Being Too Self Aware About Self Awareness

I have done a post about this before, I realise, but I think it’s worth posting about again since I know a little bit more about it than I did before. And also I have finally finished the major rewrite of my next potential sub and self awareness was a particular bugbear in that one, as it has been in all my mss to be honest.

You see, when I was a little baby writer, I used to get really annoyed with characters that seemed wholly blind to their problems. So my characters would always know what their problems were. Most of the time, they knew and still acted like idiots (my heroes here) because they were so tortured and well, just generally angsty. This was before I knew about conflict, about action, about pace, about anything really! I know a lot more about that stuff now so it came as a bit of a surprise to me that, as a big grown-up writer, I was still making my characters too self aware.

So, what is all this self awareness stuff? It’s being aware of your feelings and the reasons for them basically. For example, my hero wants to succeed in his business. It’s his goal. If pushed, he might admit that his drive to succeed is based on leaving behind a troubled youth. But what he wouldn’t admit to is that his drive to succeed is based on a fear that he’s really no good because his father walked out on him when he was young. He wouldn’t admit to it because he doesn’t actually know that at the beginning of the book. Unless you’re me of course, who did actually make him know that in the first chapter! The problem with this is that if they know their fears right at the beginning there wouldn’t be any sense of discovery about the character. Plus the fact that if they know their problems right at the beginning, why don’t they do something about them right then and there? And you also lose any emotional impact because there is no slow revelation or sudden insight by the character about their behaviour.

Anyway, the upshot of this is that I have to learn to pull back on the awareness. I found myself getting into trouble with this rewrite because of that and it meant because I had made my hero too self aware too early, I had to give him another problem so he would still grow and change. Which meant I complicated the conflict. Remember the KISS principle? Keep It Simple Stupid.

Now, all this might sound as though I’m making my characters do stuff instead of being guided by them. That may be true but I don’t think I’m doing it this time. If I think about it, my character is an alpha male who wants to prove himself. Admitting he’s scared of not being good enough would be something he would never admit to. So making him aware of this fear too early on IS making him do something he doesn’t want to do.

All this stuff about self awareness is making me appreciate the layers of the onion metaphor that Kate Walker talks about. I knew what she meant, but I never really saw it in my own work until now.

So, what does everyone else think about this? Are your characters too self aware like mine? Or are they appropriately dense? πŸ™‚

16 thoughts on “Being Too Self Aware About Self Awareness”

  1. Another interesting post, Jackie. When I start, my characters are usually so dense that even I don’t know why they do things! Although, with my current wip my heroine was too self aware (something my ed picked up on in the outline I sent in). Now she’s as blind as a bat πŸ˜‰

    I guess the road to self-awareness is the all important emotional journey that the characters have to make.

  2. Well, you know I’ve had this issue wuth my current MS and my hero is especially too self aware. LOL – I think I’m writing him the way I think men should be…

    So dense he shall be – till sometime down the track it’ll all ‘ping’ and a lightbulb shall pop into his head…

  3. Excellent post, as always, Jackie. Must watch my hero, I think he’s a raised eyebrow away from being prematurely self-aware ;).

  4. Lucy – that’s interesting re your ed. I think my heroine is too self aware too now that I think about it. Yay for edits!

    Janette – Lol! Yeah, men are waaay more dense in real life eh?

    Maya – my problem exactly. As Janette says, maybe we write them the way we wish they were…

  5. Brilliant post, Jackie – and something I’d not really thought about until now and I bally well should have!

    Adding that extra depth to a character enriches the overall story. I can see that now. And it helps keep the reader interested because they want to know why the character is in the situation they are in now as much as the character does, and making them wait maintains the mystery and the interest so they grow and discover together! Makes perfect sense when you blog it, Jackie – so why didn’t I realise it before?

    Thanks – I think my stories will improve now.

    Julie xx

  6. I once got a children’s story returned because the characters were too self aware for 10 year olds. As for the romances, well, they’re just returned – with no reason attached. Reading this, I’m guessing self-awareness might be one of the many issues…


  7. Hmm, not so much self awareness but more like just too nice. Too nice to each other. I have trouble making the reasons for them to be apart not matter too much to them. I seem to forget about the conflict I’ve carefully crafted and just want them to fall in love already!

  8. Usually I write me some dense men. Ironic, considering my hubby is the most self-aware man on the planet. But if they are self-aware, they might so see no problem with their conflict, eg, they know they don’t believe in love because they’ve seen so much crap, but they’re right and everyone else is wrong!!

  9. Julie – I know, I have to keep reminding myself of it too. Anyway, so glad it made sense to you! We do kind of want to what makes these characters tick and if you reveal it too soon, it’s like ‘oh well, that’s that then’. Yay for helping!

    Suzanne – the form Rs are the worst. But self awareness is definitely something to watch for!

    Joanne – argh! Attack of the niceness! Yeah, that can be tricky. I have to say, being nice to my characters is not something anyone can accuse me of – I have far too much fun torturing them. πŸ™‚

    Maisey – Dr Jax is very self aware too. I guess he has to be since he’s a psychiatrist! Now you see, that self-awareness example may be just them thinking they are aware, but really, they’re not because they haven’t admitted there’s a deeper reason. Fear of being wrong maybe?? πŸ˜‰

  10. Jackie i think you are so right. I’ve just done character interviews for the first time for my characters and i couldn’t for the life of me figure out my heroes main goal and motivation (i was trying to think like him). I knew what it was of course, but he didn’t.
    At the beginning they shouldn’t know all the answers, it is totally part of their journey to learn them, and i finally worked that out after reading your post.I thought i’d missed something and had to think of something else for him. thanks!

  11. Mine are certainly dense… I don’t know whether it’s really appropriately so but hopefully they can see the line from where they’re standing and will eventually go and stand on it during editing.

    Either that or I’ll pull all my hair out.

    Huge congrats on finishing that major edit!!! Get out the good chocolate for celebrating that πŸ˜‰

  12. Great post as usual. I think I’m pretty good at ensuring the hero is adequately dense. I honestly don’t think most men really look at issues and problems the way women do and I do try to reflect that in my writing. I try to find a balance with my heroines on the other hand. Yeah, there might be some light bulb moments and growth throughout (and at the end of the novel of course), but I think you have to make sure you don’t make her too clueless. The reader has to feel invested in the heroine especially, and having a silly idiot who can’t see what’s right in front of her doesn’t get much reader sympathy I’m guessing. She has to be redeemable and the reader needs to believe that early on. It’s a tough line to walk to be sure!!

    Good going with your edits!

  13. Lacey – I scarfed all the good chocolate during the first draft sadly. I need a secret stash somewhere I think.

    Kaily – yeah, men are way more dense when it comes to their feelings and things. Or at least, they tend to take things at face value a lot more, while women angst and worry. Some women. πŸ™‚ Yes indeed, the heroine must be sympathetic. Though I have to say that I find a heroine that is really aware about other people, but can’t see what’s going on for herself rather endearing. πŸ™‚

  14. Lol, I have the same problem. Heroes and heroines who sit there and self-analyse themselves to death!

    I gues it comes down to the old ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. The heroine bites her nails, and that’s good, because you see her anxieties in action. But if she’s biting her nails at the same as rambling through some ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ interior monologue splurge on the page, it’s not good.

    If only I could remember that myself when actually writing … grrr.

  15. Jane – I’m so with you! Especially as men I think don’t sit there angsting about it. Or should I say, most men. Anyway, I hope now I haven’t made my hero too dense!

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