Monday, July 24, 2023

How to Reveal Your Character’s Vulnerability (Even Though It’s Human Nature to Hide It)

Encouraging an emotional bond between a reader and the protagonist is one of the most important jobs a writer has. We do this through empathy - a deep, meaningful connection that forms when we put the reader into the character’s emotional shoes. Many writers struggle with how to do this because it usually means showing the character’s vulnerability.

This can be a tall order if one has a tough character who equates emotions with weakness, because their hard shell prevents anyone from getting close (thanks a lot, emotional wounds). The problem is, readers need to get close, so we need to find a way to make that happen.

As people, we connect to vulnerability. It makes us feel that we are seeing into the heart of who someone truly is. So, making sure our characters experience vulnerability, no matter how tough, how jaded, how determined they are to hide what they feel, is incredibly important.

The problem is that most people don’t like feeling vulnerable, and so true-to-life characters won’t either. This leaves writers with a conundrum: how do they show their character in a vulnerable light to help create that closeness with the reader, yet stay true to authentic human behavior?

The answer lies in understanding universal triggers for vulnerability, and then placing the protagonist in the path of one.

Psychological Situations that Cause Vulnerability

Not knowing what will happen next.

People crave control, of having power over what the future will bring. Take this away and there’s only the feeling of not knowing, of having no influence or say in the outcome. By placing the power someone else’s hands-their choices, actions, and decisions--you rob your character of control. The resulting feelings of frustration, anxiety and even despair are all ones that reinforce vulnerability. Readers have all experienced a loss of control and so will deeply identify with the character’s range of feelings. 

Mistakes they make.

Despite best efforts, we all make mistakes. Not only do we hate it when one happens, we tend to beat ourselves up about it, growing frustrated and disappointed for not being smarter, stronger, or better. Characters who make mistakes and who think and feel as people do will come across as authentic and human. And the bonus? Mistakes lead to plot complications & conflict!

Personal failures.

Being unable to do what one has set out to do is one of the most heartbreaking moments an individual can experience, and it will be the same for a character. A hero’s personal failure, especially one that carries repercussions for others, is one way to break down those steel walls and reveal their vulnerability.

A death or loss.

A deep, personal loss is never easy. Often a person only realizes what they had or what something meant when it’s gone. Again, this is a universal feeling, something all readers can identify with. Written well, seeing a character experience loss will remind readers of their own experiences. Death is final, but other losses can be potent as well. The loss of hope is particularly wounding. 

Challenging their role.

Whatever the character’s role is (a leader, a provider, a source of comfort, etc.), having it challenged can be devastating. Roles are tied to identity: the husband who loses his job may no longer be able to provide for his family. The leader who made a bad decision must witness the resulting lack of faith from his followers. The mother who fails to keep her child safe feels unsuited for motherhood. When a role is challenged through choice, circumstances, or competitors, it creates self-doubt, making the character feel vulnerable in a way readers identify with.

Casting doubt on what they believe.

Each person has set beliefs about the universe, how the world works, and the people in it, allowing them to understand their place in the big picture and instilling feelings of belonging. When knowledge surfaces that puts trusted beliefs into question, the character suffers disillusionment, a powerful feeling that can make them feel adrift in their own life.

Disillusionment is an emotional blow that everyone has felt, so it can be a good way to trigger that feeling of shared experience between the character and reader.

Through worry for another. 

This ties into that loss of control mentioned above, because try as they might, a person will encounter situations where they can’t influence circumstances affecting a loved one. Fear and worry lead to roadblocks on how to proceed, and the feeling of powerless about it all causes a great deal of vulnerability. Put your characters in this situation where they can’t fix a problem for someone they care for and show how it feels to be unable to steer the outcome.

Revealing their secret. 

Secrets are hidden for a reason and are often the source of guilt or shame. When the character’s secret is revealed, they are stripped of their security, and will they believe others will view them differently as a result. Readers can empathize with this raw feeling of being exposed.

Have ideas on other ways to make our character feel vulnerable?
 Let me know in the comments!


Angela Ackerman
is a story coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. Available in nine languages, her guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over a million copies. Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you’d like to download the tip sheet on secrets above, you can do so HERE.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Inspiring Advice From IWSG Experts

Writing can be a discouraging journey. That is why today, we are going to bring you some hope from past and present IWSG Admins.

A lot of people are going to weigh in on your work. Attend to what your instincts tell you is valid and helpful. Set aside what doesn’t serve to get your story where you believe it should go. This, BTW, is darned hard and takes practice.
– C. Lee McKenzie

Keep writing and dreaming. Take breaks for a while, if needed, but come back. Always, keep a list of your accomplishments and a few kind phrases from writer friends nearby, just in case you need this armor to fight trolls - don't let them live under your bridge of creativity and threaten you with insecurity. Never give up, never surrender! :)
- Tyrean Martinson

Don't listen to the nay-sayers, yet be open to critique. Read frequently and widely. Remind yourself why you love to write. And just keep writing, and writing, and writing...
- Elle Cardy/Lynda Young

If you try to please everyone, you will lose your enjoyment of writing. Write the story you want to read, the one that makes you happy, because there are people out there who will be happy to read it too.
– Christine Rains

Don't compare yourself to others. Everyone has different circumstances and/or are in different parts of their writing journey. Yours will be your own. No one can write your words but you.
Not all advice or rules are to be followed. Think for yourself and if the so-called writing rule isn't working for you then break it.v Above all else, never ever try to please everyone or you will fail before you even get started. There will always be someone that dislikes your writing no matter how good it is. It could be the best ever and someone will hate it. It could be the worst ever and someone will love it. You can't please everyone in anything in life, so don't try. Write the story you want to tell, find a good group, take constructive feedback, and ignore the naysayers. Don't engage them either. They live for that. Ignore and don't let them deter you from your writing goals.
- Pat Hatt

My advice to beginning and veteran writers is to find your people. Most of the time, writers work alone as they pick or pound at the keyboard. But working alone doesn't mean a writer needs to be lonely. Find your community whether it is a face-to-face group or an online group. If you're really lucky, you'll find both. Your tribe not only provides mental and emotional support and energy, they know most of what you need to know to be a successful writer, or they know someone who knows. They are a resource and an inspiration. IWSG has been my online community for all its years and I hope many years to come.
- Susan Gourley

A business partner from long ago had a saying. “When the dream’s big enough the facts don’t matter.” And that certainly applies to writers. If your goal is big enough and a burning desire, you will find a way to make it a reality.
And either path you take, traditional or self-publishing, will require an education. Learn all you can about every aspect of your chosen path. You have once chance to make a good impression and do it right.
- L. Diane Wolfe

You will always doubt, whether it’s your first book or tenth. Is it the vision you wanted to create and will others enjoy it? You have to go on faith. Believe in yourself. Believe in your creation. If you believe, it doesn’t matter what other people think. You will know in your heart you gave it your best.
- Alex J. Cavanaugh

When sales aren’t plentiful and you feel discouraged, please remember that even if you only had one book sale in a particular month, a reader chose your story over a million others, and give yourself a pat on the back.
- Sandra Cox

The key to success is persistence despite failure, adapting, pivoting, and being open to new ways of looking at things, or doing, or learning. The ones that never give up eventually, find success by their own definition, by building a body of work that allows readers to learn to trust you as an author and creator. It also builds confidence in your-self and creates new skills in an industry that is always changing. Key: Know what you really want, and what you are willing to do to gain the skills to achieve it. Simply put: Never give up!
- Juneta Key

The intersection of what you enjoy writing + identification of your strength + growth opportunities = your sweet spot.
For example, I love writing flash fiction. Short bursts of writing exhilarate me + I’m quite good at it + it fosters tight, lean writing habits = win, win, win.
Oh, and did I mention the fun factor?
If writing feels tedious or like a slog, then something is off. Even during the difficult moments (which is normal and which there will be plenty of, trust me…) try to find that spark and what drew you to writing in the first place.
- Michelle Wallace

What inspiring encouragement would you offer?

Monday, July 10, 2023

Creating Scenes In Short Story


Photo by richard thomposn on Unsplash

What makes a scene in a story?

I have written a few short stories, and I have plans to write more. One of my focus points while learning to write short stories has been scene creation.

This was a really big thing for me to get my head around. I wanted to really understand what is a scene and specifically what it needed to be for a shorter story.

So, I have been reading a lot. Here is what I have learned so far.

What is a scene?

A scene is a small moment or incident within a larger story that contributes to the overall movement and story end goal or story ARC. (Definition of story arc via Wikipedia.)

What makes a scene?

Three things MUST be present.
  • A setting where the action takes place.
  • A character with a deep personal need, goal, desire, or a situation they must take action physically, emotionally (internally paired with consequence), or in dialogue with purpose.
  • Scene movement that causes a small or bigger change that affects the story — character.
The problem should strongly connect to the character's deep need/want or story/scene goal (internal), or in opposition to it, which will motivate/drive him to take external action.
(Character motivation/drive via Reedsy blog.)

In flash fiction, you have no room for backstory, or even a lot of character development, so the sooner your character takes action, the better.

In fact, start as close to the end of the story as you can and/or in the middle of the action, if possible with flash fiction. (For more about flash fiction, see my article here, What makes a good flash fiction piece?)

When writing a short story of 3000 to 10,000 words you have a bit more room for character development and description, but backstory sparse, if any.

In short stories, word limits create the story limits.

How do you know the scene has ended or a short has ended?

Something changed. That is it. It can be a series of changes or one small change. It depends on the size of your story and the goal of the scene planned in relation to your entire story.

If the time or location changes, that is definitely a scene change. The key in shorts is giving the reader a sense of closure or story ending.

Does a scene have a story structure?

Every scene has a forward progression, or what is the point? A scene should have a beginning where the character has a goal, want, and need. It should have a middle where there is at least one try/fail cycle that generates some conflict and friction.

The scene end should have a resolution, or disaster, but a definite shift, or change forward or backward related to the story being told.

My short stories can have up to four to eight scene shifts or changes. Flash fiction (500 to 1000 word scenes) could have two to three shifts, or only one, while a story (3000 to 4500-word count) could have ten or more. (Definition of story transition via Wikipedia.)

Example Flash Fiction, The Letter. One Scene.

Here is what you need to write a scene:

  • Setting is part of the character's world — the ordinary world or problem world.
  • A character with a big need/desire — a goal/problem. If the character (want) opposes their (need), all the better.
  • Conflict: Limited or no choices. Something that forces the character to take an external ACTION. Bonus if that action is driven by their internal need.
In summary, you need a setting that a character enters with a problem that he must take action on. The problem has to be big enough that the character cannot ignore it. Whatever it is, will force the character to act or react to it, even if he refuses to deal with it.

I hope this helped you get a better picture of scene function and creation.

You can read some of Juneta’s flash fiction and short stories here and find her here.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

IWSG Day The Heat Is On For Ideas

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. 

And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the July 5 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, Kim Lajevardi, Gwen Gardner, Pat Garcia, and Natalie Aguirre!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

July 5 Question - 99% of my story ideas come from dreams. Where do yours predominantly come from?

Does come from anywhere and everywhere count? All it takes is hearing a word or an idea or an argument and away I go. Ideas can easily come from talking to rugrats too and letting them go off a cliff with their own spin on things. Sometimes following them off said cliff isn't such a bad story idea. No literal cliffs though. Parents frown on that.

I do get a lot from dreams as well. I have had dreams that go on all night that I jot down in the morning for an idea. The list of ideas goes on and on that I have.

I'm not saying they are all good or that they will work, but they are constantly coming. All one really has to do is listen and keep their eyes peeled and ideas can flow. Even something as simple as a red rock sitting in the middle of a pile of normal grey rocks can spark an idea if you let it.

Any of your ideas come from dreams? Do you find it hard to think up ideas? Is the heat really on? Why would you have it on in the summer? Unless it's winter where you are, then I guess it would be on.

Happy IWSG Day!