ditz is someone you can count on not to count on. With synonymous names
like flake, space cadet, scatterbrain, and airhead, very few readers
would likely want to read a full-length novel about one, but they would
make for a colorful secondary character or sidekick.
The ditz is often portrayed in
films as a blond, buxom, bubblegum-chewing valley girl. Common examples
would be Reese Witherspoon’s role as Elle Woods in Legally
Blonde and Alicia Silvertsone as Cher Horowitz in Clueless.
An example of a male flake would be Rhys Ifans’s character Spike in Notting
Hill (interestingly, also blond).
But surely there is more between
the ditz’s ears than air. What’s really going on with them?
Let me boil a ditz down to three
traits. Hopefully you’ll see that they are, totally, more than just,
According to Dr. Brent Roberts,
psychology professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,
conscientiousness has five facets, all of which the ditz generally
(For more information, visit HERE.)
A ditz will often forget where
she left her car keys. She’s not going to be the hardest worker, and
she’s not going to be all that reliable. Following social norms and
conventions isn’t her forte, either.
Let me be clear: Lack of
conscientiousness and lack of intellect are two separate things. I like
the way Joe Anzalone with Asset Marketing Systems described
them: “Remember that the [space cadet] is mentally lazy, and has
trouble concentrating on one idea at a time. Think of their mind like a
computer with several applications open at once, each containing a
project that’s been started, but never finished.”
Let the ditz surprise you. They
are not all like Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless character, who gives
credence to the “dumb blonde” joke. It’s feasible for a ditz to be more
conscientious, but he has to be highly motivated to change because it
takes sustained effort and real work to overcome a perceived character
Abundance of Impulsivity
What a ditz has in spades is
spontaneity. They are fun and exciting
to be around. They don’t plan ahead much and can be a great foil for
super-structured lead characters to balance them out. They may need
others to tone down their impetuousness and help them see through the
consequences of any particular actions.
A ditz likes to procrastinate.
They see the big picture of what needs to get done really well, but
since they aren’t interested in the finer points to get there, they
often arrive there late, if at all. It’s not for lack of ability; it’s
all about lack of effort. In a variation
chicken-or-the-egg argument, it’s hard to say which comes first: the
impulsiveness or the lack of conscientiousness; however, it’s very
clear that this third factor is the resulting consequence.
Being the personification of
such happy-go-lucky traits, how can an author “reform” or challenge a
ditz in fiction? Is it even feasible to try?
All authors want that blessed
tension to keep readers turning the pages, and ordinarily I’d say put
the character in a situation opposite where she might thrive in order
to get that tension; however, a ditz placed in an environment where
high performance is required would overwhelm her in real life. When
overly taxed with demands, the ditz might act out and self-sabotage her
Instead, Roberts suggest
challenging a ditz within his comfort zone instead.
For example, maybe a boss asks a ditz to give a presentation of where
the company is heading for the future. Given his people skills and
penchant for visualizing the forest, a ditz would be very good at this
task. In addition, though, he has to present a structured one-year
action step guide (the trees) to get the company there. Now you’ve got
an adequate challenge that would bring about tension.
Nothing happens overnight.
Having expectations of a ditz to drastically change in a week is
unrealistic. Instead, have her try short, incremental time periods
where she makes herself stay on task and be productive for five
minutes. If she’s successful, she can reward herself with a coffee
break. If not, she tries again. Gradually, you could increase the time
spent diligently working. Another suggestion would be to implement a
system where he has to pay a dollar for every minute he is late.
Just like a child, anyone
responds well to being praised. Have the supervisor of your fictional
ditz catch him being good. Praise following this appropriate behavior
is called positive reinforcement in the behavioral world. It works on
just about everyone for just about everything, including, like, a ditz.