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I'm trying to write a story of transformation, in which an extremely introverted and non-confrontational person goes through a traumatic experience, and in the finale takes a stand in defense of themselves.

In most hero stories it seems the protagonist is the opposite of mine, brash and assertive, a risk taker, and quite confrontational, often recklessly so.

My question: Is there is a structure for stories with a too timid hero (male or female) that changes and learns there is such a thing as necessary confrontation and finds the courage to execute it?

Any references to existing stories along these lines is welcome as well.

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    You seem to be ascribing a negative judgment to introversion as a whole. There is no more reason to be ashamed of an introverted personality than there is to be ashamed of an extroverted personality (which has its own set of pros and cons). If by introversion you really mean something like agoraphobia, that's quite different. Or if you mean something else specific, such as having difficulty with public speaking. In terms of answering the question, you'll have to be more detailed in terms of what you mean when you say introverted and why it's bad. Jul 14, 2018 at 12:46
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    There are a large number of tropes that are applicable here, so I don't think this is a unique scenario. See introversion tropes, face your fears, not afraid of you anymore etc. I would also say, a novel without conflict is rather dull, so I'd suggest your character begins their transformation early. Start with a small conflict that they overcome, and build up to bigger ones as the story progresses. Jul 15, 2018 at 14:20
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    You might like "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," the story of a boy with (maybe) Aspergers who solves a pretty harrowing mystery. Jul 16, 2018 at 18:52

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The issue described in your question is not that your hero is introverted, but that he or she is passive. One of the things we seek in what we read is to learn something, and it is difficult to learn from a main character who never makes choices. That, in turn, can lead to frustration with the character, and lack of engagement by the reader.

However, an introverted character can be quite active, and a seemingly passive character can still be making consequential choices. The hero of Remains of the Day is compelling because he's making active choices to shut other people out emotionally and avoid all conflicts.

With all that said, Forest Gump, which I personally loathed, was beloved by millions for its tale of a character whose defining characteristic was floating through life as passively as a feather. (Even Forest, however, had some goals he was pursuing.)

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There's a story structure for almost all characters:

  • A character has a problem

  • They learn about the problem and decide that solving it will benefit them in some way

  • They attempt to solve it. They may either succeed or fail, but the act of attempting changes the character in some way.

  • If they failed, they may either attempt to solve it again, applying the change in their character to come up with a new approach, or the change in their character may have given them a new, different goal, which they pursue instead.

For any particular kind of character, you need to examine how their situation relates to this structure, what about their specific character and their specific problem is relevant to how they would approach solving it, and how they can change in a way that will be interesting and satisfying to the reader.

For anyone with an extreme characteristic, that characteristic itself can be a problem, so it is tempting to have them work on that problem directly. But this isn't the only, or even necessarily the best way. You can have them simply accept (or even be happy with) their characteristic and then use that unique perspective to generate a different approach to another problem, a way of solving things that the reader may not have ever considered before.

And again, the change in their character can be related to their extreme nature, or it could be entirely different. That is something you'll have to decide.

The one problem characteristic that doesn't work well with this kind of structure is for a character who is passive. For this to work, the character must make an active decision to solve their problem. They can start out passive, and can resist making the decision, but unless they do make a decision, many readers will be unsatisfied: they want to see characters solving problems -- it's an interesting plot (perhaps the most interesting plot), and is so ubiquitous in commercial fiction that when it is absent it is strikingly obvious. Therefore, for a passive character, the story structure needs a slight modification:

  • A character has a problem

  • They learn about the problem, but despite being able to appreciate that solving the problem will help them, they do not take any action to resolve it.

  • Events occur that allow the character to change (ideally as a result of a decision that the character has made, even if that decision is to not do something)

  • The change causes them to reevaluate their inaction over the original problem, and they begin attempting to solve it. They may either succeed or fail, but if they fail the attempt changes the character still further. (If they succeed, the story is over, so no further change is necessary.)

  • They may either attempt to solve it again, applying the change in their character to come up with a new approach, or the change in their character may have given them a new, different goal, which they pursue instead.

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A little background on introversion, to set the stage: Here is an article in Psychology Today that describes traits of an introvert (They are fully explained there; I took out the explanations for brevity):

  1. You enjoy having time to yourself.
  2. Your best thinking occurs when you’re by yourself.
  3. You lead best when others are self-starters.
  4. You’re the last to raise your hand when someone asks for something from a group.
  5. Other people ask you your opinion.
  6. You often wear headphones when you’re in a public situation.
  7. You prefer not to engage with people who seem angry or upset.
  8. You receive more calls, texts, and emails than you make, unless you have no choice.
  9. You don’t initiate small talk with salespeople or others with whom you have casual contact.

edited from the link: Introverts can be warm, interested in others, and powerful in their own right. They are less likely to make a social gaffe, such as by inadvertently insulting someone whose opinion they don’t agree with. Because they enjoy reflecting on their own thoughts, they are less likely to get bored when alone than someone who needs constant social stimulation. The only risk they face is that people who don’t know them might think them aloof, or that the introvert feels superior to everyone else.

This is why it is necessary to add the "too timid" descriptor; being an introvert is not automatically negative. But it may combine with timidity, a non-confrontational personality, and a failure to stand up for one's self when it is truly necessary to prevent being victimized, slandered, or bullied.

All introversion means is that your hero is not inclined toward making friends or seeking many personal relationships or wide admiration of others; they are happy with a few friends. "Too Timid" and "extremely Non-Confrontational" make sense as additional personality traits for an extreme introvert, and are justifiably flaws in the hero; generally nobody should allow themselves to be bullied or exploited or lied about, but most of us can empathize with those who do.

All of that explained, in order to have a story, you need problems to overcome, both failures and successes. It is very difficult to have a timid hero that is just persecuted for three quarters of a novel without ever standing up for themselves. Even in Stephen King's "Carrie", you have a doormat character that finally believes (through a cruel prank) that she can have success, but this crashes down on her, and then her revenge is entertainingly horrific.

If the point is to have a character find their courage, the story should probably begin with the hero succeeding with timidity and non-confrontation, casting these traits as "caution" or "diplomacy" or "civility" or "magnanimity" and "a capacity to forgive and forget", any excuse to avoid confrontation. They are not that worried about being timid or non-confrontational, they think it is working for them. An introvert isn't seeking wide approval anyway, and doesn't really care what all those non-friends think of them. That is part of the reason they are drawn to "geeky" non-sexy careers in science and engineering, because (unlike politics and business) success is not measured in how many people like or admire you, but how well you think, and introverts really like thinking, alone, and solving problems.

But then comes a situation where they must stand up for themselves or somebody they love. That is what the story is about.

For brevity I will assume a female protagonist. We open on her normal world, a successful too timid introvert, perhaps mildly harassed or insulted by her peers because she is not appealing to them (and makes no attempt to appeal to them, she doesn't care what they think). She does fear them, and secretly very fearful of violence or persecution.

But then, by the 15% mark of the story we get the first hint that this normal world is threatened.

By the 30% mark of the story this threat is realized and dominates her life. She must overcome this threat.

By the 50% mark, because of her cowardice (as the reader sees it), it looks to the reader like she will most certainly fail. But that is the turning point. In despair, she realizes she must do something with great risk or she will fail. She starts to take the steps to do that, but the "big risk" isn't here yet. The reader is hopeful, but may still doubt if she will be able to finally execute.

By the 75% mark, it is time for the big risk. Now is when she takes it.

By the 90% mark, she confronts her final challenge, the "villain" (maybe a person, but not necessarily, it could be a monster, or disease, or situation like risking her life to save another, it can even be the final puzzle in a mystery that reveals the culprit or secret of the novel).

By the 95% mark, she defeats it, and we have a brief windup.

To me this would be a usable structure.

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