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Characters with Social Anxiety

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Anonymous asked: Hi, could I get some advice on writing from the first person point of view of a person with social anxiety?

First off, there is anxiety that is induced by social situations that is relatively common and most people have experienced at some point, and there’s Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). I am a big supporter of mental health and encourage writers to include it in their fiction though it must be mindful, researched, and respectful.  If you are interested in writing about mental illness, be sure to research first.

For the sake of this post, I’ll be focusing on mild social anxiety, or really what most people equate to awkwardness or nervousness in social situations. How your characters experience this and to what extent it exists in their lives is very much up to you, but here’s a few pointers to help out.

Talkative characters can still feel anxious in social settings. This is a huge misconception. Just because someone is talkative does not mean that they are not nervous or uncomfortable or cringing at the thought of having to meet and talk to someone. Talking can even be a nervous habit. Sometimes nervousness only pertains to certain social settings for instance, a talkative boy who does not tend to get nervous might seem anxious around a crush or at a party where he knows no one but the person he came with. Some people are talkative only after they are comfortable having had the chance to get to know you first. If you’re worries about an anxious protagonist being “too talkative,” don’t.

Anxiety might be limited to certain situations or topics. Social anxiety generally is limited to social situations, but it can be even more narrow than that. For instance, if a character doesn’t drink and does not like to be around people who are drunk, he might get uncomfortable when alcohol comes up in conversation or when friends come to him with stories of drunken escapades. With this example, the character might be uncomfortable to even admit or address his discomfort.

A character might actively avoid a situation or setting because of his anxiety despite wanting to get involved or participate. An introvert might still want to take up an offer to go clubbing with a new friend, even if the thought of actually going is too much for him. He might do things like cancel at the last moment or try to postpone, make excuses to avoid having to confront what exactly makes him anxious. He may even in part sabotage a relationship to avoid having to get into a anxiety-ridden situation. I know most of my examples are party-based – those are relatable enough, but are by no means the only way that similar anxieties can be expressed.  

This is by no means a complete guide, but hopefully a little help to get you thinking about your story. Happy writing!

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