Jeannie Campbell

Jeannie Campbell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California. She is Head of Clinical Services for a large non-profit and enjoys working mainly with children and couples. She has a Masters of Divinity in Psychology and Counseling and bachelors degrees in both psychology and journalism. Jeannie started doing character therapy in March of 2009. Her Treatment Tuesdays feature assessments of fictional characters and plot feasibility while her Thursday Therapeutic Thoughts take a psychological topic and make it relevant to writers. She can be found at her blog, The Character Therapist, at

Character Stereotypes: The Ditz

The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue,
but that they are incomplete.

—Chimamanda Adichie

Other Personality Types

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The Workaholic

A 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, like, airheads.

Lack of Conscientiousness

According to Dr. Brent Roberts, psychology professor at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, conscientiousness has five facets, all of which the ditz generally lacks:

1. orderliness
2. self-control
3. industriousness
4. responsibility
5. traditionality

(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 deficit.

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.

Dragging Feet

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

of the classic 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?

Use Caution

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 position.

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.

Baby Steps

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.

Positive Kudos

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.


The Character Thrapist