The Importance of Vulnerability

6:00 AM

So, my cousin and I decided to do something. Back in the day, when we were first starting out, we would mail each other copies of our chapters after we finished them. I haven't read everything my cousin, Elle, has written. But I've read a lot of it. Most of it first draft. Completely unedited.

I wanted to read her WIP, Delitescent. She told me I could ... but I had to hand over The Thief's Conspiracy. Draft one.

Great idea, right?

excuse me while i run die in a hole

That was my first reaction. But I have learned a lot since letting her read it. She started it last Friday and finished it on Sunday and ...

It was amazing.

Don't get me wrong - my first draft is horrible. But all first drafts are horrible. We both went into it expecting that.

So I said, right off the bat, that I wanted her to read it for fun. I wanted her to find the good stuff in it. Because I have a hard time seeing that when I'm reading my own work (and loads of other people probably do, too). I wanted to know what parts of draft one were good, meaningful. What she liked. What I should keep. She sent me notes through Pinterest messaging, which I copied into a word doc. I now have a whopping 15k masterpiece of mostly incoherent fangirling. (Yes, Elle. It's that long.)

I'm going to do another post on this later - we call it "encouragement reading" and it's amazing - but today I want to go to a specific instance that's happened to me while reading her first draft.

I was about 50k into it when I came to this scene with one of her MCs.

It wasn't short. It was a good 2k words long. It featured one of her MCs. The mean, hardcore, callous one that's way too fond of her pistols. She's got a strong western accent and does more insulting than breathing.

This scene was not an action scene. It was a quiet moment. This character, so tough and cruel at times, slipped away to visit a place she hadn't been to in several years. And on the walls were pictures.

Pictures she had painted.

There were only a few, and they featured people she had met in her life. People that had impacted her.

She meets an old woman coming down the alley, and when the woman offers her some paint to add to the "beautiful work" already there, this character can't refuse. And when the woman leaves, she takes up her brush and begins to paint.

This scene stopped me in my tracks.

Why? It wasn't heart stopping action. It wasn't a funny messing around scene.

No. It was just a moment. A strong one.

This character, who'd been so mean and even cruel the whole book, has a moment of vulnerability.

It's tempting to shove these types of scenes aside. They're not "entertaining" as we usually go for in books.

But they're deep. They're meaningful. In a book full of crazy twists and turns, a book whose action doesn't stop, just a moment of stillness can be more impacting than any other part of the story.

Moments of vulnerability are important for any character, but especially with those that force themselves into a mask or role. Characters who have to act a lot. Who are under pressure by other people, or are in a situation in life where they have to be someone they're not in order to cope. It's really important for these types of characters to have a moment of vulnerability.

That mask has to fall away at some point. And when it does, it bonds readers to the character even more.

I used to think of "moments of vulnerability" as scenes where the character snaps. Where the tears finally come, where the pressure building the entire book finally spills out.

But in this scene, the character did not cry. She didn't have an emotional break down. She didn't spill all her problems to the wind. She didn't even say a word. She just painted and thought and felt. She could have had a breakdown, sure. That's certainly how some people become vulnerable, but it would be totally out of character for her.

Your character doesn't have to cry or have a break down in order to be vulnerable. In this case, simply showing emotion and softness is a vulnerability, since she's so rough and tough and callous on the outside.

These moments are when you realize a character has been acting. And they're either very different, or sometimes completely opposite, of what they've been giving everyone the impression of.

Moments like this are powerful. Moments like this remind us of our humanity. That no one is exactly how they appear to be. Everyone has a part inside that remains hidden from the rest of the world. Some people might get glimpses of it, but no one will ever truly see it. When you're reading a book, when you're in a character's head, you can see it. You experience that vulnerability with them. And you'll connect on some level, because everyone has worn a mask at some point in their life. Some more than others, but still. Everyone has.

Everyone knows what it's like to try to be something you're not.

Moments like these bond us. They make the story come to life under our fingers. They make it live and breathe, and they make us feel.

Don't underestimate that.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Thank you, Elle, for letting me use your fabulous WIP as an example, and for inspiring this whole post in the first place. <3

I also have an announcement! *clears throat* I am a Christian, as most of you know. (hopefully) And I've been thinking about starting a Christian blog for some time now. This is technically a writing blog, and I wanted to keep it that way so I wouldn't come off as preachy to any non-Christians that liked my writerly advice. I wasn't sure if I could handle two blog by myself, however, so I called upon my friend Carlyn Ross and she volunteered to co-blog with me! Today she kicked it off with a lovely post about what she's going to be studying this year, and I'll be posting next week about why our blog is named what it is, and what I plan to be blogging about in the future.

Please bop over and read Carlyn's first post!

Do you have a moment of vulnerability in your WIP? Care to share? *sly grin*


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  1. HANNAH, HANNAH - how are your posts always so EPIC? Like, this is GOALS, oh gracious. I always look forward to you posting ;). And Elle's book/characters sound AH-MAZING. Does she have a blog?

    YES my characters have moments of vulnerability (and sometimes those moments are my favorite to write!) BUT I can't tell you about them because major spoilers xD.

    Ooh, the new blog sounds SO cool! I'll have to go check it out ... *scampers away to do so*

    ~ Savannah

    1. Ahw <3 No, she doesn't have a blog but HOPEFULLY SOON-ISH. Maybe next year? She wants to wait till she's 18.

      Ahhh yes, well, I'll keep an eye out for those scenes when I read your book (eventually ... hopefully soon) ;)

    2. HOPEFULLY SOON, YES - but the story is taking FOREVER to be ready for the next batch of betas xD.

      OKAY, ALSO - your new blog header is GORGEOUS, I love it. *thumbs up* :D

      ~ Savannah

    3. Ahwww thank you! <3 And I can't wait for it! Will you announce it on your blog? Either way, definitely put me on the list!!!

  2. What a wonderful post, Hannah! As usual, of course. ;) Vulnerability is definitely a really essential component to character development in a story. (also, I find it neat that there seriously are so many components that do make a good story, and that they're all so unique and yet the fit together so well.)

    And as I side note, I want to mention how awesome it is that you have a cousin/close friend with which to exchange work. :) It sounds like you two learn a lot from each other and love working together!

    1. Ahhh I know right? Like, just this one experience has given me so many different elements to think about. There are so many ideas and different ways to approach things. And yes, I am so soooo grateful for her. She is just ... such a blessing to me. I don't know what I'd do without her support and advice. I wish every writer had a cousin that shared the passion!

  3. This is so beautiful, Hannah! I think those moments are my very, very favorite of every novel--I eat them up. Vulnerability is definitely tough with "hard" characters, but so moving. Wonderful wonderful post!

    (and the new blog is cool too!)


    audrey caylin

    1. Ahhh yes. It's like, so you DO have struggles and weaknesses. Kind of a victory moment for me cause NO ONE IS PERFECT XP And no one is all bad, either.

      Thank you for checking it out! :D

  4. I love your blog and how deep you get sometimes. :D Honestly, I tend to NOT notice the vulnerable moments in stories sometimes. But after reading this, I am definitely going to try to see them more often. Thank you! :)

    And I went over to you second blog you linked to, and I love it! I'm so glad that you and your friend created it. :)

    1. Thank YOU! :) I don't think any vulnerable moment has hit me like that one, and it really got me passionate about them. I hope to keep an eye out for more in books I read in the future :D

      And thank you so much for checking out the new blog! I'm so glad you like it!

  5. ...
    you... did... what???

    I'm in awe. I get that the point of this post was to say that vulnerability is important, BUT GOOD GRACIOUS THAT'S INTENSE. I'm. I'm so impressed. That is all. xD

    (cannot wait to see more posts on this new blog! <3)

    1. Eeeeehehehe I knowwwww. It was scary at first, but it helped that she's already read all my old stuff - all the stuff that was 1000000x more horrible. It can only get better! :P

  6. This is such a good post! I'm not really writing fiction right now, but I have some ideas in my head and my MCs will probably be doing the acting thing (a lot).
    (Also, that's incredibly brave, I could NEVER let anyone read my first drafts -_-)

    1. Yeah, it was pretty scary at first XP Oooh you write non-fiction? That's so brave! I don't think I could do that. O.O *hugs your poor MCs*

  7. Sharing my work with others always sends me into a panic. I start refreshing my inbox every five minutes - even if I know it will take my beta readers about two weeks to reply. However its such an amazing feeling when they like what you've written, and as much as criticism hurts, generally the comments are always helpful and ultimately, make me a better writer. Kudos to you for putting your work out there :) Great post!

  8. Oooh I love this post! And I REALLY love how you talked about encouragement readers. <3 They can be totally underestimated in their importance to we writers, heeh, especially when you can kidnap other writers to do this and swap manuscripts with them! I always feel writers need people who are willing to tear your manuscript apart and make it THE BEST...and also people who are just here to fangirl/flail and make you remember why you love writing. BALANCE. TIS LOVELY. <3

    And yesss to moments of vulnerability. They are so so powerful. And I think those are the moments when a character stops being "just a character in a book" and you feel they're so so much more real. CONGRATS ON ELLE FOR THIS AMAZING SCENE!!

    I loved the post! :D


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