True Colors: Writing introverts and extraverts

Black Widow, reporting for duty. I've taken some time to dedicate myself to my work, and I've discovered some truly important facts about human nature.

For instance? It's not always portrayed well in fiction.

There's an idea permeating popular culture that people come in two flavors: fully extraverted and fully introverted.  Either you love people, parties, talking, and games or you'd rather hole away and read a book
all day. There's also a new trend acting as if the former is shallow and the latter more cultured and desirable.

Trust me, I get it. Really shy introverts need someone to look up to as much as extraverts do. But don't think for a minute that those are your only options. Trapping your character into one or the other extreme makes them less believable and therefore more difficult to connect with.

Every person is either an introvert or an extravert to some extent.  But before we get into the how-to, let's clear up some misconceptions about what those things actually are.

An extravert is someone who gets energy from being around other people. An introvert is someone who gets energy by being alone.

That's it.

There are extraverts who don't talk like motormouths and enjoy loud parties. There are introverts who like company and have opinions on everything.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get to a few myths, debunked.

1. It's a noble, beautiful thing to be an introvert.
Don't get me wrong. There are noble, beautiful introverts.  But they can't change who they are any more than an extravert can -- it's just a part of them. The things about them that make them so amazing are things they can control -- a helpful spirit, a kind demeanor. Don't fall into the trap of thinking just because you or your character is introverted, they are automatically awesome. There are awesome extraverts too!

2. Extraverts love talking, while introverts hate it.
This is a fair guess, but simply not true. Extraverts love people, not talking. An extravert can sit silent in a packed room and still just feel refreshed because they gather energy from others. Many extraverts do love to talk, but it's not their extraversion that makes them like that.
Conversely, some introverts love talking! Ever get tired after playing a sport you love? You'd do it again in a heartbeat, but you need a break. This is how a sociable introvert feels about going to events where a lot of people are.




3. Extraverts are always popular.
Extraverts get energy from people. That doesn't mean they get along well with them. Extraverts may have more friends than most introverts and enjoy being around more people, but that doesn't mean their crowd is the in-crowd -- it just means they have a crowd.

4. Introverts hate people.
No, people just make introverts tired. They might really like a lot of people, but it's more likely they'll have a group of close friends that they prefer to hang out with.

5. Introverts are shy. Extraverts are very outgoing.
While introverts do tend to be more reserved, they aren't all completely socially inept. However, it will most likely take an introvert longer to get comfortable with a lot of new people and they'll need time to adjust to the situation, so take this into account when writing one.
Conversely, extraverts do have a tendency to jump into new groups of people headfirst. A good thing to remember, though, is that extraverts are just as likely to be self-conscious as any introvert. That's a society thing, not an intro/extraversion thing.


So, the next time you take a Meyers-Briggs for your new protagonist, don't assume that your I or E means you have to force them into a certain category. Real people don't fit in pretty boxes -- and neither do realistic characters.

-- Natasha


7 comments:

  1. Love this post! Well said. It does seem that extroverts are more favored by society (in terms of popularity and such) but I have also noticed that being an introvert has become cool. And I think that's hilarious.

    I look at the Introvert/Extrovert as a spectrum. You can fall anywhere between the two, and few people are entirely one extreme. And neither one is the best. Both are needed and both have advantages and disadvantages.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Excellent points!! :) I love this. There can totally be shy extraverts and outgoing introverts. I guess the reason why introverts are often portrayed as the more intellectual, deeper people is because a lot of authors are introverts (I tend to think it's quite an introverted proffession. Doesn't have to be, just often is.) I love this post! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This post is perfect! I mentioned one time to my friends that I am an introvert and they all said they didn't believe it. But at the time I didn't know how to explain to them that it just means I need to be alone more often than they do. I was in an anti talking mood that day and they were being loud. Haha. It's pretty much the story of my life.

    I'm definitely the type who really takes a while to be comfortable in situations.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So true! (Loved the lists, too.) It's so hard to try to figure out this medium in writing though. It's easier to write someone who's very definitely: hugely introverted or hugely extroverted. When in reality, a lot of people live somewhere in the middle (except me. I'm socially inept and therefore shy introvert).

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you guys! :) I myself am a sociable introvert -- I tend to lean toward the "I love people but they wear me out" side of the spectrum. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, so these points are helping me organize my points about the introverted and extroverted characters in my MS. There were one or two characters in particular that I realized I had conceived of as extroverts--and really do want to be extroverts of some sort--but who I was writing as quite introverted because that is the perspective that comes naturally to me. Also, I definitely see the (silly) "introverts are noble and beautiful" thing online and in books--but in many other arenas, extroversion is favored and valued far more than introversion. I've definitely had people judge me for not being social enough, when really I was just overwhelmed by the situation. I suppose that whichever one your character is, it's a source of contrast and potential conflict/growth.

    ReplyDelete