. He's the sole survivor of an attack that razed his village when he was a child. He was tortured by the enemy and forever carries the physical and mental scars. He undergoes intensive martial arts training to try to quiet his mind and focus his discipline, but he cannot find the mental balance needed. His physical stamina and skill vastly improve, but he's driven out of the monastery because they fear the danger in his volatile temperament. As you mentioned that this guardedness can be a hindrance - he never shakes the nightmares and bad memories and often wakes confused and scared and won't sleep again for days. His intuition suffers because he's paranoid that the world is full of dangers.


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