Character Trait Entry: Naïve

Definition: marked by unaffected simplicity; lacking in worldly wisdom

Causes: a sheltered upbringing, an innocent nature, a determination to only see the good in people and in life, deliberate avoidance of negativity, mental deficiency

Characters in Literature: King Arthur, Wilbur (Charlotte’s Web), Forrest Gump, Primrose Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

Positives: Naïve characters are usually innocent and pure. They take what they see at face value, always finding something worthwhile where others only see the negative. Naïves are childlike in their innocence, and therefore vulnerable, making them easy to like and protect.

Negatives: In their determination to only see the good, Naïves may not see the world and other people as they truly are, which puts them at a disadvantage. While some may admire their innocence, others see it as a weakness to be exploited, making the Naïve an easy mark. Still others view naivety as a disdainful trait and will attempt to set the Naïve straight by revealing the truth and destroying their childish delusions.

Common Portrayals: children, the mentally challenged, the elderly, recent graduates, the uneducated, Christians and other religious people

Cliches to Avoid: the naïve character who falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes jaded by the story’s end, the poor widow being financially ruined due to her naivety, the naive graduate who learns the ways of the world and ends up a savvy, ruthless businessman

Twists on the Traditional Naïve: 

  • In literature, Naïves are always cured of of their naivety by the story’s end. What about a naïve character who is able to resolve her conflict while maintaining her innocence and purity?
  • Naïve are often cast in the supporting role, with a main character who looks out for them. Instead, make the naïve character the one who must be responsible for someone else.

Conflicting Characteristics to make your Naïve unique or more interesting: popular, rowdy, unfriendly, grouchy, arrogant

14 comments:

Traci Kenworth said...

I have a bit of naivity about myself as well and occasionally, it's a recipe for success in the fictional world.

Linda Jackson said...

"...make the naïve character the one who must be responsible for someone else."

I just finished reading "The Patron Saint of Butterflies" by Cecilia Galante. And it is one of the best books I have ever read, in part, due to a naïve character named Winky. The author has done exactly what you stated in your post: made the naïve character responsible for someone else. She also basically had him save the day by the story's end.
I had never given much thought to the flavor these characters add to a story, but you have done a good job summing it all up. I'll definitely have to print off this post and add it to my tips folder.
Thanks.

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting post!

Naive characters aren't my personal favorite, but they can play significant roles in a story.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I love your character trait posts. I'll have to show them to my son. He's studying drama and this will help him understand the concept better. :)

Leslie Rose said...

Oh, I'm stealing Stina's idea. My son is an actor as well. These character posts are a master class. My favorite naive character is Edward in Sense and Sensibility, although I do sort of want to slap some sense into him.

mephet said...

Great post, really enjoyed reading through it. :) I actually have a character in my WIP novel who's rather naïve, but at the same time responsible for leading a rebel army. Pushing naïve and idealist characters into leading roles and forcing them to make difficult decisions is definitely a great way to give them complexity and conflict.

Bonnee said...

I really appreciate these posts you make, they open up a lot of options for characters and SHOW the world that it can be done. I like naive characters to an extent :)

Mirka Breen said...

I don't think I do the naive well. It is high art to pull it off- the writer and the reader in 'the know' while the character misses what's right in front of them.

Lynda R Young said...

I'm actually have a character in my current WIP who is both naive about some things and street smart in others.

Becca Puglisi said...

I never thought of using the character traits to help with drama, but I can totally see how they could help.

I think we're all naive in some ways. Sometimes, naivety is good, and other times, it can be a detriment. So many possibilities with this trait.

Kelly Hashway said...

"What about a naïve character who is able to resolve her conflict while maintaining her innocence and purity?" I absolutely love this!

L.B. Gale said...

Just found out about this site. What a great resource! Two of my favorite naive characters are from television. Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock and Butters from South Park. Usually we are asked to laugh at them and admire them for a kind of simplistic integrity.

Owllady said...

Okay, I can't help it: this is a site for writers, I'm a writer: isn't the word "naivete" rather than "naivety"?

I love this entry. I've got a naive guy as a protagonist and I'm always looking for ways to make that trait believable and non-cliche.

Becca Puglisi said...

According to my dictionary, both forms are acceptable. The 'y' one is chiefly British, which I guess is why I'm more familiar with the 'e' term :).

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