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7 Ways to Write an Introverted Protagonist

Thanks to a poll on Twitter, this week’s Writing Wednesday is going to be all about writing the introverted protagonist (MC).

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I’m not a psychologist, and I know the science behind this post isn’t exact. These are just my observations when it comes to writing an introverted main character. It’s not the “right” or only way, but it’s worked for me.

It’s important to first point out being introverted doesn’t always mean being shy or antisocial. While yes, some introverts have both these traits, this isn’t a be all end all way to describe them. Instead, the way I like to say they get energy from being alone vs. being around others.

Better yet, here’s what vocabulary.com had to say about introverts.

Introvert comes from Latin intro-, “inward,” and vertere, “turning.” It describes a person who tends to turn inward mentally. Introverts sometimes avoid large groups of people, feeling more energized by time alone.”

So how do you apply this to a character without making them come off as cold, distant, or friendless?

1. Master the art of internal conversation.
Because introverts are more likely to rely on personal experiences to make decisions, writers creating an introvert should learn how to write believable internal monologues. This shows the MC doesn’t voice their need for the opinions of others, but works through what they know to solve a problem. It’s easier said than done. You have to find a balance between the MC working out ideas, and talking to themselves way too much. If you need a place to start, however, look at times in your manuscript when your MC relies too heavily on the input of others, and instead let them look inward on how they’ve solved problems in the past.

2. Have other characters be understanding when your MC excuses themselves from the group.
One of my least favorite friend character trope in movies or books is the “Why don’t you get out more?” friend. This is the side character who’s only purpose is to encourage your MC to declare their feelings to the love interest, or punch their boss in the face, or something equally as outlandish to an introvert. They’re constantly trying to fix their friend, but in real life, when an introvert is friends with this type of person, it often times has a toxic effect. They’re not friends, the introvert is a project for the extrovert, instead of an equal.

Instead, have some of your side characters not see the MC as a pet, but as a human being who has different interests. This not only provides a healthy relationship between the two, but it shows the readers that your introvert is comfortable being alone and also having friends who understand them.

3. Avoid “longing looks” into crowds.
Most introverts will tell you they don’t want to be extroverts. I’ve never met an introverted person who went home and cried about how upset they were because they didn’t enjoy an overly populated outing. I’m sure they’re out there, I just haven’t found them yet. It would be better to have your MC celebrate their introversion. Show them relaxed and grateful when they get away from a situation they find draining. Maybe even have them be a little prideful about the fact that they like being alone. Hell, I know that’s how I get sometimes.

4. Write an introvert who takes charge.
Introverts can in fact be in charge, and some people even claim they’re better suited for the role than extroverts. That being said, leadership isn’t just being the boss, it’s guiding your team to success. Just because they prefer a small get together verses a huge party doesn’t mean they can’t also step up and take their coworkers, friends, and/or love interests on a wild ride to solve your novel’s crisis. Let your introvert lead, instead of being too timid to do so.

5. Learn more about the Myers Briggs introverts.
This shows the varying degrees of introverts. Some, like the INTJ are distant and often times come off as too calculating to befriend, while others like the INFP are eager to let their strong moral compass guide them in making decisions. You don’t have to base every character you have off this system, but it’s a good place to start to see the differences between introverts.

6. Show don’t tell. 
I know people have mixed opinions on this, but hear me out. If you only say “my character is an introvert”, or “they don’t like social situations”, but your character never actually acts on these things, it doesn’t make your character an introvert. Instead of saying, “She didn’t like people, but was forced to be around them everyday for work.” you could just show your audience how much she hates being surrounded by customers, or how she finds sanctuary in her home after a long busy day. That way, it’s not just talk, there’s some action there, too.

7. Show the downsides to being an introvert.
I know I started this by saying, “Don’t just make them shy or antisocial”, but the reason why this is often times the only way people write introverts is because people perceive them this way. Being uncomfortable in a crowded place, getting worn out with too much interaction, and getting stressed when they don’t get some alone time are all some downsides for your character to experience.

Here are some other negative sides to introverted characters
– They can get so caught up in their thoughts that they overthink situations and cause more problems than they originally had.
– Because it takes time for them to make friends, when they make one, they could put that friend on a pedestal, giving the side character a place to fall from.
– They’re misunderstood by others because they turn down people’s offers to hangout, which can lead to comical misunderstandings.
– Being shy, or “afraid of social judgement” as Susan Cain puts it at TED2012, but only because they never learned how to navigate in social situations, as opposed to just being afraid of people.
– Some introverts aren’t risk takers, because they judge experiences based off of past events. If they took a risk in the past, and it turned out poorly, they might be more hesitant in the future.

 

I’ll do another blog post later about my favorite introverted protagonists as part of my “Favorite Trope” series. I go over some that fall into common character archetypes and how you can use those types in your own writing. 

For now I hope this helps! If you have any tips please feel free to share them below.

 

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