Shy and Lovable

On May 25, 2020, Writeforfun wrote, Any suggestions for writing lovable introverts?

I am struggling with one of my main characters in my story, the only one who is an introvert. I love writing him because he’s basically me when I was his age, so it comes so easily! He is petrified of attention, introspects constantly and has a little too much imagination, has profound thoughts but has a hard time putting them into words, reads constantly, is a very good listener, is extremely self-conscious, is extremely empathetic, and has a dry sense of humor. My other two are extroverts – one is moody and overly dramatic with a witty comeback for everything, and the other is an impetuous cheerleader who always acts before thinking, resulting in a lot of either funny or awkward situations.

So far, I’ve let two people read some of the story, and their consensus is that they don’t like my introvert. When asked why, one said it’s because he makes them sad. I don’t know if this is just because he is being compared to these two extroverts and the extroverts are outshining him by nature, or if his personality just isn’t a fun one to read. I suppose I could change him to be more like the other two, but I can’t figure out a way to do it that doesn’t feel forced, and I also want them to remain distinctive. I think the biggest difference between him and the other two is how much less funny he is than they are. There’s a lot of dark stuff going on in this story, so I’ve been using a lot of humor to keep things light, and most of the humor comes from them.

I’m trying to think of other books that have done introverts well, but off the top of my head I can only seem to think of extroverts. Or at least really well-adjusted introverts. This little guy has been isolated most of his life, so I really don’t want to make him seem falsely well-adjusted just to make him more fun. Perhaps I could make use of his awkwardness to make him funnier, but I’m not sure whether that would be a good funny or a bad funny, and he is always really embarrassed about it afterward, which I’m afraid kind of kills the mood.

My question is, any suggestions for writing lovable super-introverts? Any thoughts on what I’m doing wrong?

A lot of you had ideas.

Fiona: Well, I personally think that normally extroverts are easier to connect with because we know them better because they put themselves out there. One thing you can do is dip into the thoughts of the character. Put them into situations that force them out of their shell, make it uncomfortable for them to go outside their comfort zone, but make sure the experience shows their personality. Just help him along, let the readers get to know him.

Erica: Could you have him confide in one of the extroverts, and then have one of them act on what he told them? Ex. If there were someone he liked, he told one of the other two, and they set him up with her, then his response could reveal some of his personality. As for literary introverts, try Turtle in the Wings of Fire series (MG and up). He’s an important character in book 8 and narrates book 9, but the story arc starts in book 6. (I have to recommend some of my favorite series occasionally, after all.)

NerdyNiña: Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly has a super shy, introverted narrator. He has trouble speaking up in his family of extroverts. He wants to, and you, the reader, want him to. It would be a good guide, I think.

Back to Writeforfun: I’ve been trying to do some research on what might make introverts lovable, but I’ve mostly only found information on what introverts can do to “fix” themselves and become extroverts (suddenly my introverted self is feeling extremely inadequate and realizing that most of the world sees this as a problem, not a lovable character trait!). I think I’m going to stop researching along those lines for my own sake! Guess I’ll just keep experimenting. I do dip into his thoughts a lot in all of his POV chapters (it may be why he’s my favorite to write – possibly also why he’s my problem child – because I give myself free reign for introspection in his chapters!), but I’m thinking maybe he’s just too serious compared to the other two. I think I’ll see if I can play with these suggestions mentioned, and try to find some way to make him funnier or at least a little less serious.

Christie V Powell: Uh, that’s annoying! We don’t need to be fixed!

I’m still doing some research. One website pointed out that often, we don’t realize that a character doesn’t speak a lot or is introverted because we’re in their POV and see their thoughts (Harry Potter was the example they used).

Another article suggested Jane Eyre, Mr. Darcy, Katniss Everdeen, and Jonathan from Stranger Things (haven’t seen that one). Matilda and Bilbo Baggins also come up a lot.

I like writing introverted characters because it’s easier to have them think something instead of say it, when saying something aloud would cause problems. It also reminds me to use internal dialogue. I’m looking up some examples from my WIPs:

She thought about adding that the nearby royals had the resources to defeat a new Stygian, but decided she didn’t dare reveal how close they were to the Summit.

Keita was tempted to see if Indie would talk to her, but she decided against asking. Would (love interest) be more or less annoyed if Indie obeyed her?

Keita thought about asking what (villain) called her, and decided she didn’t want to know.

Did he have any siblings? Besides her, of course, if they did share a father. She decided not to ask, not when he kept glaring at her. What was he mad about?

Leo leaned against the wall of the tavern. His eyes went vacant and his lips twitched. Walker smirked but decided not to point out that he looked half-drunk himself.

I did a find word for “decided,” and somehow a whole bunch of introverted internal dialogue came up. Make of that what you will.

Here’s a list of tropes that all have to do with introverts:

These are great!

I have shy moments, but mostly I’m an extrovert, and when I wrote introverted Addie in The Two Princesses of Bamarre, I needed help from my critique buddy Joan Abelove, who is very shy–because, out of ignorance, I had made Addie almost catatonic. One of the things I did, following Joan’s advice, was to offset her helpless thoughts with useful ones, and I notice Writeforfun, a professed introvert, doing the same thing, like this hopeful idea above: Guess I’ll just keep experimenting. The thought doesn’t subtract a whit from the introversion, but it gives agency. Our introvert can take action and fail sometimes and succeed other times.

Since we love him, we can recruit one of our extroverted characters to love him too. We can imagine his pal, Grace, saying something like, “You are the deepest thinker I know. I depend on you to see around the corners.” Readers, seeing with Grace’s eyes, will find the good points our introvert is too shy to bring to the fore.

Introverted Jane Eyre, mentioned above by Christie V Powell, has a backbone made of iron. When she’s sure of a thing, she acts according to the dictates of her conscience. Our introvert can be like Jane Eyre or have other qualities that make him shine–whether or not anyone notices. After all, other characters don’t have to appreciate him; only the reader does. He can be loyal, generous (anonymously), kind, and he can be these things and many more on the positive side without being rehabilitated into well-adjusted-ness. He can be a doer. Because he’s so quiet, people don’t notice him, but when they turn around, the task he’s been set has been done–magnificently.

Jane Eyre, again, narrates her eponymous novel, and the reader discovers what a sharp observer she is. If our introvert is telling the tale, he’ll reveal in his thoughts the sides of himself that other characters will take a long time learning.

He can accept the slings and arrows that come his way because he’s shy–up to a point. When he explodes, the reader, who’s suffered the injustices along with him, will cheer.

Writeforfun mentions that he loves to read. Joy is a delight wherever it pops up. We can show his happiness in a book, or in any other of his pleasures.

Because, as a shy person, he may be overcritical of himself, he may have sympathy for others and may forgive them for flaws he won’t forgive in himself. Sympathy is an attractive quality, and readers are likely to admire it.

He may be contemplative rather than active, which gives him opportunities to appreciate. He can be a lover of beauty. He’s the one to notice that another character has changed her hairstyle and it looks great, or that there are buds on a hydrangea bush that hasn’t bloomed in years.

I’m wondering about the criticism by Writeforfun’s readers that her introvert isn’t likable because he makes them sad, which some how has me thinking about Hamlet the character, not Hamlet the play. I’m not crazy about him, because he makes me impatient and tires me. I don’t sympathize with his indecision, which goes on for longer than I can tolerate (in my memory anyway–I haven’t read the play in a long time). In the famous “to be or not to be” speech, he goes on and on about how terrible life is, how mistreated his imagined person is, who stays alive only because he fears that the afterlife may be worse. I would tolerate his monologue better if he occasionally dropped in something good, like that the cloud overhead is tinged with pink from the dawn and how pretty it is, and, maybe, that the dead can’t see it. I doubt that Writeforfun’s introvert is anything like Hamlet, but maybe he–and our introverts and less-than-lovable characters need to vary their thoughts and feelings a bit while remaining true to their essential selves. After all, none of us is just one thing. We’re introverts or extraverts, but we’re also good at miniature golf and nobody can beat us at making a pie from scratch, and if we try to sew on a button, we’re likely to have thread running through our nose before we’re done.

Then there’s plot. How does our introvert fit into it? Can we have him do something that helps the cause, that he’s uniquely qualified to contribute because he’s an introvert? We can look for moments like this. We can make a list! Maybe he’s quiet when the extroverts are exploding, so he notices something that turns out to be crucial. The reader blinks, rereads three pages, and breaks out grinning. Yay, Team Introvert!

Here are three prompts:

• Your two MCs, an extrovert and an introvert, meet at a silent meditation retreat. By glances and body language alone they communicate their interest in each other. Over the course of a week, they become close (romantically or platonically) without speaking. Write the week, remembering that one is still shy and the other is still outgoing, and then write the scene outside the gate of the retreat campus once the weekend is over and they are able to speak.

• Sleeping Beauty is an over-the-top extrovert, who narrates her dreams out loud for a hundred years. The prince is an introvert. Write the scene when he finds her.

• Rapunzel, an introvert, values solitude. Even the witch’s visits tire her out. The witch keeps her supplied with the kind of books she loves, and she spends most of her days happily reading. Still, she wishes for friendship from the kind of kindred spirit she’s read about in Anne of Green Gables. The prince, who is a little hard of hearing, walks by her tower every day without realizing anyone is in it. She watches him, notices how kind he is in many little ways (which you can think up) and becomes convinced he’s the kindred spirit who will give her companionship without overstimulating her. The problem is how to reach out to him. Does she dare? Write the story.

Have fun, and save what you write!

  1. Writeforfun, you said your reader found your character made them sad- but that means you’re getting an emotional response to your story! That’s great! You said you let two people read some of your story. If they haven’t reached the end, where he’s shown how much he’s grown over the story, maybe that’s why they don’t like him. When I first read `The Hobbit’ I got really discouraged at the beginning, because Bilbo didn’t DO anything- except get everyone captured by trolls. But once the story got really going (basically from the point he met Gullom on) I was really invested and loved his character. I wouldn’t have loved him nearly as much if he hadn’t seemed so hopeless in the beginning. If you haven’t finished writing your story, it might be a good idea to do that before you get more opinions, because the character might be one who just takes a little more time to fall in love with than the others. One really good book I haven’t seen mentioned here with an introvert character is `The Goose Girl’ by Shannon Hale. It’s a fairy tale re-telling and the main character is really shy, and I was so happy for her when she started standing up for herself at the end.

  2. I’d like to point out that a common misconception is that all introverts are shy. This actually isn’t true. A better definition of an introvert is someone who is energized by alone time or finds social interactions to be exhausting after a certain point and needs alone time to recharge. My husband is an extreme introvert. He isn’t so much shy as he just doesn’t like social interactions, especially small talk. He prefers his conversations to have purpose or to not have them at all. My sister is also an introvert, but when she’s around people she’s comfortable with, like her siblings, she’s lively and fun. She still needs to recharge behind a book every so often, but she’s tons of fun! I’m personally an ambivert. I crave both social interactions and alone time and need a good balance of both. I think that Hollywood’s depictions of introverts have led a lot of people to assume they’re all shy or that they need to be fixed, but it’s just not true!

  3. Thanks for the post! I loved it. Especially the prompt about the silent retreat. That would be so much fun to write!

    One quick comment: there is a difference between introverted and shy. Not all introverts are shy, and not all shy people are introverts. The (oversimplified) difference is that shy people are afraid of socializing, while an introvert feels no need to socialize. I have one introvert friend who taught herself to speak out and can be quite blunt–she just needs to rest away from people afterward. Another calls herself a “neurotic introvert”. She is very outgoing and often blurts things out, which makes her seem outgoing, but again she needs long times alone and quiet afterward to make up for it (in which time she’s probably regretting the things she said).

  4. And then, of course, you have your hermits (like me) who enjoy social interaction but feel no particular need to seek it out. I’m perfectly willing to have an hour-and-a-half long conversation, but I can also spend an entire weekend without talking to anybody besides the cafeteria staff. You know, hypothetically. 🙂
    In my defense, I’m the kind of introvert who absolutely despises starting conversations, but can carry one for a ridiculously long time. And yes, every time I talk with someone, I go back over the conversation to figure out what I should have said differently.
    From a “how to write introverts” standpoint, I would say have the character be quiet around large groups/unfamiliar situations, but once they get comfortable, they can (if they want to) chatter up a storm. As an example, my first year at camp, I would only talk if someone asked me a question. The next year, I made a conscious effort to strike up conversation, and a guy who’d spent a fairly awkward 45 minutes with me the year before refused to believe I could possibly talk that much, because when I was with him, our only conversation lasted less then fifteen seconds.

    • Yep. I’m a textbook introvert, but I worked fast food in college, and by the time I left, my coworkers called me hyper and crazy and didn’t believe me when I told them I’m usually quiet and have difficulty talking to strangers.

      • I consider myself a “friendly introvert.” I like people, but don’t always know how to behave in groups, so I’m tense the whole time and drained afterward. A big part of it is that I have trouble recognizing faces and I’m always afraid I’ll hurt someone’s feelings by not recognizing them.

        I love writers’ conventions, because everyone wears nametags! Our local one’s called Albacon, and my best friend once told me “You turn into a social animal at Albacon.”

  5. i💜writing says:

    This post was exactly what I needed! My sister/beta reader said that my character was too passive and barely showed up in any scenes. Most of her sisters are smart, sassy, outgoing extroverts that do most of the talking. Thanks for all of the advice (though it wasn’t directed at me)!

  6. Emmeline Whitby says:

    Writeforfun, when you mentioned your shy introvert character, I thought of my favorite character from the “Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard” series, Hearthstone. Hearth isn’t a POV character, so we don’t see his thoughts, he’s very reserved, and he’s deaf (he uses ASL) so we can’t hear his voice intonation described. On paper, he sounds like he could be a fairly uninteresting character, but he comes off as a really distinct, complex, lovable person, partly because the main character, Magnus, knows him really well. He’s is able to interpret Hearth’s facial expressions for the readers, and it’s pretty hilarious: “Hearth developed a faint smile, which for him was the equivalent of rolling in the floor laughing,” “Hearthstone smiled faintly and waved both palms the ASL gesture for Yay! which was the equivalent of ecstatic fanboy screaming,” and “Hearth’s mouth quirked, which for him was a diabolical grin.” Hearth had a HORRIBLE childhood, which is why he’s so reserved, but he’s still really kind and generous. He’s an elf who practices magic, and in a society that looks down on magic and anything that isn’t “perfect” (like deafness), he’s considered an outcast. But he’s not ashamed of who he is, and even chose to follow his dream of learning magic over a “normal life.” He also has a friend that he often bickers with, but they’re fiercely protective of each other. He has a very dry sense of humor, like Writeforfun’s character, and is extremely blunt. I don’t know if this is helpful or not, but maybe it can give you some ideas about your character.

  7. Emmi the Meganerd says:

    If you want to help your introverted character be less shy and introverted, my best friend was really shy when I met her and she talked quietly and hardly ever raised her hand in class. Now, she’s taken on some of my personality. She’s really energetic, talks louder, and is a lot less shy. So maybe you could slowly have your character change with a new friend. It’s okay if it doesn’t fit into your story, just a suggestion!

    • My best friend was like that. She was super quiet and shy when she was younger, but her more outgoing husband taught her to speak out (or, in her words, “You forced me to be like this!”) They’re super fun. She’s stll an introvert, she still needs time away from people, but you wouldn’t always know it when you first meet her.

  8. Song4myKing says:

    Introvert topics, in real life and in fiction, are dear to my heart, as apparently they are to many of you!

    A few suggestions:

    Giving your introvert plenty of POV time definitely helps. In one of my stories, I have a set of twins as side characters, both equally important to the story. The extraverted one has only one very short POV scene, but we constantly know what she’s thinking through her words and body language. Her twin is introverted. She has several POV scenes, in which she shows by her thoughts how she’s processing the same events.

    If your character has difficultly putting thoughts into words, think about how he’s thinking. As writers, we have time to form all our thoughts and our characters’ thoughts into sentences, but that’s not always how we actually think in the moment. One problem we introverts sometimes have is thinking in words, but knowing that if we say the words as they are in our heads, others may take it entirely wrong. I think extraverts tend to not worry about it as much; at least some of them simply start talking and keep explaining until everyone understands. Introverts are more likely to want the thoughts to be fully and understandably formed before they say them. Another reason someone might have trouble putting thoughts into words is that the thoughts might not be words at all, but rather pictures or impressions. This actually can be a great way to show, not tell, when working inside a character’s head. Your character could see a whole scene in his head, but what he says is a short phrase, or nothing at all. Your reader knows exactly where that came from, and the wisdom or emotion behind it, even if the other characters fail to get its significance.

    If you want to make your guy funnier, you could do it mostly in his head. An over-active imagination could produce all sorts of humorous possibilities that amuse himself and the reader, even if he doesn’t explain to his friends what he’s smiling about.

    And one more thing I’ve learned about character introspection: It can be easy and fun to let the character go on for pages in her thoughts, but it can also slow the story way down. I’ve often come back to those pages in the editing process and condensed them down to paragraphs. The character might be thinking much more clearly and eloquently than I ever would in real life, but the reader gets the important thoughts quickly and moves on to the action. Of course, this might contradict the bit about having a hard time putting thoughts into words. I guess it’s about finding a balance!

  9. FantasyFan101 says:

    Hey!! I have a bit of an odd problem. Whenever I start a WIP, I make the first chapters as perfect as I can, the way I’d like to see them when they’re published. I constantly go over the first chapters for flaws instead of moving on. I feel like I should start with drafts, but that’s not really the way I write. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do, but I’m not quite sure exactly how to go about it. Do I make a quick list of scenes, than write them out the actions a little, then slowly expand more and more, or just write a quick, and, if I may, crappy rough draft? If you anyone can help, please do. Thanks!

    • It just depends on what you want to do. Every writer writes differently. There are a lot of posts on outlining vs pantsing you can check out if you want to.

      On a slightly more helpful note, if you keep wanting to try and perfect the first chapter, don’t break up your WIP into chapters until you’ve finished the first draft. You could also try making yourself write a certain amount of new story before you can go back and edit.

      For me, going back and revising an earlier part of the story means I’m stuck on something and I’m trying to get unstuck. Keep an eye on what makes you want to stop writing, and then you can figure out how to get past that.

    • If you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do, the first step I would recommend would be writing out the idea as fully as you can, to give you a better idea of what exactly this story is going to look like. Once you have that, though, it’s every writer for themselves trying to figure out how to develop the thing. I’m helping with a project someone did where they wrote out a list of scenes and then expanded them, but I myself am the kind of writer who HAS to write a story straight through from beginning to end, because I keep coming up with things that send the story into a completely different direction. My advice would be to try super-detailed outlining first, and then decrease the complexity as you need to until you find a level of planning that works for you. But it’s really just experimenting until you find the system that works for you.

    • You might try the NaNoWriMo style, just as an exercise. You set yourself a goal number of words (the official NaNo in November is 50k words in a month, but you can set something else), and then throw words down.
      Editing is not allowed. Instead, I write myself notes about things I would like to change, and then keep going, usually with a hashtag so I can find it easily later (“Her large eyes studied her brother’s family with an expression Indra couldn’t read. #end scene with focus on Indra”).

      Sometimes I stop and stream-of-conscious brainstorm right on the page (“This isn’t working. How can I try something new?”). Other times, I’ll write a paragraph about what I want the next chapter to do before I write it (“Indra speaks with Marenna, who frets that she could have helped, but does not admit her special ability yet”). Even those words count toward the goal.

      I don’t know if this ends up being your go-to method, but it might be worth a try.

  10. i💜writing says:

    So, totally off-topic (which seems to be my forte here, haha), I was just reading the acknowledgements of Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs, and he wrote about an all-expenses paid trip to Israel with PJ Library. He thanked everyone sponsoring it, the guide, etc, and then he wrote: “But I also had a great time hanging out with [long list of authors] and Gail Carson Levine (who would honestly do push-ups any time you challenged her to, no matter where you were).”
    I completely love that! Did you take that trip for A Ceiling Made of Eggshells?

    • Song4myKing says:

      True! We hear her thoughts a lot, and relate to her because of them. And we also see her kindness through her actions, and love her for it.

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