I’m 100 pages into my memoir about attending college as a mother of five and at the point where I’ve won a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania and am about to begin. I’m scared to death!
Were you ever too eager to please someone or a group of someones? A boss? A hopeful romantic interest or co-worker or editor?
Like in many stories or movies, this is where the protagonist usually messes up. At least in her first few attempts at acquiring the desired goal of pleasing those in charge. This can happen for a variety reasons; i.e., not thinking before you speak, doing inappropriate actions, or not consciously listening to those around you.
At this stage in my college memoir, I felt the need to prove to those at Penn that I could be an Ivy Leaguer. I wanted them to see that they did not make a mistake in granting me the Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship. I needed to make a good first impression at Penn, and of course it backfired on me.
Transfer students had a summer reading project, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, and I needed to interpret a connection to one of the topics in the book. A lively discussion had ensued that hot August afternoon in a packed College Hall. While all of the other incoming students connected to topics through academia; sociology, psychology, and business practices to name a few, I connected to teaching preschoolers through the use of the Sesame Street television show. This topic in the book talks about how small lessons can make big improvements in the education of children.
Yes. I heard everyone else speak. In fact I was almost the last student to speak. I was afraid to speak because my connection was from life experience, not academic study. I thought possibly these academics hadn’t had the experience with Sesame Street I had raising my five children. I thought they might appreciate my insight because it was so different from all the intellectuals in the room. So while everyone else received comments or questions or further discussion into their topics from the panel of Penn administrators, my topic crashed into the floor like a lead balloon. No discussion. You could hear the air conditioning unit cycle on again.
Just like characters in stories, our protagonists need to make mistakes, need to feel defeat, anxiety, or humiliation in order to be real to the readers. Readers want to connect to our characters, especially our protagonists.
So while our stories are unique, what our characters do is unique, there needs to be some base feeling or action that our readers can connect to. Embarrassment is a good one. So is fear of the unknown or hurt from someone we love or trust. Characters need to be vulnerable at one time or another in our stories to be real, no matter what genre we are writing in.
So how do you make your characters seem vulnerable to the reader or other characters in the story you are telling?
Please feel free to offer any insight regarding Victoria’s summer reading project scenario. It would be truly appreciated.
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29 thoughts on “Make Your Characters Vulnerable #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
It only crashed because I bet most of those other students didn't have those life events like you did.
The person in me is sad that your audience at the time didn't jump on the opportunity to discuss Sesame Street, but the author and reader in me is glad they didn't, because Victoria will go through the struggle and come out the better for it somewhere on the other side. 🙂
"I thought they might appreciate my insight because it was so different from all the intellectuals in the room."
I wish they had–they could have learned something. But you're right that the experience of not connecting with those around us, of not having an audience react the way we'd hoped, will be quite relatable in your memoir!
Wow, I can see the scene before me. I think Alex is right about the reason it crashed… Thanks for sharing: I need to make my characters more vulnerable.
Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox day 6 Tips to Think Like a Book Blogger
Embarrassment is a great one! It's a huge fear some of us have. Great reflections today.
I try to show the reason for the emotion within the scene. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
I can picture it, and even hear the air-conditioning cycle on like an echo in my ears. We've all had an experience like that at some point in our lives and it gives us, the reader, such a point of empathy with your character! Including real moments of vulnerability is an excellent way to make your characters real to us. Even though I'm positive memories like that aren't really ones you love to dwell on.
Great quote that I need to remember as I work on my manuscript: "Characters need to be vulnerable at one time or another in our stories to be real, no matter what genre we are writing in."
The site won't my name even though it says I am signed up. But I blog about memoir too at jenniferjordanschaller.com. Happy Blog Hopping!
Ouch. I'm getting better and better at making my characters suffer.
Excellent description of this moment. I immediately connected to it, so you achieved your goal! Vulnerability in our characters is so important, to forge that connection, and your post does a great job outlining how and why. Thanks for sharing!
Personally, I've never connected with Malcolm Gladwell's work, and I think working with children is far more difficult than teaching adults (who are generally there because they want to learn).
Great, Victoria! Well, not at the time I’m sure, but as part of the story. You seem to go into much detail about scenes like this in your memoir, while I seem to skip over so many emotions. Yet, I hope to draw the reader into my feelings through dialogue or showing certain brief scenes.
It’s important we don’t “tell” or “describe” too much, which is also tricky when it comes to the protagonist’s vulnerability. How do we show this without going into a multiple-page scene?
That's what I think, too, Alex. Today, in hindsight. At the time, I thought it would be a completely different perspective. But when the discussion stopped, all I could think of was how I didn't belong.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for sharing your insight. Enjoy your weekend!
You are absolutely correct, Raimey. Our stories, true or otherwise, must show struggles and how the characters changed because of them.
Thank you so much for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you, Jennifer. I hope this experience of not connecting with those around me is relatable for the reader. Your insight helps me move forward in this memoir, believe me. Thank you so much for sharing it at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you, Ronel. We all have our own personal backstory, our own experiences that make us who we are. And if we're lucky, we can share these experiences to connect with our readers.
Thanks so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your weekend!
Oh Erika, I seem to excel at embarrassment unfortunately. Thank you for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your weekend!
Absolutely, Anna. That's how writers should do it. Thanks so much for your note here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you so much for your kind words, S.E. I'm so hoping this situation is universal to readers. I feel vulnerability is a great way for characters to connect with readers, too.
Thank you so much for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you for including your information, Jennifer! I'll be sure to connect with you online and visit your blog. I don't know why I'm having trouble with blogspot allowing readers to be identified.
And thank you for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your weekend!
It's tough making our characters suffer, Susan, but it's necessary for good story. Thanks for your note here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your weekend!
Thank you so much for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing, Elle. I truly appreciate them. I think Vulnerability is key to connect our characters to our readers.
Enjoy your weekend!
This is so true, Iola. Working with children is much more difficult. As for the choice of book to discuss, I didn't have any say in the matter. I needed to find something to connect with in Gladwell's book to participate in the book discussion. Even though my point flopped.
Thank you for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your weekend!
We don't want to babble on, telling the reader what's happening. We want the reader to be inside the story, inside the mindset of the protagonist, the character who is telling the story. We need to show the reader WHY this particular scene or dialogue is important to you the character at the time it happens in story present.
Story present is the main story the writer is telling. For Victoria, it is her journey through college. For you, the story present may be your time spent sailing around the world. But why it's important is that you are grappling with your experiences in a relationship with the gentleman you are with or your experiences with understanding who YOU are in this world.
I think you the character will be vulnerable in your internal struggle to make sense of sailing around the world and being happy being Liesbet. You have a fascinating life. To make it more meaningful for the reader you need to explain why what's happening in the story matters to Liesbet. What is she getting out of her experiences? What do you think?
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your weekend!
I have the book Tipping Point on my to read list. I've heard it referenced several times. Must be good. So glad your memoir is coming along. I can't wait to read it.
I'm so glad your memoir is coming along fine. Would make an interesting read! All the best!
The Tipping Point book is quite interesting, from what I can remember. I can let you borrow the book, if you'd like. Thank you, Dawn, for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your day!
Thank you, Nas, for your kind words. Memoir is so difficult to write, to make interesting to others. Thanks for your encouragement. And thanks for your note here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your day!