I’ve noticed in fiction that shy characters tend to be written badly and much differently from how they are in real life. Many shy characters are passive in plots because they lack the enthusiasm and drive that extroverted characters have. They tend to be slow or unwilling to take action due to their insecurities. While having internal obstacles can be an interesting addition to a plot, I find myself annoyed whenever shy characters dwell on their problems and anxieties. This causes the plot to drastically slow down and focus on their problems which often feel insignificant when compared to the other events going on. Many shy characters are often dragged through the plot by other characters and don’t take actions on their own. I am currently writing a story and I have been considering making the main character shy. Do you have any advice for how to write shy characters well without them being passive or dragging the plot?

Thank you for your time. I appreciate it!

-Owen

Hi Owen,

Based on what you’ve said, I think you might already know the answer. While many writers might associate shyness with general reluctance, being shy is different from lacking drive or being fearful. Being shy simply means the character has some discomfort interacting with people they don’t know well and generally minimizes those interactions if they can. It doesn’t mean they can’t communicate when it’s important. There’s nothing keeping them from being an action hero or otherwise engaging with urgent problems. In fact, a shy badass is a great combo that can create a really interesting character.

Even if you want the shyness to be the basis for a character arc, they don’t have to stop and angst over it. They just need to make small choices based on being shy, like not speaking up or avoiding some social situations – the reader needs to know why they are making those choices, but they don’t have to dwell on them. Then, later, they might decide they have to push themselves because communicating is urgent, or they might slowly get to know another character and become less nervous in their presence.

A great example of a shy action hero is the main character of All Systems Red. This is a novella by Martha Wells, and it’s a great story. The main character is a construct with little experience socializing with humans and an aversion to it, but they act decisively when the situation calls for it.

Now, if your story is focused on socializing and human relationships, then you might have a little more trouble keeping your hero in the game. In that case then, shyness is a conflict-generating obstacle that they should proactively work around. I would have one or two characters that are close to your hero who they can speak freely with, and have them look for fun and inventive ways of getting what they need done despite being tongue-tied, like sending people to speak in their place (maybe pretending to be them even) or sending notes. A good example of a story like this is the 2001 movie Amelie.

Since you’re already set on avoiding the problems you’ve seen, I think you’ll do fine.

Happy writing,

Chris

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