How to love them if you hate people
Writing characters can be a challenge for introverts.
But: the thing you love most (writing) can help you overcome the fear and unease when it comes to people. Especially strangers.
This post will tear you out of your comfort zone. But it will also help you love both real and fictitious people.
I’m an introvert.
I enjoy the silent and lonely writing time, but it comes with another curse: strangers are a problem for me.
Compared to 10 or 15 years ago, I’ve improved. Back then, I could sit hours and hours on my own, spending the whole day reading books or writing. Today, thankfully, I do miss the company and like to get out at least once a day to breathe fresh air and be with people.
Still, while extroverts derive their energy from being around people, I get tired. More often than not, people tend to annoy and perplex me.
Why you need to like people
Many new writers make the mistake of projecting themselves into all the major characters in their story (maybe except for the villain). This exemplifies an ignorance people immerse themselves into – that everybody ought to think the way we think and feel the way we feel.
The result: all characters act and sound like you.
They get boring.
To write multifaceted characters we need to study people. More than that – we need to understand them. We need to sympathize with them even if they are entirely different from us.
And let’s be honest: We introverts don’t want that. Because essentially, we don’t like people.
Here are techniques that will help you
- write deeper and more multifaceted characters
- love your characters and understand them
- start to love the people around you
1. Study psychology and character archetypes
This one still keeps you in the safety and coziness of your room.
This is the book that will help you understand how different people can be: “45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters” by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.
It introduces eight female and eight male character archetypes derived from Greek mythology, along with the villainous sides that might emerge.
This knowledge is of immense help when it comes to shaping your primary and secondary characters and giving them motivation, a mission, quirks, and problems that go beyond the superficial level of the first draft.
“In using archetypes, the essence of your character is narrowed down so she jumps off the page at the reader instead of blending in with all the other characters.” – V.L. Schmidt
I recommend reading only one or two books on the character journey, for example:
“The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler
“Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure” by K.M. Weiland
The rest should be about psychology, character types and archetypes.
This gives you ideas on how to create multifaceted characters and enrich them.
There are many theories on character types, several also depending on genre. Study them and you’ll start to discover yourself inside of those stereotypes, and also the people around you.
2. Make a habit of observing the people surrounding you
Become a student of humanity.
Notice the details nobody else observes:
How does she wrinkle her nose? In what way does he style his hair? How does her body language mirror that she is nervous, happy, sad? Do his eyes roll a little every time he hears a certain sentence?
Plan to observe the people you interact with today deliberately. Or sit down for a coffee and watch the people around you.
A great writing exercise:
Sit down in a café and pick several people. Describe them in three to four sentences, trying to pick interesting and exceptional details. Give them a name. Provide them with a story.
Why are they here? Where are they going? What is their motivation? Try to interpret their quirks and their gestures, maybe their phone calls or books in a way that you can give them a story arc.
Once careful observation becomes a habit, it will make you more sensitive to people’s reactions. On the surface, we give away more than we intend to. This habit will also help you fill your blanks and make your character descriptions more lively and more creative.
3. Take time to speak to people, and learn what makes them tick
This one is tough for introverts.
But it’s also very effective.
With the first strangers you talk to, you’ll have to overcome your inner introvert. It takes courage, even pain, to ask people about their feelings, to speak to them in a way that they are ready to open up.
And most of the time – as painful as it is to say – we don’t really care about those people. But this will change.
That’s the magic trick behind loving characters and people alike: The more you know them, the more you like them.
It can be anyone. You can start with friends and family, but try to move on to your bartender, cashier, next-door neighbor.
As you get better, try to pick people completely different from you. How about the homeless person on the street corner? The old lady that always takes the bus with you?
The more you vary those people in age, gender, and silly quirks, the more you enrich your inner “library” of characters. You breathe life into them.
You’ll never stop loving the lonely and cozy place where your fingers hit the keypads. But you’ll also love to study humanity.
“Life is all about people, story is all about character.”
Make character notes
While you apply those three steps, never forget to make notes. Either in your laptop or a notebook, make a habit to always write down what you’ve seen and learned today. Create a character library. Otherwise, you’ll forget, especially when it comes to the little details.
Don’t be the convenient introvert
Now, you have a choice to make about what to do next.
The convenient reaction would be to do nothing. Maybe step one.
But make a decision today to get all the way down to three.
It will get you out of your comfort zone, and for the most introverted writers (like me), it will hurt. But there is no gain without pain, right?
If you truly want to enrich your character writing skills, start your character library now. Start observing people closely, talking to them. You’ll see soon that caring about people and loving them will enrich both your personal life and your writing life.
After all, both life and stories are all about people.