Writing Emotional Development

Anonymous asked: “How can I portray a character who is generally closed off slowly opening up? Also what kind of a romantic partner would best fit as the catalyst for that change?”

I think the first thing we need to get into is why the closed off character is the way that they are. It doesn’t need to be the result of some kind of problem or trauma, it can be something that innocuous like severe shyness or that they’re too quick to judge others. 

Now one thing I want to specify right off the bat for all my readers, the asker was actually specific to note that this character wasn’t closed off due to any specific trauma – I tend to shorten questions to make it easier to find things later. I just wanted to note that it may look different if a character has gone through a trauma and is closed off as a result of that. That is not what is being addressed here. 

Let’s look at shyness, as an example. Some of that might come from social insecurities – not necessarily that there had to be an incident or something to set it off, just uncomfortable or particularly clumsy or self-conscious in front of new people. If it’s shyness or something along those lines that has made them closed off, then you’ll know a bit more how to write about it. This is what I mean by identifying what about a character has made them closed off. 

So with shyness, opening up, then will happen naturally with time. The shy character might have to get to know someone and eventually feel more comfortable with them and begin to open up – though opening up and feeling comfortable might take some prompting. If they’re shy, the character might not want to show up to social events where there are a lot of new people or even just people – like coworkers- that they haven’t really gotten to know well yet. A shy character might not want to go to an after-work cocktail hour, but might prefer a more solitary activity – like if a group was going out to a movie. It’s less forced social interaction than going out for drinks would be. 

Getting a character like this to open up means taking time to get to know them, pushing them a bit to come out of their shell. For instance, planning events that they either have an interest in or trying to find things that they’ll like to join in with. 

And now, just to address the second part of the question, I think it’s dangerous to think that romance will change someone, but in this case, I think it has less to do with changing someone and more so coming to meet them on their own terms and comfort level. Getting someone who is shy or quiet to come out of their shell isn’t an easy thing and it takes effort. If both are romantically interested in each other, that might make it easier for them to stay motivated and work at getting to know each other. In this case too, I want to clarify, getting to know someone and have them open up, while it’s a change in the person, it isn’t changing who they are. They are getting more comfortable with new people in their lives. If you were to drop them into another new situation where they again knew no one, they might become closed off again (or, because they were able to get through it the last time, they might feel a little more confident meeting new people all over again). 

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