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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing and the Introvert

My novel has a problem. A massive, hard-to-fix, un-ignorable problem. The symptoms are plain: every second or third chapter lacks Voice or emotion of any kind.

I know the POV character for those chapters is to blame.

But the root cause?

That took some venting at my writing partner to figure out. My FMC, Sam, is an introvert.

Despite the military overtones of the book, Sam isn't a fighter. She carries a gun, but I'm a little scared to see her use the thing. She's bossy, but not the boss. Her skill set for the book consists of being able to think on her feet, and being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Really, that's not much to go on.

While editing last night I read a scene where Sam and her BFF, Brileigh, go out to party. Brileigh is fun to write, even if she isn't a POV character. She's hot tempered, passionate, vivacious.

The only other character like that is actually the skulking MMC with issue. His POV scenes are fantastic! I may be biased, but he's easy to write and easy to read. He's quiet, but he fills the silence with mental commentary.

Sam... doesn't.

I thought maybe I had edited her Voice out. Sometimes I sanitize my drafts until the Voice is gone. It happens. But looking back at the earlier drafts I can find only a few points where Sam has any recognizable Voice.

Each of those scenes is when she's alone.

Sam loves the quiet. When she's away from everyone she blooms as a character. She has a quiet sense of humor, an idealist vigilante's view of the world, and her defense is to lock everything down when she's around people.

My mouthy female main character is an INTROVERT!!!

This is like finding out my 130 pound mastiff is secretly a cat!

Introverts are shy, retiring types who have no business in an edgy near-future hard sci-fi novel so overtones of social commentary! Oh no they don't!

Except... except she does belong. An extrovert just couldn't handle this case. Anyone with more imagination would have panic attacks by chapter twelve. Sam is unflappable. She needs facts. She needs reasons.

Dead body in the freezer? No biggy.

Fiancee has a new girlfriend? Remind me to call the caterer and get the deposit back.

The dead chick is me? These things happen.

This doesn't solve the Voice problem. Even if she locks herself down in defense I need something for the page. I realize this is like the newspaper editor demanding stories be written during a hostage situation, but that's the way life is.

All I need to do is figure out how to write an introvert.

Any suggestions?


  1. I am an introvert (100% according to personality tests). And we're not shy as a rule - some are, some aren't. All "introverted" means is we get our energy from being alone and tend to need a lot of "cave time". As opposed to extroverts, who get their energy from being around people and go nutty being alone too much.

    Introverts are generally "thinkers" - so even when she's locked down, she'd be thinking and analyzing (even if it's just "I swear I'm going to kill someone if they don't all leave me alone soon!"). I bet if you get into her head, you'll find plenty going on for the page. ;-)

    My suggestion is to go read the Meyers-Briggs introvert profiles (just search Meyers-Briggs or personality types - you'll have more sites than you know what to do with), and get to know the personality type. Then you can figure out what *kind* of introvert she is (I'm an INTJ), and that should help you get a handle on how to write her.

  2. My first thought was to write in first person, but you have POV shifts and they can be a pain to tackle in first.

    So my best advice is to let the reader see into Sam's head. Just because she's quiet, that doesn't mean she doesn't think. She probably thinks more - considering the best thing to say, perhaps even rehearsing replies in her head (I do this all the time!). She absorbs her surroundings, so let us see this!

  3. Having a contradictory character is a good thing, adds complexity. You want a strong sense of who she is, but not by making her one note.

    If she's bossy and functional when she needs to be I would suggest that's her way of not having to deal with people. When a character avoids something, force them to face it, make it uncomfortable. They may not put themselves in that place by choice, but it's not up to them.

    The issue with this type of character is usually the writer knows what the character prefers and gives it to them. How will she handle a social situation? She wants to avoid it? Sorry, I'm busy... Instead of letting her do that and thinking that's showing her character, cut off her options, then what does she do? The only way to make a negative characteristic interesting is to show it in contrast to the thing it's avoiding.

    Anyone can write what a shy character does at a party if they're left alone (sit quietly in a corner). It takes a little more effort to come up with what they do when they're forced through circumstances beyond their control into center stage.

    Moody Writing

  4. Jamie - I bounce between ENTJ and INTJ. I think Sam's INTJ, and I know she isn't shy. Getting in her head is proving hard though.

    Misa - Actually, I might try first person. Not for the book, but writing a few problem scenes in first to see how she's thinking. The real snag is her relationship with her fiance. She thinks she loves him, but it's all a surface level, "Wow, you're hot and have my mother wants you as a son-in-law." She doesn't acknowledge that consciously until the end of the book, and that makes the early chapters awkward.

    Mood - She doesn't get much sulk time outside of working on her cases. I like the idea of cutting off her options. :o)

    Thank you!

  5. I created a character that, at the time, I thought was boring, but when I went back after several weeks and re-read my story, I found that I really DID like how my character behaved. When I was writing it I was too "in the moment" and very self-critical. Once I had some distance on it, though, I ended up liking him enough to not change much at all about the way he behaved.

  6. Scott- I'm editing slowly, is that the same as taking a week off? No? It's not a bad idea...

  7. Along the lines of Misa's first suggestion--you could try writing some of her scenes in first-person POV, and then translate them BACK into third-person. I've heard of people doing that so they can get their voice and/or add immediacy to the scenes. I should probably try it myself sometime, but it just seems like so much work...

    (I personally am probably an INTP and find it hard to make my characters more extroverted and emotional like all those Es and Fs want. :) )

  8. To me, it sounds like Sam would probably be one of those people who is very aware of her surroundings. Being around people, especially without a break, would be uncomfortable for her, which might only serve to make her more aware. You might use that to put things on the page. She might notice where the exits are, or where everyone is positioned, for instance. She might be easily distracted, or impossible to distract. Even if she's quite about the things going on in her head, the things she notices and pays attention to can help to characterize her for the reader.

    Just some thoughts! Good luck with getting inside her head! Those characters that hold their thoughts close are sometimes a pain, but once you crack them open, it's totally worth it. Like crabs... Hmm. Okay, unfortunate wording, but you know what I mean! :-D

  9. The Meyers-Briggs helped me get the handle on some characters whose personalities were much different than mine. One was an introvert but much different kind of introvert than I am. I'm the daydreaming type but he sounds like he was much like your Sam: solid, unflappable, stoic. The key to making his PoV fun for me to write was my discovery that although he seemed like your typical strong, silent, stone-cold warrior, he was secretly a sentimental fool. (ISFJ). He would never NEVER reveal his tender heart to anyone but it was there, and knowing that secret made me giggle with delight whenever I wrote one of his scenes.

    I think finding out some seemingly paradoxical or contradictory aspect of your character can help round out the character, make her more 3D and also make her more fun to write.

  10. I did the meyers-briggs test for Sam and she is: ISTJ - an Inspector.

    This fits her perfectly! So perfectly. I'm sure I didn't read this before I started writing her, and I'm ENTJ so I know I wasn't reading about myself, but this is Sam. All over the place, this is her!

    Thank you so much for recommending that test! I'm reading up on personality types. Now that I can profile her I can get into her a head a little better. Bring out some of the fear she has of failure, and pin point her fear of criticism.