Getting from Point A to Point Z: The Unruly, Untrusting and Hard-Headed Character

It’s hard to get some characters through your novel with a distinct character arc. Am I right? Or is it just me?
One of the great aspects of reading is seeing a character learn and grow through the conflicts they’re faced with. But what about the characters that never seem to change or want to share more about their journey? You know, the ones you’ve invested so much in that you’re rooting for them to dance on the other side of the story as a stronger person?
Stay with me on here: You’ve got a greatly flawed character you’ve fallen madly in love with from the moment they waltzed onto the page. But even with a clearly defined road map, they don’t want to take that left-hand turn, much less read the signs on the highway that point them in the right direction. Or what about the character that does change a little, but it’s nothing large enough to make you feel as though they’ve truly changed? Sound familiar? Anyone? Bueller?
I’ve recently learned there are some characters that we as writers have to struggle with in order to either A) get them to change and learn more about themselves through their conflict or B) open up enough for the reader – or writer – to clearly see and feel their arc. These are the characters I desperately want to strap down with duck tape until they start telling me what’s going on in that head of theirs.

Based on my experience with a few of these characters, I’ve discovered a few things:

  • Duck tape doesn’t work as well as we’ve been told. Maybe you haven’t spent enough time with the character in order for them to feel comfortable opening up to you. If they’re not comfortable with you in the first place, they most certainly aren’t going to talk when you’re threatening them. You have to give them the freedom to get to you know you while you’re getting to know them at the same time. Patience is a virtue here – though not my greatest attribute I can promise you!

  • You’ve got to dig to find the core. Remember those models in grade school of the earth? The ones with the layers of the earth? You’re characters have those same layers. You’ve got to drill a tiny hole in your character’s heart and mind and slowly work your way down into their core. This means you gotta start from the beginning…their beginning. Take a trip with them down memory lane via a character interview and let them slowly start to tell you about their humble beginnings. Slowly, but surely, they will begin to open up.

  • Road trip buddies and pit stops are required. We each have a friend (or friends) that have a huge influence on our lives, thus a huge influence on our own personal character arc. Don’t just plop your character onto the page and not give him a driving buddy (even the villains have buds, right?). Even if the character is starting to open up to you, they’re going to open up even more with a trusty companion at their side and a place for the two of them to stop, kick back, and rest before moving forward in their journey. At that point, you should take a back seat and watch the layers begin to peel away (with a bag of popcorn of course).
  • Maps, directions and ETAs/mileage are suggestions. Just because you have the story plotted out on paper or in your head, doesn’t mean the characters are going to take the exact streets you’ve mapped out. Detours and road blocks are going to happen. A character can sometimes start to shut down on you when these happen. So what do you do when you’re faced with that bright orange “Road Closed” sign? You back up and find another route (no – you don’t click the ‘alternate route’ button on your GPS). Part of their character arc is finding their voice – not yours – and looking for another way to solve the conflict so they can get into the safe zone as soon as possible. It’s super surprising and amazing when it happens which is why detours should always be welcomed with open arms – in writing, not on the street. Grrr….
Basically, what this all boils down to is time. Your characters may spring up on you overnight, but like all great friendships, it takes time to get there – sometimes months or even a year. Pushing a character to open up and take the path you’ve given them only pushes them farther away, causing you both to be utterly frustrated to the point of not even being able to share their story the way it deserves to be told: with complete and total honesty and compassion.

What about you? Have you comes across an introverted character in the past that had a hard time opening up to you? What did you do to get them to open up and show their core?

10 thoughts on “Getting from Point A to Point Z: The Unruly, Untrusting and Hard-Headed Character

  1. Who was it that suggested recently to write a rant in your character’s POV. That it really loosened up voice. I have no memory, but I like that idea. It may have been Ava Jae.

    And I really like your idea about giving your MC a friend to confide in. I think this place of loyalty and safety is needed for the reader as well as the character.

  2. Lisa: I know, right? I like your idea also! Sometimes writing a few more pages is all you need to start to understand them. I just recently had one character that just really didn’t want to open up regardless of the pages I was writing. I know, I know…. there’s your sign, right? Haha! Thanks, Lisa!

  3. Susan: You’re right! I can’t remember exactly who it was either, but that’s another great tip on getting inside your characters’ heads also!

    Thank you so much, Susan! I try to think of my characters as my babies (like my stories), so they need to be nurtured and have confidants like we all do in life. 🙂

  4. Hi Dean! Haha! That’ll teach ’em to cooperate from now on! 😉 Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

    Shain: LOL! I’m glad you won that throw down! I hear ya though — the special abilities really do make it difficult to win those fights 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  5. That’s a great breakdown of it! And yes, of course I’ve had those. Sometimes I take them on a walk. Other times I try the duck tape thing, but some of them still haven’t opened up to me. Maybe they’re being that way because I am the same way? Huh, now that’s a thought. In any case, you certainly made me think hard about this. Yay! 🙂

  6. Hi Lyn! I’m so glad I’m not alone with the duck tape – haha! That’s a GREAT point and I totally understand that you’re saying: sometimes the characters act the same way we do. I’ve definitely had a few and I think they do that just to get me to be a little more open with other people as well.
    I’m glad you enjoyed the post! Thank you for stopping by, commenting and following! I truly appreciate it! :o)

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