Just as real people want to be accepted by others, either into various communities or accepted by one special person, so too do our characters wish to be accepted in one way or another. Most people want that sense of belonging. Depending on our genre, as writers, we either make that sense of belonging happen for our characters or show why it does not. Of course, it can never be easy for our protagonists, whichever outcome we choose. The protagonist needs to struggle to make it happen or be forced to accept that it was never meant to be. And the reader wants to see that struggle.
So how do we show our protagonists longing for acceptance and receiving it or not? It’s all in the specific details we provide through story or memoir, both internally and externally.
Let’s briefly look at two classic characters who long to be included.
Harry Potter wants to belong to a family, to be loved, to have friends. Through the story, the reader [or viewer] comes to realize why he doesn’t have these connections and through thoughts and actions [events] how he comes to gain them.
Luke Skywalker longs to join his friends, to move on with his own life, to be accepted into the rebellion as a person who matters. And as the story unfolds, the viewer comes to understand why and how he obtains what he wants.
In memoir, remember, you are looking for real life details to tell the story. In my memoir about attending college as a mother of five, Victoria looks for acceptance in the academic conversation at Penn. She yearns for a sense of belonging, not the feeling of being an outsider with nothing intelligent to say. She is a non-traditional, older student attending a school of highly intelligent students. She gets in, but constantly feels the need to prove herself in class. To show this struggle unfolding for the reader, I include thoughts and actions, events that demonstrate how Victoria fails, and how she feels about it, and eventually how she succeeds at her task.
More importantly, Victoria wishes to be accepted by the writers’ community at Kelly Writers House on campus. She wants her writing topics to be important, to make a statement about her experiences. Yet obstacles, both internal and external, hold her back. She has children; she doesn’t have the time the younger students have. For the story to move forward, she needs to take action. Victoria attends lectures and seminars at the House. She submits poetry in a university-wide contest and receives honorable mention for it. But she feels ignored during the celebration. A setback. She submits again to a larger writing community, the West Chester Poetry Contest, and wins second place with a haiku. This community welcomes her into its fold, if only for a short while.
In memoir the story is told through the lens of the narrator. The reader can only be in the head of Victoria. It is she who interprets the reasons for what other characters do in the memoir. Writers cannot get into the head of other characters in memoir because it is truth—not fiction.
Of course, writers can’t dramatize every scene of struggle in a story. However, writers should choose larger scenes that show the most challenge to our protagonist and summarize the lesser scenes or actions. Writers need to remember to show the outcome—good or bad—to any action or scene. These outcomes do not need to be lengthy, but rather precise. I am still learning which scenes to dramatize or summarize and which scenes appear to repeat the same feelings or outcomes and are not necessary in my manuscript.
As writers we need to show progression in our characters. If the story is all struggle with no change in the protagonist, no change in the character’s mindset, readers could feel cheated. I still think that readers are looking to see how our characters handle challenge to perhaps learn how they might handle a particular situation. Readers want to learn something new even while being entertained by your story. At least this is why I read.
Please feel free to offer any insight or ask any questions regarding Victoria’s struggles in finding acceptance at the University of Pennsylvania. It would be truly appreciated.
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Please note that I will not post in August of 2019. I have many writing projects I desperately need to address. Thanks for always reading my Adventures in Writing blog posts and sharing your insight. It means the world to me. Enjoy your summer!
34 thoughts on “Characters Look for Acceptance #AuthorToolboxBlogHop”
I love that you always come up with new ways of looking at/developing characters. This post in particular made me think about how I accomplished this in my last book. Thanks, Victoria!
It sounds like you have a good handle on how to dramatize the story for memoir. I write fiction so had not consider all that. I enjoyed learning about Victoria.
Juneta @ Writer's Gambit
I'm having trouble with my main character not changing enough. Working through this is tedious, but I love it when I find situations in the story where I do push her to change, even in a subtle way. Thanks for this.
In my genre of historical fiction, the characters often need social and political acceptance, as well as that within their families. (In the Tudor court, getting this wrong could lose you your head )
Hi Victoria … I imagine working things out – and finding that balance that you need at Uni, with your home full of family … and then having the time to ponder how to adjust your writing, so that people enjoy it and engage … take care and good luck in August sorting lots of things out – cheers Hilary
I've actually forgotten about acceptance being such a big deal for characters — I think part of that is because I'm not looking at the smaller details that encompasses "acceptance". Thanks for the reminder!
Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox day Let's Get Visual
I guess even the imaginary–in my case–want to belong somewhere. Way to add dimension. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
This is a really good point, and making sure that our characters feel as human as possible is so important when it comes to reader immersion. Sounds like you have a good handle on it!
I often write characters who think they don't want to be part of a group, but something or someone comes along to make them realize what they really want and need. I think wanting to belong is a basic human need.
This post, more than your previous posts, highlights to me what must be a big problem with writing memoir: showing character progression.
I don't read a lot of memoir, but I have read some novels based on the writer's own life story (or the story of a family member). They are often great stories, but they are missing this character progression, this self-awareness of change.
We have to be very self-aware to analyse how we've changed and what prompted those changes. Memoir is forcing you to analyse those changes in a way that "real life" doesn't.
My pleasure, Raimey! There are so many things to think about when writing and creating characters. This is where sharing insight helps fellow writers.
It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Thanks for your kind words. Enjoy your summer!
Thanks for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing, Juneta! I always appreciate your comments. Enjoy your summer!
Creating characters who change throughout our stories is truly tough, Dawn. Subtle change is still change and therefore good for story. All the luck with your WIP. I'm glad you find the posts here at Adventures in Writing helpful. All best to you. Enjoy your summer!
So true, Tony. Historical fiction–especially English history–is wide and deep. Getting it wrong could truly be dangerous to your health. That being said, everyone wants to be accepted.
Thank you so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your summer!
It is always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Hilary. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. I truly need them and appreciate them. Enjoy your August!
Hi Ronel! Thanks so much for visiting Adventures in Writing on Author Toolbox day. Acceptance is a great problem for characters to confront in fiction as well as memoir.
Thanks for your kind note. Enjoy your August!
Thanks for your kind words here at Adventures in Writing, Anna! I always appreciate your comments. Enjoy your summer!
Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Merry! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a note. Characters need to appear human to connect to our readers.
I truly appreciate your kind words here at Adventures in Writing. Please stop by again! Enjoy your August.
I think it is too, Susan. Thanks for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your August!
It is so true, Iola. I believe character progression is big in both story and especially memoir. Our protagonists need to be different by the end of the story than they were at the beginning.
Thank you so much for sharing your insight here at Adventures in Writing. I truly appreciate it. Enjoy your August!
I agree with all other commenter. Showing growth and progression is probably hard in memoir writing.
Definitely! Sometimes it's difficult in fiction too. But it is necessary in both. The character, whether real or fictitious, needs to grow and change in story.
Thank you so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your summer!
Good luck with those writing projects in August, shall look forward to hearing about them, Victoria 🌹
Thank you so much, Carole. I truly appreciate your good wishes. I certainly need them. All best to you, too.
And thank you so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your summer!
All the best with your writing, Victoria.
Thank you so much, Nas. It is always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All best to you, my dear.
Thank you for your kind words, Victoria, much appreciated 🌹
My pleasure! I wish you all the best. And thank you so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your summer!
That character growth is critical. I actually get annoyed when the character hasn't changed from page 1 to 400.
Yes it is, Jacqui. I have trouble with characters who don't change, too. Thank you so much for your comment here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your summer!
Just came by to say Hi, Victoria!
Hello, Nas! I hope you are well, my dear. It is always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All best to you.
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