Friday, September 16, 2016

Writing Introverted Characters: 8 Things You Should Know

You have the scene all laid out. The dragon is roaring outside of the castle, challenging the king to a fight. The servants have the king's sword sharpened and his armor polished, the townsfolk are watching from the castle gate, and lightning is crackling the background. It's time for the the king to come forth to claim his moment of a glory and...

He just wants to stay in his room and read a book. He'll go kill that dragon when he's formulated a plan. And when there aren't any onlookers to make him nervous or rain to get his novel wet.

Pesky character. Why can't they ever do what they're told?

Introverts pop up in books quite often, and quite often they are done very, very well (Bilbo, Nick Carraway, Katniss, Sherlock, Jane Eyre, Walter Mitty, Batman). But sometimes they are very inaccurate, and sometimes they are simply painful to read about.

As somebody who's made it her profession to sit alone behind a screen and talk to imaginary people, I feel that I am singularly qualified to write about how to create introverted characters. Here are several points that can help writers steer clear of writing lame introverts and move directly into the "awesome introverts" zone:
1. Introvert is not synonymous with shy or socially awkward. Pay attention. This is important. So many writers think that introverts have to be painfully shy or awkward. Not true. There are varying kinds of introverts and yes, some of them are shy and not very good socially, but others aren't. Being an introvert simply means that you prefer spending more time being quiet or alone than you do being around lots of people who you are required to engage with. That's it. Shy and socially awkward has little to do with it. So ask yourself: on a scale of first-part-of-the-novel-Mr.-Darcy to Captain America, how socially awkward are your introverts? If all of your introverts are closer to first-part-of-the-novel-Mr.-Darcy because you just assume that all introverts are awkward, well:
2. Introverts dislike small talk or shallow things. They don't want to waste their energy talking about the weather. Seriously. Just look at the sky and decide whether it's going to rain yourself! Don't drag other people into a 3-minute conversation! If they are going to talk, there is often going to be a reason behind it. Either they like another person enough to be willing to talk to them or they have something that needs to be said. If your introverted character is doing a lot of talking about nothing (especially to people they don't particularly care about), then you'll need to redo some dialogue. Unless your introvert talks a lot when he/she is nervous, then you are forgiven.

3. Introverts spend a lot of time in their heads. This means us authors get the chance to explore facial expressions, internal monologues, context, and between-the-lines dialogue when writing introverts.

4. Not all introverts like to read or play video games or garden. That's cliche. And goodness knows introverts don't like cliches, since they fall into the "shallow things" category (Suddenly you all understand why I keep writing cliche bashing articles). Some introverts like to play sports or go to coffee shops or people watch or bungee jump or listen to hard rock cranked up super loud. Your introverted character is allowed to like pretty much everything that other people like. Except for being around massive amounts of people for extended periods of time. That doesn't follow.

5. Cut the "reluctant leader" introvert. Please. Being an introvert doesn't mean that your character has to hate being the leader of a group, especially if that group is only comprised of a handful of people. In fact, some introverts may feel uncomfortable being the follower. Because they spend more time internalizing and thinking things through, they're the ones who are likely to say, "Um. NO! Splitting up is never a good idea. That's how people get eaten by spiders or attacked by people with chainsaws. Stay as a group. Don't listen to the idiot who suggested otherwise." Introverts can and do lead, so don't be afraid to put your introvert behind the wheel.

6. Introverts are loyal friends. So maybe an introvert only needs one or two really good friends, but you can be sure that they'll stick by these friends no matter what. They'll carry you up Mount Doom even after you accused them of pigging out on the elvish food you packed. They may be generally quiet, but you mess with an introvert's close friend and you'll find yourself running for your life while the introvert's pal yells after you, "She's our friend and she's crazy!" They'll even mascarade as extroverts while dressing up like a giant man-bat at night if they think it'll help or honor their loved ones. And, in case you're wondering, yes, your introverted character can and should have extroverts as friends.

7. Confident introverts are the best and should be in more novels. Think about it. The introvert who slays the dragon and doesn't feel awkward leaving the Dragon Slaying After Party early. The introvert who is comfortable being quiet and doesn't feel the need to explain their silence to anybody. Or the one with a great sense of humor who shows up late everywhere wearing this shirt:
Novels need more introverted characters who own their introvertedess. 


8. Introvertedness is a disease that needs curing. There is something very wrong with somebody who is comfortable in their own company and doesn't crave being around large herds of humans. If you have an introverted character, that character needs to be fixed by the end of the novel. Have him meet a manic pixie dream girl who shows him how to live life to the extroverted version of fullest. Make her take off her glasses and go to a party. Introverts are not as valuable as extroverts and thus must be converted. Introverts are a public menace, undesirable No. 1, America's most wanted. There are only two ways to handle a fictional introvert: fix them or kill them off.

And there you have it. 7 tips to keep in mind when you are writing introverts. Also, remember that this pointer trumps all of the above:

Make your character a person first. Then an introvert.

Character building 101. Applies to the creation of every kind of fictional being.

What do you think? Do you have any tips or comments to share? I'd love to hear from you via comment or social media. Not through a phone call. That freaks me out. Please don't.

Related articles:
Writing Strong Female Characters: What You're Doing Wrong
7 Tips for Writing Characters with Chronic Illness
7 Cliche Characters in YA Fiction That Need to Stop

Enjoy this post? Take a look around. If you like what you see, please don't forget to subscribe by email for a new post every week! 
SaveSave
SaveSave
SaveSave
SaveSave

24 comments:

  1. Just look at Cap(tain America)! He's an introvert, but also comfortable taking charge and going to a party.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gotta love Cap! He's a great example of an interesting, developed introvert.

      Delete
  2. You should know how insanely excited I get when I see your blog!!! Like, I haven't even read it yet, but I just had this thrill of exuberance when I saw it and had to tell you. Keep writing!!! You are a fabulous writer and such a strong person. Whenever I start to make excuses about writing, I think about you and start working with determination once again. Keep inspiring and pushing forward. You are making a difference. And I mean it. (:

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aw. Thank you so much, Reigha! I love knowing that my writing can make other people happy or excited.

      Your kindness is overwhelming. If I'm making a difference, then so are you. Thank you for always being so sweet. I'm sure you will excel at your writing....And whatever else you decide to do!

      Delete
  3. Generally speaking, extroverts are folks who are energized by interacting with others. Introverts are those who recharge in solitude.

    I find this understanding* allows for all manner of other personality traits w/o getting trapped by the trope tarbaby. Mix all those stereotypes around, put 'em on the ends of different spectrums and move the sliders where you will.

    *Rooted in years of work as a therapist/counselor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! The word "introvert" or "extrovert" is never a defining characteristic. It can just help guide a writer to better understand their character and how they will react to certain situations. I like the idea of always making it a point to mix all of the stereotypes around to create a layered, developed character. Thank you for the comment!

      Delete
  4. Great blog! Really makes me think about the introvertedness of the characters I've already written because I've never really thought about it before. I have one book (The Merry Marquis) where both the hero and heroine are introverts trying really hard not to be for the other -- until they realize that they just want to be together and really don't care about the rest of the world and what they think. Now I want to deliberately write an introvert! Thanks!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is such a good idea, Merry! Introverts often feel like they need to be extroverted for their friends, so I think that's a really funny (and sweet) plot point. Thanks for the comment!

      Delete
  5. The sarcasm is strong with the last one xD And yeah, I hate talking about stupid shallow things. Why can't we all talk about the meaning of life and pessimism and how life just gets worse with each day!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. =D The meaning of life is 42! And if you want to talk about pessimism, we should go visit Marvin together.

      And my apologies if this comment makes no sense to you. It's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. =D

      Delete
  6. Hah, yeeeeeees. I am not particularly good at social functions, and I find it hard to actually initiate a conversation, but once it starts, I dominate it, and I'm pretty sure I talk too much. I'm that horribly cliche person that talks to herself. Talking is the way I process my thoughts, so I either don't talk at all or I don't shut up.
    Also, I don't mind being a leader at all. I love organising things. I will pull together a group of workers and have us all busy in three seconds flat. It will be chaotic, but stuff will get done, and get done in a very short period of time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! All great points. This is a perfect example of how introverts aren't necessarily shy or non-talkative or not leaders. Thanks for the fun comment!

      Delete
  7. You just made me realize that all of the three girls in the thoughts for being the main of a story of mine are actually different flavors of introverts.

    The first is a scientist with narrow interests, who has exactly one person she can speak with who gets her to relax and understands her failings. When speaking with others, she usually gets so nervous she ends up being rude without meaning to. She has a lead on and is dead-bent on unraveling an ancient conspiracy. If I choose her, it would become a story about her negotiating with other people in order to gain more clues, while simultaneously trying not to mess up the whole thing with her social shortcomings. I love conspiracies, mysteries, magic systems and the like, and think this could be very interesting to write. On the other hand, I don't know if anyone would like to read about this, as it isn't exactly an action-packed storyline and is full of her internal thought process and monologue.

    The second is the heiress of an affluent family of mages, who has followed the family's expectations and performed great so far, pushed and pressured to excel by her mother. However, as she grows out of childhood and after her new "unacceptable" lower-class best friend shows her an another kind of path, she realizes she's not doing what she herself wishes to do. She doesn't want to act the perfect child anymore and clashes about it with her mother. Her story arc would be about this clash and the conflict she goes through for leaving the family to live with her best friend, and how she starts forming new, independent dreams not centered around success as a battle mage. I feel this story is important and hasn't been told too many times despite being all too common these days. I always feel bad looking at the young ballerinas and rhythmic gymnasts who say their hobby is great and fun, because you can't be sure how much their beaming parents pressure them into saying that and aiming at the unreachable perfection "because they couldn't do it in their childhoods". Academic pressing is almost the same thing, and I myself experienced that firsthand and am now almost estranged from my only living parent because of it. However, I don't know if I could write it without my own personal bitterness leaking into the text, nor do I know if it'd be more than I can chew.

    Then, the third, a newcomer to magic circles. She is more of the shy side, loves drawing (like me!) and has always idolized battle mages who defend people and fight monsters. With her, it'd be my twist at the classical hero's journey: after her introduction to it, she sees the cruelty of magic world gradually unravel before her eyes as she goes on adventures with her new team, but even when all seems to be lost and it'd be natural and realistic to give in to cynicism, she doesn't, because then there would be nothing left. And through this, even if she is weak as a mage, she can prove to be vital in surviving insurmountable odds and defeating the darkness. However, as this is pretty classic, I don't know if I'd be able to bring anything new to the table and make it interesting enough.

    I'd love to know what the blogkeeper (dunno if it's the right word, but sounds cool, like gatekeeper) or anyone else thinks of my storylines/characters. Thanks for reading, and sorry if my English is a mess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Blogkeeper." I like the sound that. =D

      I think all of your characters sound really interesting! Have you considered doing dual POV? I think your second and third characters would be really good as main characters, switching back and forth between the two. They have some similarities, but enough differences to bring some interesting points to light.

      Also, I think that if you're aware that your bitterness might leak into your second character's narrative, then I think you'll be better able to work to keep that from happening. Anticipating a pitfall before you come to it is a valuable skill for a writer. I think her story of being pushed way too hard would make a good one. It could also help a lot of others who are put in that situation, either by their parents or by themselves. Also, writing it might even help you out. So I wouldn't avoid it because you're afraid of what might happen. If it calls to you, jump on in!

      I think your first character sounds super neat! I personally would LOVE to read about a smart yet somewhat socially awkward character. =D There's nothing wrong with a story that has less action and is more character driven. If you can make it speak to your readers and keep it emotionally engaging, you'll be fine.

      So basically: All of your characters sound very unique and layered. I would read a story with any of them as main characters (or a story with dual POV). It sounds like you've put a ton of thought into them. Go you! I'm very intrigued. Best of luck!

      Delete
    2. Hmm... I think I'll try throwing your ideas together with some of my own concepts by making the first chapter into comic form first. Doing another format is a good way for me to sort good and bad ideas apart, as is writing in either Finnish or English and then translating my own text to the other (though that one's more for weeding out the unnecessary words that seem to spread around whatever I really want to say). Helps to see what "sticks to the wall", so to say. As my exam week is now over, I think I can get things rollin' quick provided that nothing unexpected happens. If you want, I'll send you a link for the comic, if I finish the first chapter. I'll try my best to, but it is always possible that fate throws a curveball, and that's why I never promise but to try my best.

      Delete
    3. I would love the link to this comic! What a great idea for working through ideas. No stress with the link, but I would certainly be interested to see what you come up with. Go you!

      Delete
  8. Reading your post I don't think I've written any introverts yet. I have ambiverts in most of my stories (I think) and an extrovert here or there. Or maybe I haven't given some of my characters enough space to show their introversion to me. I'll try to pay more attention to this.

    I'll come back here to see if I get it right when I do run into an introverted character! (You know that feeling right? When a character just starts doing stuff that you hadn't planned? Like half the time you can barely keep up with them and the other half you're busting your brain trying to find the right words?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ambiverts are awesome, too! It lets you practice writing both extroverts and introverts, just in a less extreme way.

      I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm actually at that point with two of my characters at the moment. They're developing their own personalities (yay!), but it makes it harder for me to keep up and write them correctly and consistently (less yay). But it's a good learning experience. =D I hope your characters settle down for you soon!

      Delete
  9. Caught the "Stranger Things" reference! Amazing article, thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yay! I love that show. =D Go you!

      I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you!

      Delete
  10. I have a question, if for example, you're an introvert, should you write from an extroverted character's point of view?

    ReplyDelete

Google Analytics Alternative