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

Copy of Copy of Regret.jpg

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 behind.

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 alone, and that’s perfectly okay.

Thanks for reading!

Tasha L. Harrison

author | editor | creative