1. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    A delicate balance

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Erasmus B. Dragon, Jun 21, 2013.

    I'm writing a difficult character and could use a little advice.
    She's recently moved back to her hometown after divorcing her emotionally and verbally abusive husband. I want to show how badly the abuse damaged her self-esteem and self-image without making her come off as whiny and self-pitying. She's the MC for my novel, in which, while still trying to recover her equilibrium and figure out how she fits in with family and friends she hasn't seen in nearly a decade and figure out how to heal from the damage her husband did to her, her life is even more complicated by being bitten by a werewolf and finding out she's going to become on one the next full moon. By the end of the novel, the challenges she's facing learning about the supernatural community, keeping it a secret from her family, learning that her best friend has been keeping a pretty big secret from her since they were in high school, and surviving and beating two men who want to kill her, she will re-discover her old self-confidence and begin healing emotionally, making the transformation not only from woman to wolf, but from damaged to budding heroine.

    The story is 1st person, so I can get inside her head and show the doubts she's having about herself, but I'm having trouble finding the right balance between showing her doubts and fears, and making her sound like she's a helpless, attention seeking mouse wallowing in self-pity. She has an innate core of strength, and I want that to show as well.

    I also want to keep the transformation realistic - she can't go from doubting herself to saving the day too quickly.
     
  2. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I think you should show some anger and/or frustration. She has been estranged from her friends and family for a decade. Does she have a job? Would she have if she didn't waste the past years of her married life with some asshole. Her life is not where she thinks it should be and now she has all of this other stuff to put up with.
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You seem to have such a clear idea of the character. All you need is low self esteem without whining. That sounds like, unassertive, lets people walk on her but doesn't complain about it.
     
  4. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    I hadn't considered anger, but you're right, she would be. She's having trouble finding a job, and her savings is starting to run out. Her family is supportive, but they don't understand the damage that's been done to her. I can try replacing a little of the self-doubt with anger and see if she reads a little more like I want her to.
     
  5. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I'm sure if she is about to transform, some of the monster is going to start showing in her personality. I've only met a few, but I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a p*ssy werewolf
     
  6. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    She does start getting more aggressive and sure of herself later in the book, it's the first half, before the wolf really starts to show, that I'm having trouble with. I want to keep her sympathetic without turning the reader off with too much self-pity.

    I also like GingerCoffee's idea about letting her be more passive, rather than showing active self-doubt I can just add in a scene or two where she doesn't stand up for herself/ lets someone get the better of her, then later show how the wolf pushed her to be less submissive. Her wolf is definitely not an Omega wolf, even if her human half is.
     
  7. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    I can tell you from my experience how I feel. I am not a woman but I am currently going through a divorce, moving back to my hometown where I really never planned on ending up, and have not seen any of my highschool "friends" since, well, highschool. I am feeling very dispassionate and very distracted. I could really give a f*ck less what others think right now; my tolerance is at an all time low and it takes very little to make me want to feel organs squeezing through my fingers, but I naturally have an angry disposition. But there is also the doubt: where to go, what to do sort of shit
     
  8. glitchingitup
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    glitchingitup Member

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    I agree showing some anger would help. I would mostly really need to see how she handles herself, that would showcase the damage to her self-esteem in a non pitying manner rather than her telling me through internal dialogue. She could have a nervous tic, like plucking hair or scratching roughly whenever topics she cannot deal with start and as the story progresses, it appears less and less. Hesitation...which could be cool if you have action scenes. She could maybe be a bit of a pessimist earlier on too. Maybe writing every internal thought through darker lenses, her assessment of her environment never reflecting a positive view....seeing mostly the worst in people and things around her....but then it slowly evolves and reflects her new state of mind when her perception has shifted! I don't know how far the abuse went!
     
  9. B. anthracis
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    B. anthracis Member

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    She needs to feel like her low self-esteem is low for good reasons. For example, "I don't have a job, I have no skills, I'm 20 pounds overweight, etc."

    While others wouldn't necessarily hate her for those things, she could reasonably see others as thinking less of her over it. And that's the grind of depression and low self-esteem. "Don't tell me to feel good about myself because I can show without a doubt that A, B, C, and D are problems that I have." And the reader should understand along with her that indeed, she does have good reason to hate herself to some degree. That means that she really does have to change in order to be able to begin to feel better. IOW, real problems = real obstacles = meaningful and interesting change... or something. I might even go so far as to say that if this character contemplated suicide, the reader should be able to understand why. If the reader can be made to see that as a possible legitimate option, then even better.

    Best of luck.
     
  10. Abigail
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    I am trying to picture someone like that, how they would act in my mind. I am also trying to brainstorm how I would see myself acting. Maybe down alot, quieter, more of a pushover. Unsure a lot of the time. Maybe just overall very doubtful and pessimisic. Maybe the thoughts that run through her mind are just more glass half-empty kind of thoughts. A way I could see her feeling in addition to anger is defeat. If I were her, I'd feel very defeated, well that is up until the werewolf part happens and she regains the strength and confidence she had before. Just some thoughts. I'm not sure if that is how you'd want your character to feel, but it's definitely a way she could be feeling. And I think with the pessimisic attitude she doesn't necessarily have to be whiny all the time.
     
  11. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    The realization that I would become something as horrid as a werewolf would be a stark moment in anyone's life. Given the importance of that event, having her be rather emotional about that would make sense. Wouldn't seem whiny. We could sympathize.
     
  12. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I agree with Ginger. A lot of showing a reader a character's personality is in how they deal with various situations and how the interact with others.
     
  13. Vault
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    I wouldn't worry too much about making her sound whiny. It's more important to make her human than to not make her whiny. Show her vunerability, but also her desire to gain her strength back, and tie that in with the being bitten by a werwolf.
     
  14. nina arief
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    you could show anger like the others have mentioned. Personally i think abuse is traumatising enough to lower anyone's self-esteem, but when they are trying to cope with it they become this mixture of I don't think I deserve this but still femminist/strong enough to fight for their rights. getit? like internally they are broken but externally they are this hard core shell. Perhaps ypu could throw in psychological help maybe from her mom or something like that.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One characteristic that I often see in people with low self-esteem is a reduction of the usual awareness of interpersonal give and take.

    What do I mean? Well, let's imagine that you've driven your friend to the airport the last six times that they travelled, but every time you ask them for a ride, they have an excuse for not doing so. You start to get annoyed, and the odds are lower that you'll comply with their next request. You're giving, they're taking, and those roles never seem to turn around.

    A person who's been abused might not even think to ask for a ride to the airport - it might not even occur to them that if they've done X for their friend, it's reasonable for them to ask the friend return the favor. They see their friend as a real person, entitled to respect and boundaries, while they see themselves as not entitled to these things. There are, of course, levels here - maybe the abused person would ask for a ride but say nothing when it's turned down over and over and they're expected to provide a ride over and over.

    There are other ways that this lack of give-and-take can happen. The abused person always rushes to make sure that they're on time for events, but they don't complain when their friends are always late. The abused person is always the one listening to other people's problems, and never talking about her own. She's always the designated driver, she never even asks for gas money, and when people offer to buy her non-alcoholic drinks (the tradition, I believe, for the designated driver), she won't let them; she insists on paying for her own. In general, she's always giving and never gets, or accepts, the opportunity to receive.

    This means that far from being whiny and attention seeking, she's likely to be the one that appears strong, at least to someone who doesn't know her well. She's likely to fend off any efforts to give her attention. Her role in life is to give; she doesn't know how to take. She's sometimes aware that people don't do things for her, but she feels that it's selfish to have that awareness, that to do something while "expecting something in return" is wrong. She sees the fact that she even has the thought as evidence of something wrong with her.

    And her friends tend to be "takers", because well-adjusted people are not comfortable always taking, so they're not comfortable with the friendship - the well-adjusted people are likely to drift away, while the selfish and narcissistic people drift closer.

    The well-adjusted people remaining in her life are likely to be ones that are there due to a shared context - coworkers, members of a mutual club, family members (unless the family is what started her down the path of tolerating abuse), that sort of thing. The people who know her in a purely social scense, who, for example, call her demanding to go to a movie RIGHT NOW because they're bored, and what do you mean you're busy? and can't you do that later?, are takers.

    (Of course, the movie will chosen by the taker, the taker will find that they've "forgotten their wallet" when they get to the theater, so that your character ends up paying, and your character will do the driving. And what are you doing parking all the way out _here_?! Can't you drop me off up front and then go park the car?)

    To me, one essential thing to figure out would be whether this character has always had low self-esteem, perhaps from abuse or neglect in childhood, and if that's why she failed to see the danger signs before marrying her abusive husband, or if she used to have more self esteen and sense of self. There would be a difference between the process of returning to a sense of self, versus the process of building one for the first time.

    If she's never had a sense of self, she might start to build one in dysfunctional ways, because she has no precedent for how to stand up for herself directly and honestly. I could imagine that she might develop some passive-aggressive coping strategies. Maybe _she_ starts being late for events, while always having some impeccable excuse. Maybe she agrees to provide that ride to the airport, while "forgetting" that there's something wrong with her car and she can't drive it on the highway.

    Other ways that low self-esteem can manifest itself:

    - Appearance. She feels that she's not worth the cost of a good haircut, not worth un-shabby clothes. This can also meld into the passive-aggressive behavior; there's a very fine line between feeling that one is not worthy of being presented well, and rebelling against the perceived demand that one present oneself well.

    - Her home. She doesn't bother to get that slow drip around the faucet fixed; its just as easy to keep changing the towels that sop it up. She doesn't bother to clean up. Maybe before her marriage she always bought herself flowers to celebrate the weekend, and she doesn't do that any more. This would extend to her car (doesn't bother to wash it) and her office (doesn't keep it tidy, and that's another potential passive-aggressive attack if she has a neatnik boss.)

    - Her diet. This is a sort of triple motivation. She's not worth the cost and effort of healthy food. Unhealthy food is comforting. And getting fat might be a passive-aggressive blow at someone who tries or tried to control her appearance, like her mother or her ex-husband.

    That's my theory, anyway.
     
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  16. Erasmus B. Dragon
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    Erasmus B. Dragon Member

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    Thanks, ChickenFreak, this helps a lot :)
     

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