Writing insecure characters

Here’s a post at Writers Helping Writers: Writing Insecure Characters

These posts are quite analytical, and I don’t ever write a character by saying, “Now, this guy feels insecure. How can I show that he feels insecure?” I write more by, I don’t know, by knowing how the character feels from the inside and writing him that way. Or something. That probably sounds more empathic than … no, maybe not, it really is an empathic way of writing, I guess. I don’t stop and say, “How would an insecure person react?” I write the specific character in a way that fits the situation. I learn what the character is like by writing him, not by analyzing him to death.

So I don’t necessarily find posts like this helpful:

Insecurity is never comfortable. Your character would much rather be seen as confident and capable, so when they’re feeling the opposite, they’re going to try and hide it. One way they might do this is through overcompensating. … Other characters will head the opposite direction, going out of their way to avoid the situations that make them feel unsure of themselves. … Another avoidance response you might see in an insecure character is the decision not to act. A character with this MO will take a backseat in their own life, letting other people make the important decisions. This way, they don’t have to take responsibility or ownership in the situations that make them feel uncomfortable. … how your character responds to insecurity will depend on their fight, flight, or freeze response. If they tend toward fighting, they’ll likely become more aggressive, overcompensating for whatever failing (perceived or real) they’re trying to hide. A character who is more likely to flee or freeze will have an avoidance or self-sabotage response as they try to escape the threatening situation. 

And so forth. Not that there’s anything wrong or untrue about the above. I just don’t think about characterization this way.

Nevertheless, this entry on insecurity caught my eye because wow, is that ever relevant with Tano. He doesn’t handle this in any of the ways described in this post, though. He worries about stuff. Then, when a crisis hits, he takes very fast action. Once the crisis is past, he worries again, trying to figure out what other people will do, and from a quite pessimistic set of assumptions.

It’s interesting because when I first added Tano and that whole plotline to Tarashana, I didn’t exactly set out to create a character I’d go on with. I was thinking of Tano from Ryo’s point of view, how Tano impacted Ryo’s character development. Again, not analytically. But that was the direction of my gaze during Tarashana: I was looking at Tano from Ryo’s perspective. Plus for various reasons I wanted to set up a tribe that had gone wrong and then destroy that tribe. I mean, I am quite deliberately creating societies that are a little idealized, but I don’t want to make them flawless. That was meant to show a failure of Ugaro society, how that kind of society can go wrong, and how that kind of problem can be corrected. It got probably more extreme than most problems of that sort, but that was the idea.

I’m not sure I would have given Tano such a dreadful backstory if I’d been looking through his eyes from the beginning. It’s definitely dreadful, though not described in graphic detail. It is easier for me as a reader, and, it turns out, as a writer, to put terrible things in the backstory rather than showing them in story-present. Tano is going to overcome all the terribleness, of course. He gets a very solid boost in his eponymous novel. I think after this, he may be flinching reflexively from certain things, but he’ll also be feeling a lot more secure. Not just on the surface, either. Way down deep, where it really counts. That will be something that has a powerful impact on how I write the next book from his point of view.

That won’t be this year. I have too many other things lined up for this year. But I expect I’ll enjoy coming back to his first pov story and re-reading it, getting back in his head, and sending him into much more serious trouble — this time, from a much less insecure foundation.

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2 thoughts on “Writing insecure characters”

  1. I do like these sorts of related books, where you get to look at a character from the inside and from the outside, it gives such a more rounded view.
    I’m really looking forward to reading Tano.

    Pete, that looks like a great memorial, fitting for the person it memorialises.

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