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!