Courage in the Writer; Courage in the Character

Sleeping Beauty was always my favorite of Disney’s princess reincarnations. I loved the three fairies, the music from Tchaikovsky, the fact that an owl could wear a hat and waltz. I loved the little bit of scary that was mixed in with the humor of cake making and dress designing (pink…blue…pink…).

But when I reflect back on it now, the part that most often stands out is Prince Phillip on his faithful stead charging toward his ultimate goal only to be stopped from progression by what was the biggest dragon I’d ever seen. Yes, this modernized St. George received assistance from Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, but for him to have success, he had to rely on his courage, his willingness to give all he could the face of an incomprehensible foe.

The dragons in a writer’s life can actually emerge at several stages, ranging from the first time we share our pages with someone to declaring ourselves as writers to the world to sending queries to setting aside what we had in mind for our manuscript based on reader feedback. Because writing, and creating art in general, requires the courage to be vulnerable.

This isn’t my idea: Brene Brown presented it in a much more eloquent fashion in her TED talk, and talks about it at the beginning of her book Daring Greatly, when she says,

“Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”

You see, there will be moments when what we want is will equal or become greater than what we fear. There WILL be times when we doubt that our surge of courage will result in anything but rejection or embarrassment.

Opening our hearts and minds to the possibility of vulnerability is the greatest act of courage.

Sometimes it will result in getting a partial request.
Sometimes it will result in a rejection.
Sometimes it will result in a full request.
Sometimes it will come back with feedback that our seemingly solid story is shifting on a foundation of sand.

My vulnerability in the last six months resulted in 35 rejections of my book (ranging from query only to full manuscripts), having agents tell me they didn’t connect with the voice, thought I head-hopped, not getting hired for a job that I would have loved (and being told I was in the top three).

In the last month or so, my practice in courage and vulnerability has led me to getting help with a state of mind I could not fix on my own, accepting an offer from an agent for representation, submitting the most heartfelt first chapter I’ve ever written, and the hope of a life change with a job interview.

But remember, the reason writers are going through all of this is because we have stories we want to tell. That means that the courage and vulnerability we work through on an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly basis must also be present in our characters, for it is their vulnerability and courage that makes them real.

So take a minute to consider your current WIP, the characters you have in there, and ask these questions:

  • How does my character react when they are feeling emotionally exposed, uncomfortable or uncertain?
  • Is my character willing to take emotional risks?
  • How does my character default to solving problems? 
  • Why do they use that method? 
  • What can happen to best depict my character’s most authentic vulnerability? 
  • What must my character go through before they will push aside fear in favor of courage?
Once you know the answers to these questions, the plot can then be constructed in a manner that pushes your character into a position that makes them incredibly vulnerable, whether that be fighting a tangible dragon or that unseen element that has become the deepest kind of a formidable foe in the form of trust, love (of another or self), forgiveness or acceptance. 

Just as actors have to trigger emotional responses to allow a scene to reach it’s maximum potential, writers have to allow themselves to become funnels of authenticity. You may find that this act of creation is the pinnacle of vulnerability and courage for both you and your characters as it may require you to tap into something within yourself to convey your own the fear, inhibitions, and uncertainty to get the character right.

But doing so will heighten the story, enhance the characters, and move you toward the realization of your own dreams.

Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine, where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.