Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Loneliness #writerwednesday

Before we get started, I have a few church announcements!

*cue organ music*

The Way Things Are goes live tomorrow! I’m so glad that I was finally able to get the final bit of #AvaMarie and #aGuyNamedLevi’s story out to you guys. I hope you love it! It’s on preorder for $1.99 right now, but it will go up to $3.99 on Monday! So grab it at that discounted price. It will however remain on Kindle Unlimited.

And that’s my second announcement. All of my books are back on Kindle Unlimited for the foreseeable future. So get your fill of Ava & Levi, Yves & Elijah and whoever else I decide to write about next. Also, I strongly encourage you to follow me on Amazon. You’ll never have to worry about missing all of this good filth and feels!

Third and finally, Lady Books Season Two is Live! We launched with Sloppy Seconds and tomorrow we’re talking to Caitlin Brehm of Roots of Lore podcast. Caitlin is a friend that we made during one of many Being Boss vacays and her podcast, Roots of Lore is an experience. If you’re a word nerd who loves a deep dive into storytelling, I highly recommend it. You can get introduction to her and the creative process behind the podcast on our second episode of season two: Cultivating Creativity with Caitlin Brehm.

Now on to our scheduled topic…


“Negative Emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.”

-Gretchen Rubin

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If you google the word loneliness, you’ll get several articles that proclaim that loneliness has reached epidemic levels. Blame it on social media, resolution of interconnected communities, deterioration of the nuclear family, politics—for whatever reason, humans are feeling disconnected.

I don’t believe that it’s as widespread as the media likes to make it seem, but I do think that people rarely recognize that there is a difference between loneliness and solitude and there is only one “remedy” for loneliness. Especially when we factor in the value that we currently place on likes and follows.

But let’s talk about making our characters feel loneliness.

Loneliness: a complex and usually unpleasant emotional response to isolation.

No one is exempt from loneliness; married people, people in big families, successful people, poor people—everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their existence. This theme has been explored exhaustively in literature, film, music, art—every fucking medium that we humans consume. SO much so, that I actually debated whether or not I wanted to write about making your characters feel loneliness, but I do what to touch on the difference between loneliness and solitude, so here we go!

What are the symptoms of loneliness?

Research says that suffering from loneliness can be physically painful. Brain scans show that people suffering from it show active in the pain processing parts of the brain. It also heightens the fight or flight response in your character’s brain. Some of the symptoms your lonely character may feel are:

  • Irritability

  • Anger

  • Insomnia

  • Forgetfulness

  • Pessimism

  • Weight gain

  • Self-destructive behavior

  • Alcoholism

  • Extreme antisocial behavior

  • Stroke and cardiovascular disease

  • And in extreme cases, depression and suicidal behavior

Some of these symptoms trip into actual clinical depression and other mental health issues, and it’s problematic to conflate the two.

What causes loneliness?

At some point in all of our lives, life events have placed us in a situation where we felt lonely. However, there are particular times in human development when your lonely character might feel this acutely, and that is during childhood and adolescence.

These lonely characters usually deal with the absence or sudden removal of an important person in their lives. Abandonment by one or both parents, death of a family member they were close to, a best friend who was their only connection moves away-- all of these things can leave a permanent mark on your lonely character.

In adulthood, loneliness is typically triggered by significant life changes, marriage or divorce, childbirth or children leaving home, moving away from your hometown for college or work, loss of a job or promotion can all trigger a period of loneliness because your lonely character is leaving a large chunk of who they thought or knew themselves to be henna.

Being lonely vs. Being socially isolated or suffering from clinical depression or other forms of mental illness.

This is where I start taking issue with how loneliness has been depicted in fiction and media. Too often, loneliness has become a common excuse for a deep dive into cruelty, hostility, outrage, rage, and violence. That doesn’t describe loneliness. That describes a person who either chooses violence as a solution for people they think have wronged them or a person who suffers from an extreme psychiatric disorder. That doesn’t describe loneliness. Being ostracized by a large group of people doesn’t change someone into a gun-toting mass murder. Loneliness is a temporary condition that can be changed by circumstance. Social isolation can trigger anger and outrage, but that is more than loneliness and less than mental illness. Social isolation occurs when your lonely character is actively excluded from social interaction and experiences the pain of that acutely. However, that doesn’t automatically make them turn to cruelty. More often than not, they adjust to being alone.

Most fiction out there labors under the misconception that most humans require constant interaction, but research supports that loneliness doesn’t depend on how many friends or interactions you have, but the quality of those friendships and interactions. Also, loneliness is not the same as solitude. Solitude is a comfortability with being alone that often leads to self-awareness and discovery.

How do you write your lonely character?

I don’t think I need to tell you all how to write a lonely character. We’re all intimately acquainted with how those characters read and how to write them—hello, most teen movie and YA novel plots. I’m looking at you. So instead, I would like to see more characters who are totally okay with solitude and choosing to live in it. This happens a lot in nonfiction, and there’s a reason for that. Fiction is overwhelmed with depictions of characters who are forced into social situations because “it’s good for them,” and it will “cure their loneliness/depression.”

Kill this narrative with fire, please.

In solitude, even the most extroverted character can gain perspective. It also strips away false motivators and presents a new challenge for characters that need to regain control of their lives.

Another idea to explore…your character isn’t really lonely. They just like to be lone, and that’s perfectly okay.

Thanks for reading!

Tasha L. Harrison

author | editor | creative

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Anxiety

“Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.”

-Isabell Allende

At one time or another, all of us have experienced bouts of anxiousness. Trying out for a sports team, hosting your first workshop, or going live on a social media platform to promote yourself or your business can invoke dizzying feelings of fear and inadequacy. It’s a normal part of human life. However, prolonged anxiety can cause physical and behavioral changes that will affect how your anxious character functions from day to day, and that creates an entirely different kind of story. 

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Of all of the emotions, anxiety is one that involves a lot of physical and mental discomfort and/or pain. Some of those feelings can be:

  • Headache, vertigo, or fainting

  • Nausea, diarrhea, indigestion, or dry mouth

  • Shortness of breath

  • Heart palpitations and/or chest pains

  • Fatigue and tremors

  • Excessive sweating, or dry, tight, itchy skin

  • Frequent urination

  • Impotence

Sounds delightful right? The only upside to all of these symptoms is that an anxious character can be written effectively by describing these symptoms and how your anxious character navigates them.

There are several different types of anxiety, and they vary in cause and intensity.

Anxiety is typically differentiated by the duration of your character’s emotional response, the focus on present or future events, the threat or lack thereof, and how they motivated to react.

“Normal” anxiety is short-lived, focused on the moment at hand and not things that have yet to happen. It’s directed at a specific threat, and your anxious character can see a way to escape it. In fact, “normal” anxiety is a natural fear response.

However, a prolonged emotional response, with a focus on events that may or may not happen, and a broad and/or general threat that provokes excessive caution is anxiety.

I like to call this “someone, somewhere is doing I don’t know what and it scares me so much that I might faint, vomit, shit my pants, hyperventilate and I might be having a heart attack all at the same damn time. I don’t know what I’m afraid of and I can’t neutralize this threat.” This is more or less how your anxious character feels. But what triggers this response?

Types of Anxiety

Existential— This type of anxiety is characterized by a deep, and encompassing dread about any and all things in life. This anxious character will never believe that the universe has their back. They believe that:

  • Fate is working against them

  • Death is imminent and looming around every corner and behind every door

  • They are morally corrupt and deserve punishment and condemnation

  • Everything is meaningless and empty and not worth the effort

This anxious character might need to be confronted with real trauma—to themselves or someone close to them—to overcome this type of anxiety. They will absolutely need to find a purpose that will make their life meaningful and worth living. Maybe they even become a reluctant hero.

Performance— Uneasiness, apprehension, and/or nervousness about things like exams, competitive sports, sex, or performing for an audience in any capacity can trigger this type of anxiety. Think about:

  • the student who bombs a test that they studied for extensively

  • the ball player who is snake bit by a bad case of the yips every time they step up to the free throw line

  • The singer who can’t find their pitch or forgets the words to a song that they wrote

This anxious character will likely sweat profusely, feel dizzy or faint, or nauseated. They may also have headaches, cry or laugh uncontrollably when faced with situations that trigger this anxiety. This often leads to avoidance. Lots of talented people have given up on their dreams because they found the symptoms and physical response to this type of anxiety unmanageable. Your anxious character will have to focus on achieving relaxation and develop some coping mechanisms before confronting this task again.

Social anxiety— Social interaction is pretty much a requirement to be a functioning human being (or so they say), but your anxious character may have such a great fear of disapproval from their peers with such intensity that it will make them avoid social situations. This intensifies when they must interact with people of a different race, ethnicity, class, or gender, or even something as simple as a friend introducing them to another friend group.

This anxious character will need to be exposed to the social situations armed with a set of skills that they have developed through role play and/or relaxation techniques that will help them address those feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

Trait—This type of anxiety tends to focus on, relive, and constantly talk about fears, worries, and negative emotions. Your anxious character may do this consciously or unconsciously. While this often consider a personality trait—think pessimist and optimist comparisons—it can lead to or signal the development or other neurosis or disorders.

If your anxious character suffers from this type of anxiety, it might translate as a fixed, unchangeable personality trait. Their emotional journey will probably involve finding someone who will accept them just as they are and though that friendship, mentorship, or romance, they will begin to discard those fears, worries, and negative thoughts.

Decision— This type of anxiety is brought on by being confronted with the need to chose between two or more things. This is sometimes called “analysis paralysis,” but while many of us use that phrase in jest, the anxiety that this induces in some people is very real.

In this instance, your anxious character’s symptoms can manifest in one of two ways. Either they will always make the “safe” choice with a known and predictable outcome, or they will decide not to make a choice at all and have to suffer the consequences that stem from that.

Now let’s talk about anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders are wholly different than any of the previously mentioned states of anxiety in that they are a group of mental disorders.

The characteristics are the same—exaggerated feelings of worry about future events that trigger fear responses in the present. However, they differ because your anxious character needs or may have been diagnosed by a professional that will create a plan of treatment which will likely consist of some sort of cognitive behavior therapy and/or medication.

There are a number of anxiety disorders:

Generalized— an excessive, uncontrollable, and often irrational worry about events or activities that interfere with daily functions.

Phobias—a persistent fear of an object or situation which your anxious character will go to great lengths to avoid.

Social anxiety— a significant amount of fear in one or more social situations that cause physical distress and impairs your anxious characters ability to function in all or part of their daily life.

Separation anxiety— Excessive fear regarding separation from home or people with whom they have an emotional attachment.

Agoraphobia— excessive fear of situations where the person perceives their environment is unsafe or has no escape. Your anxious character will go to great lengths to avoid places that trigger this anxiety, and this can often escalate to the point where they refuse to leave their home.

Panic disorder— characterized by unexpected panic attacks— sudden periods of elevated heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness or a debilitating sense of dread.

How to write your anxious character.

One thing that is important to remember about writing an anxious character is that while some of these anxieties can be overcome with talk therapy or the sheer will of the character, disorders should be treated by a professional. They don’t just go away without treatment. Treatment usually includes lifestyle changes, cognitive behavioral therapy, and/or medication. Don’t shy away from showing this part of your character’s struggle on the page. In a given year, 12% of people on this earth are affected by anxiety, and we would all be better off if we normalized seeking medical diagnosis and treatment.

Phew! Tackling this emotion was emotional! I have been diagnosed with anxiety and have written an anxious character. After the research I did for this article, I realize that her emotional journey deserves a bit more care and I will revisit that before publication!

Happy writing!

Take

THE PREORDER FOR THE WAY THINGS ARE IS LIVE!!!

I figured I would just jump right in and not bury the lede. This book is finally done! It was difficult to write and I’m peobaby going to do my usual after action report, but it’s done and you can buy it for $1.99 for a limited time! 

Here’s the blurb... it’s been a while so you might have forgotten, lol. 

"GOOD COPS DO EXIST..."

Camden Police Officer Levi Alistar Raymond has a Superman complex. He is determined to serve and protect—even if that means, risking his career to support his girlfriend, Ava Marie in making sure the cop who murdered her friend is brought to justice. Good cops do exist but if good cops stand by and allow the bad cops to harass, abuse, and kill the very people they are meant to serve and protect, they are not good cops.

They're accomplices.

"I'M THE WIND IN YOUR CAPE..."

Falling in love with a cop was the last thing Ava wanted or needed in her life, but somehow, loving Levi came to her as naturally as breathing. Keeping their relationship intact while everything in the world seems to want to pull them apart feels impossible, but she is determined to be the wind in his cape, no matter what adversity they face. 

Sighhhhh... 

That cover is still dreamy AF if I do say so myself.  

Bloggers and reviewers (especially those rich in melanin) please get in touch if you’d like a review copy! 

Now to state the obvious...

I moved house! My site was previously on Wordpress, but I recently made the move to Squarespace for two reasons. The first is that I’m not a web designer and keeping my site over there was beginning to require more knowledge about coding than I wanted to acquire. The second reason is that squarespace makes everything so easy! I love it! 

The only regret is that I had over 2k in blog followers over there, but hey, I can make y’all love me again, right? 

Anyway, if you followed this link from twitter, Facebook, or IG and want to make sure you don’t miss a post, make sure you’re subscribed to my #FilthyFiction mailing list. Now that The Way Things Are is done, I’m going to start sharing more short stories again, but this time they will have a more focused intention. 

tasha  

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Guilt #WriterWednesday

“Guilt is a cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It’s a black wall. It’s a thief.” 

—Dave Grohl

Freud may be the expert on guilt, but I think we can all agree that not all instances of guilt can be traced back to an Oedipus Complex. In truth, guilt comes in many forms and there is no doubt that guilt and its associated causes have landed many of us on a psychiatrist’s couch. 

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Guilt: a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation.

That definition is adequate, however, we‘re exploring guilt as an emotion, and it is one of the more negative internal states. Cognitive theory states that thoughts cause emotions, so your guilty character will feel this feeling based on thoughts that they are responsible for another’s misfortune. It is also closely tied to anxiety and remorse. 

Your guilty character’s emotional arc will bee completed when they rid themselves of their guilt. First, let’s discuss what could make your character feel guilty?

5 causes of guilt, and how they affect your character. 

1. Your guilty character actually did something wrong. They may have lied, cheated, stole, or caused someone mental or physical harm. This is when it completely appropriate for you character to feel guilty.

2. Your guilty character hasn’t done anything wrong…yet. And they really, really want to do that bad thing. This is a difficult form of this emotion for your guilty character to handle. They haven’t actually done it yet, so they have that moral high ground to stand on. However, contemplating that bad thing may be enough to provoke guilt. It also may have an additional side-effect of creating some resentment in your guilty character. 

3. Your guilty character believes they’ve done something wrong…but they actually haven’t. The irrational thoughts your guilty character might make them feel almost as guilty as if they’d committed the act. They know these thoughts are illogical, but it would be nearly impossible to rid themselves of these thoughts. 

4. Your guilty character feels guilty for not doing enough. This is a very specific sort of guilt reserved for a character who, despite giving hours of their free time to helping others, they always feel like they’ve never done enough. Or it may be the guilty character who ignored calls for help from someone that met bad ends. That guilt eats away at them and still seek ways to help, disregarding the toll it’s taking on them.

5. Your guilty character has survived something that others didn’t. This often called survivor’s guilt, and it plagues combat veterans, victims of disaster, and lone survivors of accidents. This guilty character will indulge in self-destructive behavior in an attempt to balance a scale that can’t be leveled. 

The goal of your guilty character is to obtain absolution.

But on the way to absolution, they may create defense mechanisms in order to spurred those guilty feelings. These defense mechanisms can become your part of your character’s personality and stand between them and their goal. This sort of internal conflict can drive the narrative of your novel.

1. Repression. Refusing to acknowledge their guilt is probably the least effect way for your guilty character to avoid this emotion. This defense will undoubtedly fail—as it is designed to do—and that guilt will because they repressed it. 

2. Projection. Attributing their guilt to others is an equally flimsy defense against this emotion. It often involves blaming the victim because believing that the victim may be at fault can relieve them of those guilty feelings. Of course, they also run the risk of having this backfire on them, which may incur the hostility of the person they’ve harmed and anyone that supports them. 

3. Sharing. Assuaging their guilt by sharing it with others might help your character feel less alone in this emotion. This is a very effective way for them to handle guilty feelings. It’s also the basis for group and individual therapy, as well as recovery groups like NA and AA.

4. Self harm. Offering up the proverbial pound of flesh my also assuage your guilty character’s feelings. However, this is exactly the sort of self destructive behavior that won’t balance the scale, but will create more conflicts for them to overcome.

Guilty feelings can prompt your character to behave in lots of of different ways. 

And that behavior can be negative, but it can also result in positive behaviors like restraint, avoiding self-indulgence, and becoming more open-minded and tolerant of people who are different from them. Your guilty character may even continuously seek to make amends for the wrongs they’ve done, which can result in a giving and compassionate existence. 

Guilt is a major theme in many novels. Whether it be Macbeth, The Telltale Heart, or Sierra Simone’s Priest, exploring guilt can make for an interesting story. 

Happy writing!

Tasha

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Remorse

"There is no person so severely punished as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse." --Seneca

Last week we explored regret and how that can drive the narrative of your story. Regret is often used interchangeably with remorse, and while the two are similar, it would be more accurate to say that regret is a feeling associated with being remorseful. Regret is a wish to have done things differently, but remorse means that your character regrets actions that are deemed shameful, hurtful, and/or violent. Remorse is also closely associated with guilt, and that character’s emotional journey will rest on giving or receiving an apology. 

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Remorse: a deep regret or guilt for a wrong you have committed. 

More than just a regret over actions and a wish to have done things differently, remorse is born from a negative action and the motive behind it. It comes from empathy for the pain your remorseful character may have caused. If your character is the one who feels the remorse, they will apologize and make attempts to repair the damage they have done. They may attempt to repair the damage they have done or they will punish themselves, hoping that they will find redemption.

And I guess that’s the center of this emotional journey. Remorseful characters seek redemption. 

Whether or not our character deserves redemption largely depends on the seedy to the wrong they have committed in your narrative. The more sever the transgression, the deeper the remorse, and the harder it is to achieve forgiveness. Be careful when you’re crafting these baddies because writing them out of that sin might be more difficult than you realize. 

There are three ways that your remorseful character might seek redemption.

None of these are more effective than the other. Some of them may even put your character in deeper with the person from whom they seek forgiveness. However, these are a few actions that your remorseful character can and should take in this emotional journey.

Apology: 

In the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapmen and Jennifer Thomas, they list the five ways to deliver an effective apology. You must 1) give a detailed account of the offense, 2) acknowledge the hurt and damage that you caused, 3) accept responsibility and take ownership of the act, 4) offer ways to demonstrate remorse, or leave space for the wronged party to suggest ways to make emotional, physical, or financial restitution, and 5) ask for forgiveness for the wrong that you have done.

They make it sound so easy, right?

But we all know it’s not that easy. If it were, every prisoner eligible for parole wold be able to convince the parole board that they have been rehabilitated. However, that doest mean the they won’t try and so should your character. Whether or not their apology is believable depends on the object of their remorse and how their apology is perceived. It’s important to make sure that your character is experience and expressing a wide range of emotions during their apology in order for your reader to perceive it as genuine. 

Atone:

When your remorseful character is giving a genuine apology, their willingness to change the behaviors that harmed the target of their will be an acceptable demonstration of their remorse and deserving of forgiveness—depending on the personality of the wronged character. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean that atonement will lead to reconciliation. Reconciliation is not the same as forgiveness. If that is your remorseful character’s goal, their atonement must be measurable and demonstrative. Remember, you’re not just convincing the character who has been wronged, you’re convincing the reader as well. 

Self-flagellation:

Okay, so I might be leaning on the more Catholic understanding of this particular definition but who is more familiar with self-flagellation that Catholics? There might be others but this is the most familiar frame so we’re gonna roll with it. 

A character who is willing to humble themselves as a form of repentance is relatable, but that is not the same thing as self condemnation—which is where self-flagellation is rooted.  This character is someone who finds themselves in the position where they can’t make amends. Maybe the person they have harmed is dead, or inaccessible so they must demonstrate their remorse with volunteer work, philanthropy, or some other way that they choose to sacrifice themselves. This is usually a character who needs to redeem themselves to a whole community as well as the person they have hurt or harmed.

When you’re writing a remorseful character, make sure they know the importance of their apology and how it can impact their relationships. 

Next week we’re going to explore guilt because why not get all f these icky feelings out of the way in one go?

Also, I’ve been thinking about creating a workbook with writing prompts for each emotion. Is the something you all would be interested in? Let me know in the comments!

Until then,

Happy writing!

Tasha

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Regret #writerwednesday

“Life is too short, time is too precious, and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been.”—Hillary Clinton 

There are people out there in this big, wide world whose only mission in life is to live without regret. It’s easy to write books and movies about them because they usually have a life full of adventures. They’re the ones shark diving off the Cape of Good Hope, jumping out of airplanes, and traveling solo to parts of the world that require a prop plane, an ancient off-roading vehicle, and a sherpa. These characters (and sometimes real life people, heh!) seem to only exist to remind the reader that life is too short to live with regrets. However, there are just as many stories about the characters who took the safe route and had to live with that regret and how that feels. 

Let’s explore how it feels to live with that regret.

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Regret: a negative conscious and emotional reaction to one’s personal decision making or choice resulting from an action or inaction. 

Regret is a negative emotion. There’s no getting around it. No way to sugar coat it or come at it from a neutral place like I did with anger. Regret lingers in the place where opportunity existed and coupled with self-blame, it can be the one thing that spurs your character in to corrective action. Meaning, if it’s a missed opportunity, they say yes the next time an opportunity of any kind comes along. If it’s something that they dove into that impacted them in a negative way, they will avoid anything that looks like that bad decision for the rest of their lives. It’s directly related to omission bias which is the tendency to judge actions as worse than they actually are. How your regretful character reacts and how intensely they react to this emotion can drive your plot!

There are three things that determine the intensity of regret.

Action vs. inaction, age, and opportunity will all affect how your regretful character responds to this emotion. The severity can increase or decrease depending on the circumstances.

Action vs. Inaction: 

Regrets about taking action on something that turned out badly and could have been avoided are more intense in the short term. Like bypassing the gas station on the way home from work when you know that leaving a full thirty minutes earlier to get gas on the way to work in the morning is annoying as fuck.

Not that I know about this from experience or anything. 

Regret that stems from inaction grows more intense over time because every time your character is confronted with the positive result of their inaction, they have to come to terms with the fact that “it could have been them.”

We’re looking at you second-chance romance heroes. The “one that got away” doesn’t have to get away, you know.

Age:

Can be a big factor in the intensity of regret. To be more specific, older characters will feel deeper regret for things they did or didn’t do in their youth. As the song goes, “Time makes you bolder and children get older. And I’m getting older, too.” Your older characters may lament the decision to sit out when they should have thrown caution to the wind. Or maybe they allowed themselves to be caught up in something criminal or hurtful that they wish they could take back. Both instances would cause a regret that would be equally intense. 

Opportunity:

If your regretful character can point to decision that may have improved conditions in any way that is often a source of regret. It’s also the primary impetus for taking corrective action. 

Say your regretful character decided to stay home instead of going away for college—not knowing that one decision would lead to an unexplored life. The first chance they get to travel, or take a new job our of state, they’re going to take corrective action and seize the opportunity.

Or maybe your regretful character is an old woman in their rocking chair, counseling their granddaughter on the many regrets they have about staying put. 

This sort of regret intensifies with age because the character will feel the limitations of that more acutely as they age. It may result in bitterness or a need to live through the younger people around them. 

Regret is one of those emotions that can inform every action your character takes.

As an emotion, it has built in conflict. No matter how you apply it to your character—be it an active or inactive decision—it will give them a central problem that stands between them and their goals. It can also lead to other emotions like sorrow, hurt, anger, and it is closely related to remorse. We’ll explore that next week.

Until then…

Happy Writing!

Tasha

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Anger #writerwednesday

"When angry count to four; when very angry, swear." --Mark Twain

Wrath, ire, madness, vexation, irritation, frustration, enraged; all of these words are synonyms for anger, but somehow, this emotion is almost always written using flat, cliched language. Anger is one of the more multilayered emotions, comprised of meta-emotions that have numerous triggers, create various reactions, and unpredictable outcomes. In other words, anger is a feeling influenced and exaggerated by the feelings of the person that made your character angry. Because let’s be honest…no inanimate object can draw this emotion from you, right. People make people angry. Let’s explore how, why and reactions that go beyond the basic descriptions. 

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Anger- a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, and/or hostility. 

A character caught in the throes of anger will experience physical reactions like increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and adrenaline will dump into their blood stream triggering fight or flight response—just to name a few. In short, anger cause a visceral and visible response that is difficult to hide and even more difficult for your angry character to ignore. 

Modern psychologists view anger as a primary, natural, and mature emotion experienced by all humans. Some even believe that it’s vital for survival. One the other hand, uncontrolled anger can effect your characters well-being.

There are three types of anger:

1. Hasty and sudden anger- usually impulsive or connected to self-preservation. This is the bullied kid finally lashing out. The trapped woman making a final attempt to escape. The soldier surrounded by enemies who risks his life to make it to the drop zone. This kind of anger is often episodic—meaning that it builds over time to an explosive end. 

2. Settled and deliberate anger is usually a reaction to deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. When you think of revenge plots, vigilante justice, or calculated retaliation for perceived wrongs, this is the type of anger you’re writing. It’s different from hasty and sudden anger in that your character will actually plan out retaliation versus responding by lashing out when cornered. This kind of anger is also episodic, but while it does build over time, it’s far less explosive. You know that saying “revenge is a dish best served cold”? That saying was born from settled and deliberate anger. 

3. Dispositional anger…this is your stereotypical malcontent. A troublemaker, agitator, dissident, rebellious, sullen, churlish, asshole of a person. This person is perpetually angry and doesn’t really have a reason for it except that they are alive and breathing in and out every day. Anger isn’t an emotion for them; its a constant state of being. They’re just un-fucking-pleasant to be around and this fact is something you should include when you craft this angry character. 

I think at this point, it is import to draw a distinction between anger and aggression.

Anger is the emotion and aggression is how your character reacts to that emotion. Aggression can be verbal, physical, direct, or indirect and how your character reacts will depend on their personality and which one of the three types of anger they are experiencing. 

Also…anger is not always a negative emotion. Anger can encourage a group of people to mobilize against injustice, address valid grievances, and point out where things need in improvement in personal and professional relationships. It’s a necessary and health emotion…until it becomes violent, destructive, or unproductive. All types of anger can be come negative if it isn’t addressed and that is something character needs to tackle within these scenes.

There are three ways people typically express emotion: passive, aggressive, and assertive. 

These three types have characteristic symptoms. 

Passive anger

Passive anger can be expressed in the following ways:

  • Dispassion such as giving someone the cold shoulder or a fake smile, looking unconcerned, dampening feelings with drugs or alcohol, overreacting, oversleeping, not responding to another's anger, indulging in promiscuous behavior, talking about their frustrations but showing no feeling.

  • Evasiveness, avoiding conflict, not arguing back, becoming phobic.

  • Defeatism, such as setting yourself up for failure, choosing unreliable people to depend on, underachieving, expressing frustration at small things, but ignoring bigger and more serious issues.

  • Obsessive behavior, such as needing to be clean and tidy, making a habit of constantly checking things, developing an eating disorder, demanding that all jobs be done perfectly.

  • Psychological manipulation, such as provoking people to aggression and then patronizing them, emotional blackmail, feigning illness, withholding money or resources.

  • Secretive behavior, such as stockpiling resentments that are expressed behind people's backs, giving the silent treatment, avoiding eye contact, putting people down, gossiping.

  • Self blaming, such as apologizing too often, being overly critical, inviting criticism.

Aggressive anger

The symptoms of aggressive anger are:

  • Bullying, such as threatening people, insulting, pushing or shoving, using power to oppress, playing on people's weaknesses.

  • Destructive, behaviors such as vandalism, harming animals, child abuse, destroying a relationships, drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Grandiosity, such as showing off, expressing mistrust, not delegating, being a sore loser, wanting center stage all the time, not listening, talking over people's heads, expecting kiss and make-up sessions to solve problems.

  • Hurtfulness, such as violence, to include sexual abuse and rape, verbal abuse, ignoring the feelings of others, discriminating, blaming, or punishing people for unwarranted reasons, labeling others.

  • Selfishness such as ignoring others' needs, not responding to requests for help.

  • Threats by saying how one could hurt or kill them, damage their property, affect their ability to make a living, finger pointing, fist shaking, wearing clothes or symbols associated with violent behavior.

  • Unjust blaming such as accusing other people for their mistakes, blaming people for their feelings, making general accusations.

  • Unpredictability, such as explosive rages over minor problems, attacking any and everyone, inflicting harm on others for the sake of it.

  • Vengeance, such as doling out a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. This differs from retributive justice, as vengeance is personal, and possibly unlimited in scale.

  • Blame, such as after a particular individual commits an action that’s possibly frowned upon, the particular person will resort to scolding. This is in fact, common in discipline terms.

  • Punishment, the angry person will give a temporary punishment to an individual like limiting a child’s will to do anything they want like playing video games, no reading, etc, after they did something to cause trouble.

  • Sternness, such as calling out a person on their behavior, with their voices raised with utter disapproval/disappointment.

Anger is an emotion that can shape a good vigilante, victim, martyr, detective, or criminal. Pair this with good character development and you will have a formidable vehicle for your plot.

Happy writing!

Tasha

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Curiosity #WriterWednesday

“Curiosity killed the cat…but satisfaction brought him back.

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Curiosity, as a behavior and an emotion, is often considered the driving force behind human development, and discoveries in science language and industry. However, it’s often perceived to be negative even though the desire to know something or learn something isn’t new or unusual. This might be because the first thoughts that come to mind are a busybody neighbor, or an intrusive mother in law—someone whose motives for the questions seem pointed and possibly sketchy as fuck. I mean, if someone I barely know starts asking me a lot of personal questions, it gets my back up almost immediately. Like, “first of all, who are you to be asking me all of these questions?” But honestly, these reactions describe what happens when curiosity goes left. I’d rather think about the ways we can use curiosity to expose larger themes in our stories, or as an impetuous for a character to explore the world we have created. 

In its purest form, curiosity is reminiscent of a child discovering the world around them. Babies and children are always trying to make sense of their reality, and it's an essential part of their intellectual development. While this sort of curiosity may seem juvenile, this is a good starting point to showing a character's curiosity. 

Here are some things to keep in mind whey your crafting a curious character:

1. Curiosity has two distinct classifications: state and trait. These classifications determine whether your character's curiosity comes from within their mind or if it happens outside of them.

State curiosity is external. It's an interest in knowing how things work and why things are the way they are. This interest encourages us to investigate and acquiring that knowledge serves as its own reward. 

Trait curiosity is internal and can be attributed to a character with an interest in learning. This character is the adventurous type who will try new foods and travel to new places just for the sake of having that experience. This character has an insatiable need to exist outside of their comfort zone and will distrust anything or anyone that tries to make them stick to things they consider "safe.

2. Curious characters exhibit exploratory behavior; the desire to explore and investigate a new environment. Children between twelve and eighteen months often combine play and exploration, which is a trait that continues through childhood, and if they're lucky, adulthood. We've all seen kids do this and we've done it ourselves when we encounter something new or unusual. When you're incorporating exploratory behavior into your curious character's personality, dig deep for that child-like innocence and surprise at a new discovery, but also make sure that it's age appropriate. 

3. Morbidly curious characters are focused on objects of death, violence, or any other event that may cause physical, emotional, or mental harm. A reasonable level of interest is often satisfied with one encounter or interaction with morbidity. Quite often, your character may be drawn to investigate what they fear or understand and gain all the knowledge that they need from that one experience. However, this curiosity is often described as having an addictive quality. When you're writing a morbidly curious character, make sure that curiosity is grounded in a substantial backstory. This is also a great emotion to explore with a character who is a detective, private investigator, or forensic specialist. 

It’s important to remember that curiosity is so much larger than one simple question that can be simply answered. 

No matter how you decide to craft your curious character, you need to make sure that you are not only asking questions, but also answering these questions in a way that will either satisfy the reader, or if you’re writing a series, make them want to pick up the next book! 

5 Reasons Why Your Strong Female Character is Annoying as F*ck

I don't know how many of you went out to see Captain Marvel this weekend, but all I have to say is. WAOW. 

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We may have joined hands in solidarity around Wonder Woman, but after the glorious, badassry of Carol Danvers, I'm sorry but… there is no other. 

There are so many moments that made the movie infinitely better than Wonder Woman but what really did it for me was the character development. 

Big surprise, huh? 

Captain Marvel is an origin story—one that could've been about a black woman named Monica Rambeau who started the Avengers, but I digress. In an origin story, we typically find out their backstory and the thing that pushes or motivates them to become a superhero. This is what business coaches like to call "finding their why." Captain Marvel does a brilliant job of that without diving into some sad or dark past that winds up being their sole motivation for doing good. 

(We're looking at you, Bruce Wayne.)

Ultimately, that character has to face a test that puts them in a gray area where right and wrong aren't so clear cut and they have to reason out the best thing to do in a bad situation. 

(Still looking at you, Bruce. You really need some therapy, my guy. The fact that my favorite moment in Dawn of Justice is when dry ass Superman debates whether or not the world needs you and discards you like so much dirty laundry speaks to your tired and problematic character arc.)

Captain Marvel escapes the "Dark Knight Of The Soul”—yes, I meant to spell it that way— with an amnesia trope, which can be tired, but only if it's done incorrectly.  Spoiler alert: it wasn't. I'm gonna stop now before I actually end up giving you real spoilers, but sufficed to say, Carol Danvers is the bees-knees. And seeing a strong female superhero done so well made me think of the things that make a superheroine fall short. 

So here we go.


5 reasons why your strong female character is annoying AF:  

1. You think making your female character masculine makes them strong. 

*sighs heavily as she presses fingertips to her closed eyelids*

This isn't in order of irritation, but this is number one because it irritates the absolute fuck out of me. 

I'm a late seventies baby. The 80s and 90s raised me, and maybe I'm biased but it feels like we had more strong female characters back then. Sarah Connor, Ripley, Xena, Buffy, etc. And as much as I loved those characters, most of them suffer from the same thing—they're characters who were given masculine traits in order to be perceived as strong. 

One could argue that Captain Marvel falls into that category, but I think it skated around it in one very clear way. Carol Danvers was clearly born strong, but in a realistic and attainable way. She didn't become strong out of necessity. The flashbacks of her falling down or "failing up" demonstrate this brilliantly. 

It would be really great if we had a female super hero who retained their femininity and sexuality and is still considered smart, and strong, and hero worthy, but until then, Carol Danvers will do just fine.

2. You make her reckless instead of heroic.

The Amazon archetype is often written in such a way that she charges headlong into a battle and often needs to be rescued or another character has to sacrifice themselves in order to save them and complete the mission. The martyr is often her love interest which leaves her loveless… which apparently makes her more relatable. 

3. She's an emotionless robot with no friends and no feelings. 

You guys, it's totally okay for female superheroes to have feelings. Even pants feelings. The only thing I ask is that if they have pants feelings, don't punish them by killing their lover or having that lover suddenly become a villain. Superhero teams can be great couples. Look at the Incredibles! They seem to make it work.

Also, stop making them bitchy, dark, and brooding loners. Give them friends and close relationships that they value. A family—that isn't dead—that they spend time with when they aren't saving the world. One of the best scenes in Captain America was when Maria told Carol how much she missed her best friend and when she gave her that pep talk that ended in a big hug. It was such an endearing moment! Please give your character friendships! Let's change this persistent and negative narrative that girls can't get along without being catty.

4. She allows her feelings to sway her from her mission. 

"I have too many feelings so I'm going to fuck up this mission by acting on them EVEN THOUGH ITS OBVIOUSLY A BAD DECISION” plot device is been done to death. Quit it. Women make hard decisions all the time. Even when they have a lot of feelings and PMS. 

5. You use her male counterparts to undermine and discredit her intelligence as a plot device. 

In the year of our lord twenty-nineteen, it would be really awesome if the men in your stories could just listen to women. It would be even more amazing if they could learn something from her and consider her a worthy partner or adversary. 

Those five reasons are really just scratching the surface. I’m sure there are more. What characteristics do you find annoying in female superheroes? Let me know in the comments!

Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Desire #writewednesday

As a romance author, I write about desire all the time. The passion and craving commonly associated with this emotion is an essential component of a successful romance story.

However, sexual hunger is only one way to that humans are ruled by desire. In my opinion, desire is the strongest emotion. It’s weighty and it can bring to ming something romantic, dramatic, tragic—whatever the circumstances, it’s almost always something the character deems important. That sense of longing for a person, object or outcome is at the center of every story.

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Desire: a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing something would happen. 

Desire is the motivation that makes your character to take action toward achieving that person or thing that they desire. Psychologists like Hobbes asserted that the fundamental motivation of all human action is the desire for pleasure. While others believe that desire is almost like a prison of emotion that traps us in a human body that is always wanting or needing something.

I think both of these things are true.

When you’re crafting a character, the words desire and goal are one in the same, and reaching their goal is the source of your character’s motivation.

In The Basic Character Creation Workbook, I talk about how the best character goals have a sense of urgency. The character must be willing to make sacrifices to obtain it. That desire may put them in danger or it may be unachievable. Either way, the journey to that goal will reveal the big truth that they need to face. 

Abraham Maslow believed that are five categories of human desire. The best goals are rooted in these five categories.

1. Physiological needs are basic needs for human survival. These are needs that must be met first because you really can’t get much done without them. In fact, if these needs are not met, death is certain.

  • Breathing

  • Water

  • Food

  • Sleep

  • Clothing

  • Shelter

2. Safety needs take precedence after physiological needs are met. Safety and security needs are about keeping you character from harm. If they don’t feel safe, they will seek safety before they attempt to meet any higher levels of survival.

  • Personal security

  • Financial security

  • Health & well-being

  • Safety from accidents, illness, and adverse situations.

3. The need for social belonging evolves from a desire for community and family. This need is strong in childhood and feelings of being othered, can affect your character’s ability to forge and maintain emotionally significant relationships. 

  • Friendship

  • Intimacy

  • Family

4. Esteem is an ego or status based need. It is rooted in the human desire to feel accepted, valued, and respected by others. Low self-esteem and inferiority can result from lack or imbalance of this need.

  • Status

  • Recognition

  • Fame

  • Prestige

  • Attention

  • Self-respect

  • Strength

  • Competence

  • Independence

5. Self-actualization refers to a person’s full potential and the realization of that potential. Like the Army slogan, your character wants to be all that they can be. 

  • Creativity

  • Morality

  • To be considered without prejudice

  • Travel and experience

  • Higher education

How do you write this emotion?

The most fundamental desires are labeled as “deficiency needs.” Those are the needs that fall under physiological, safety, and esteem. If the needs aren’t met, there may not always be a physical indication, but your character will always feel tense, anxious, and preoccupied by the need to obtain it. Also, they won’t be able to focus on their other desires until those needs are met. 

One of the best ways I have found to write desire is to conjure this emotion in myself. Imagine the absence of that desire in your life and write about the space that is left behind. For example, if you take away or threaten any of your character’s deficiency needs, you basically men to cause them physical harm, mental harm, or death. They will do anything to have those needs met—lie, steal, kill, betray. A character in this situation will feel like they have no choice but to react. To put it simply, a character in this situation would be ready and gunning for a fight. 

As an emotion, desire of any kind almost always creates empathy in the reader and makes the character feel real.