Tag Archives: emotions

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

You’ve picked out your character’s eye color, hair color, and favorite ice cream.

You have even chosen their personality type, their deep dark secret, and deepest fear. You certainly haven’t ignored their greatest desire and figured out how their objective in the story works with, or against, this desire.

So have you thought about adding a few defense mechanisms?

7 Defense Mechanisms You Could Give To Your Character

A defense mechanism is a way that we handle stress.

Defense mechanisms are often involuntary and can be seen as a form of self-deception. Your main character needs one or two because he shouldn’t be perfect. They should have a reason that they react to certain situations certain ways. They also could have been taught how to do this in their dysfunctional childhood.

A defense mechanism is often a subtle nod to the past, a protective strategy or a bad habit. It could even be a lie that they have built their life on.

Your character should see this behavior as normal. Once you’ve decided what mechanism your character is going to use, then put them in a position where it will not work. He will have to make a tough choice as to what to do next. This could freak him out completely. Let’s all pull the rug out from under our characters.


Denial is probably the most common of self-deceptions. People just can’t admit the truth about their situation. “I can stop drinking anytime I want.” “I don’t have to tell her every day that I love her, she just knows.” People use this device because they are afraid of admitting that they are in the wrong. They also fear change, because if they fully understood what they were doing, they’d have to take responsibility for their actions. Those who deny are seeking comfort in the short term because they don’t want to deal with the future. Denial can be deadly, it can alienate relationships, it can cause disaster. Your main character should deny something but then come to a place where he has to face reality. This can set him on a series of uncomfortable changes that could be good for him.


Intellectualization is kind of like denial, but it’s the logical justification for an event that allows the feeler to deny all emotions. People who are typically colder or less sensitive may react to bad news with no expression. They may be matter-of-fact about the event and appear to everyone to have complete control of their emotions. But they don’t. They may speak about logic, “there’s not much we can do about it now.” But then, something else will happen that will pull the plug on their emotions and they will reveal how painful they find the circumstances. Their emotions at this point could be very intense because they’ve kept it inside for a long time.


Repression is another thing that people do to themselves. To repress is to forget a negative experience and to not deal with the pain and sorrow of it. People who repress their memories of bad experiences are afraid. They don’t want to relive the experience to be free from the emotional consequences of it. They also may want to avoid any responsibility that they may have. If you have a character who is repressing something significant, have them remember! Then spend the rest of the book wrestling with the fallout from this memory. Repression can stall personal growth, it can subconsciously force someone to self-sabotage their plans or activities.


Rationalization is another way that we lie to ourselves. We try to explain negative situations away. We cover up our mistakes and refuse to admit that our weakness could have caused them. The worst of us actually abuse others and then explain why we can get away with it. Rationalizers honestly believe that they will not be held responsible for their actions. They can’t fathom the idea that they are guilty. If your main character is a rationalizer, it could be that they aren’t that likable. Rationalization could be better suited for a villain who sees himself as a hero in his own eyes.


In displacement, the strong emotions, usually negative ones, are not given to the person responsible for them, but rather in another scenario. You poor main character has just been jilted by her boyfriend. He’s seeing another girl! Now your main character still has to do the grocery shopping, so she calmly gets through her list and goes to check out. The cashier asks her question, “do you have any coupons?” And our main character snaps back, yells at the cashier and bursts into tears. This is displacement because our poor jilted young woman placed her strong emotions on the innocent. Your main character can do this too!


For example, Desdemona really believes that she is too fat. She went to school, minding her own business, and realized that she had been left out of an activity. Everyone else is going except her. She concluded that this is because she is fat.  She’s projected her conclusions about herself onto another situation. There was once a father I knew who accused my children of being depressed. I went to a friend, a social worker — someone I knew who could spot depression — and she found this accusation laughable. It turns out that the father had seen depression in his own children. He projected it onto mine because he didn’t want to deal with it. Your characters could do the same thing.


This term comes to me just as I finished watching clips of “Much Ado About Nothing.” In this Shakespearean play, two characters, Benedick and Beatrice spew banter back and forth, decrying how much they can’t stand each other. But their friends secretly believe that they love each other. The friends set them up to fall in love, but therein lies the question. Did they love each other? Were those fiery barbs really signs that they couldn’t bear to be apart? This is reaction formation. This is when what we say and how we really feel are in opposition to each other. This is an intense form of self-deception and it happily plays itself out in romances. Because of “Much Ado About Nothing,” I’ve decided to put a bit of this in my fantasy work-in-progress.


If you have a character that is the life of the party, a stand-up comedian or a class clown, you may have someone who is using their joking personality as a way to deal with their pain. I know that when I’m nervous about a situation, I make jokes. Part of me believes that lightening things up a bit will make everyone at ease. But the reality is that I want others’ attention off of me and my weakness. I’d rather not deal with the pain of the situation and I’m hoping, probably falsely, that humor is a good substitute for authenticity.

A well-rounded character is one that has weaknesses and isn’t completely perfect in the eye of the reader.

If you have characters that have pain in their past, consider giving them any of these defense mechanisms as they deal with those around them.

A good defense mechanism is far more interesting than eye color. For a deeper explanation of these defense mechanisms, click here.

For more tips on rich character development, try: 5 Super Powers & 5 Sources of Kryptonite for Abused Characters or Top 10 Questions To Ask About Authority Figures That Could Beef Up Your Conflict

10 Ways To Lift Yourself Out of That Writing Funk



Being in a funk comes with the writing territory.

Because writers are already of the sensitive, angsty type, we are the first to fall into a depressive funk. At best, these funks slow us down and sap our motivation. At their worst, the blues can paralyze your creativity completely. You could be so down you pick up self-destructive behaviors. (Don’t do that! Addiction is never flattering!) I know I’ve sat down with my word count and my work-in-progress looming wanted it to go away. 


What should you do instead if you’re feeling a little down?

Take a self care inventory. Are you getting enough sleep? Have you eaten well? Do you have any symptoms that need to be remedied medically? Are you well hydrated. Sometimes all we need is a little personal TLC to chase the blues away.

Determine the cause of the funk. I’m writing this post in the middle of a funk. I thought that the reason I was down was because I didn’t see the results I wanted in something I tried. But I think now that I’m emotionally exhausted from making three major decisions in the course of a week. No wonder I’m blue. I don’t have any emotional energy.

Pick up a pencil. There’s value in being creative while you’re feeling down. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, you’ll feel better if you’ve accomplished a little toward your dreams. After the timer goes off, you may feel your spirit lightened. You may even want to write more.

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Vent.  Often just finding an appropriate adult to talk to about matters is the best medicine. Find someone trustworty with whom you could get your frustrations off your chest.

Be honest with your emotions. Sometimes we feel down because we aren’t owning up to what’s really bothering us. I’m also kind of upset that someone in my life is way too anxious about the future. Maybe I’ll talk to them about that. Maybe I won’t. Either way, I need to at least be honest with myself.

“Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right. They don’t need to show me thier badges. I know these guys very well.”
Elizabeth Gilbert

Count your blessings. A sure fire way to beat the blues is to list, literally or figuratively, all of the things that are going right in your world. Maybe spend 10 minutes on gratitude before you start your creative work. I’m sure your mood will shift a little.

Give yourself room to fail. I know that when I fail to meet my own expectations, I’m down for a while. How better it would be if I would give myself a little grace. I need to stop connecting my value to my achievements and accomplishments and be content at times.

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”
Dodie Smith

Yoga, breathing and meditation. It isn’t hard to stop and breathe deeply for ten minutes. Your body has a way of resetting itself with deep breaths. Think about your gratitude list, or affirm yourself for a few minutes. Stop and stretch and relax all your muscles. You will feel better when you seek a bit of physical peace.

Seek professional help. This is the most important item on this list. A professional mental health worker can give advice that a writers blog never should. I know that seeing a therapist regularly made a huge difference in my life. Most insurance covers this cost. Make the call and don’t hesitate.

“I am in that temper that if I were under water I would scarcely kick to come to the top.”
John Keats

I also asked my friends on my Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists, what they would do. Here are their answers: 

Rebecca Williams Waters I walk. A little exercise gets me feeling better and my mind refreshed.

Jane Lebak I find some kind of word count tracker, that way I am forced to “feed the ticker” every day.

Sheri Williams All the time. I read when it gets to bad. Or listen to really loud music.

Sara Marschand I find a buddy who’s working and they help focus me, if it’s not too bad, but sometimes I bingewatch my anxiety away.

“I have deep feelings of depression… What can I do about this?’
‘Snap out of it! Five cents, please.”
Charles M. Schulz

Sandy Stuckless Switch projects. Maybe playing around with a new idea for a bit gets me excited. I also second Sheri‘s comment. Loud, heavy music, usually wakes me up.

Erin Phillips Oh am I feeling that right now! It’s awful how outside things can effect our motivation to write, but for me journalling about the problems I’m feeling gives me some release before I try to do anything else. Otherwise, I find my current upset-ness infiltrates my writing more than I’d like.

Leya A Brown I journal for a little to unload the junk.

Christine Hennebury I write a bit about what is bothering me and then I ‘put it away’ for short periods of time.i.e. I set a timer for 10 minutes and write about something else. Then I go back to the writing about the issue. Then I take a break.

Pam Humphrey If I don’t go read or watch Netflix, I will sometimes pick a scene in my WIP I like and read for a bit. It helps pull me into my own story.

Michele Mathews I’m in a winter funk, too. We haven’t seen the sun in a few days. Sometimes reading or watching TV helps, but the best thing for me is to go to Starbucks. I get a task or two I want to get done while I’m there. Getting out of the house gives me different scenery and being away from the house makes me focus on my writing. I can’t get up and do anything else and get sidetracked.

Tanya Miranda Find a prompt online. Sometimes, I’ll find a really nice art piece and try to write something to go with it.

We all have down days.

You don’t want your blues to control too much of your life. You surely don’t want a dark day to sap your creativity. Try these suggestions to life yourself out of that writing funk.


Why I Stopped Journaling And How It’s Made Me Happier and Healthier

Once, a long time ago, I thought that my journals had magical powers.

Why I Stopped Journaling And How It's Made Me Happier and Healthier

Journals, were, since I had started writing in one at age 14, a place were all my feels (and believe me, I had a lot of feels) were safe. My journals were a place that I could take out my feels.  I could analyze them. I could ruminate on them. I took each thought as if it were a pebble from a pocket run my fingers across its jagged edges. With a journal you can go back and remember pain. I would analyze events and observations the way an astronomer analyzes the stars. I wanted clarity perhaps, or affirmation, or some sense that these ramblings had importance.

From the time I was 13 to the time I was 27, I kept a journal. I had spiral notebooks. I am left handed, so I found blank journals a little difficult to maneuver, so I preferred either a cheap portfolio that I could put loose leaf paper in or a spiral notebook — several subject, college ruled, that would lie flat on a table as I wrote. I liked writing in pencil or quality fine point pens. I decorated the books sometimes with cutouts from magazines. I had one that was full of pithy sayings “Dreams are wishes that only have wings” or stuff like that and I would write snarky things underneath it. I had one that had the transparent overlay of a blond girl in a pink dress with flowers all around her and I had a lot of fun, on every page, adding in my own unflattering embellishments. My anger was very real in these pages. So was my sadness. My darkness. My loneliness. My despair.

I kept all of these journals, from the time I was 14 until I turned 27, in pristine condition, hoping that someone else, perhaps my children, would see the value in these words. Couldn’t I share my pain? Couldn’t they feel sorry for me?  I really thought that any truths that I came up with in the process of writing was not just a truth, but it was a SPECIAL TRUTH only I could see. I thought that these journals were the anchor of who I was. I thought that if I spritzed them with an air of prayer and spirituality that they would be like incense or an offering of sorts and it would make me more worthy or more spiritual or more mystical or something. I thought my children would see this too. I thought that this raw honesty would be instructive. I never thought it would be creepy.

At age 27, I stopped writing in my journals as regularly. I had married. And I had five babies in less than eight years. My box of journals sat ignored and unattended to. As my maturity and responsibilities grew, the power of the journals weakened.
I cleaned out that box.  I flipped through them. The magical truth that I thought penetrated every page wasn’t really magical at all. It was just sad. It was self-indulgent. It was emotional masturbation. It was too much. It was not enough. There was nothing magical or spiritual about it. I didn’t think that my children would ever see the value in these meanderings. They would see their mother not as someone who was strong, but someone who was perhaps victimized or self-pitying or self-righteous or condescending or narcissistic.

Would I miss these journals if they were gone forever? I had lived without them for years and hadn’t thought to much about them. I decided they weren’t worth carrying around.So I unceremoniously took them to the curb and let the trash truck take them away. 

By not journaling every morning, this is what happens:

  1. I start the day thinking about what I have to do instead of what’s been done to me.
  2. I don’t allow my emotions to lead me, I take control of them.
  3. I don’t allow negative ruminations to snowball, causing destruction in my real time relationships.
  4. I don’t have a record of sins. Either my sins or the sins of others.  I can’t go back and remember pain if I have no track of it.
  5. I am far freer to forgive and walk in grace, forgiving myself as well as others.
Often I see advice that says, “all writers should journal because . . .” and while I can see the value for some, I think it’s a bad idea for me.  But I think my reality is this:  words have too much power over me and they drag my emotions down. The words in my journal will naturally lean toward the negative and destructive and be tainted by this air of writerliness or spirituality and for me, it’s not necessarily a safe place. It’s safer to stay away.
My words are my toys but they are, at times, a choking hazard. They suffocate. They have too much power and I have to be careful. 
What do I do instead? I blog here. I vent on a all purpose document and promptly delete it. I take the more sensible parts and put it in my weekly newsletter. I save bits and pieces of emotion for my characters and make them richer. I put these now tamed emotions into a container and tell them to behave.
I have a new healthier way to write and I think, that for me, it will make all the difference.



I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.

Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward, PTSD survivor, and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day.Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement and community. She lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her new novel, Soulless Creatures, which is about two 18 year old boys, not vampires, will be released August 2015.


Free Copy of Soulless Creatures for any OU Alumni! by Katharine GrubbWorking-class future leader Roy Castleberry and pampered over-thinker Jonathan Campbell are 18-year-old freshmen at the University of Oklahoma who think they know everything. Roy thinks Jonathan could succeed in wooing Abby if he stopped obsessing over Walden. Jonathan thinks Roy could learn to be self-actualized if he’d stop flirting with every girl he meets. They make a wager: if Roy can prove that he has some poetic thought, some inner life, A SOUL, then Jonathan will give him the car he got for graduation. Roy takes the bet because he thinks this is the easiest game he’s ever played. Roy spends the rest of the school year proving the existence of his soul, competing against Jonathan for Abby’s attention, dodging RAs who are curious about the fake ID ring in his room and dealing with his past. For Roy and Jonathan, college life in 1986 is richer, (both experientially and financially) than either of them expected.

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Soulless Creatures by Katharine Grubb

Soulless Creatures

by Katharine Grubb

Giveaway ends October 10, 2015.

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Fall in Love with Your Characters (So The Reader Will Too) — A Guest Post By Jessica White

One of my favorite parts of writing is creating characters.  As a reader nothing makes me fall into a story faster than falling in love with a character.  It’s like meeting a new neighbor or making a new friend.  Even the antagonists are interesting to meet from the safety of my mind.   I love watching them grow in depth and complexity, learning their quirks, hobbies, backstories, and what makes them tick.  You can tell the exact same plot line from a million points of view, and each time it will be a different story, because each character will make different decisions.

Fall In Love With Your Characters So Your Readers Will Too

For many writers a character begins a bit preconceived.  You’ll know something distinct about how they look, their gender, age, and maybe one or two characteristics about them.  That first glimpse is the same information you’d get saying hello to the cashier at the supermarket or the lady waiting next to you in line.  In real life, we know that in that brief encounter we can only make assumptions about who they are from what they’re wearing or how they speak. Yet that is often all we give the reader to go on when we don’t dig deeper into getting to know our characters

So how do you get to know your character better?  That’s a hard question to answer.  The process is so unique to every author but ask yourself, “How do I like to get to know the people around me?”  For me that process is talking.  I talk to my characters. I often find asking the right question gets me very insightful answers.  For other writers it will be sticking their new characters in situations to see how they react and how they make decisions. For others it will be a bit of both.  The important part is identifying when you’ve developed a great character, and you’ll know that when you fall in love. 

What makes us attracted to people in real life is also what attracts us to great characters. We like people that we can identify with and people that inspire us to be better people. In author speak…they have to be relatable.

First, they have to have weaknesses, flaws and quirks.

Making Your Characters Memorable

Comic books are making a comeback in the TV market. As I’ve watched all these beloved old characters be brought fresh into the 21st century I’ve noticed what I love about them is their non-superhero side.  Yep, it is Clark Kent (Superman) at the newspaper fumbling papers and not so perfectly in control. It’s Barry Allen (the Flash) struggling with the fact his father is wrongly incarcerated.  I can relate to feeling clumsy and frustrated by injustice.  I want them to succeed, because they also have a unique gift they can use to do good.  If we are realistic with ourselves, we all have that inner power to do good, pursue justice, and even attain greatness, but because it isn’t a superpower, we don’t always see it.  So watching superheroes do amazing things make us a little braver, too.

As a writer, it is easy to get to know our characters’ strengths, but it is often their weaknesses that the reader identifies with first.  The reader needs each character to have flaws and quirks that they can relate to.  Often that is in direct opposition to the characters’ giftings.  The fact that the Flash could extract his father from prison without getting caught is half the internal conflict.  The other half is his desire to do good with his powers versus those who would do evil with theirs. 

cab JW

Second, they have to have a backstory

Unless the character is there in the background for necessity like the maid leaving the hotel room two doors down, one cameo and no speaking lines, your character needs some kind of identity and that requires a bit of backstory. The more you know about every character the more real your world and interactions will be.  Not only that but you can get some really awesome chemistry when you add the minor characters like the taxi driver that’s having a bad day or the lady sitting nervously in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, if you take just a moment to let them express themselves. 

In my own book there is a nun who is always cooking in the kitchen.  She has no lines, but she is identified as Sister Monica.  Now my readers never hear her backstory, they never see anything other than a general attitude and a few gestures.  But when I see her, I see this woman raised in Spain who came to America as a teen and joined the convent to escape the tenements and a life of working in the textile factories of New York.  She never learned English so she doesn’t speak much, but she listens. This comes out in her character’s mannerisms.  After one of the character’s mother dies, she teaches him to cook, because she too lost her mother and had to take over household responsibilities and understands how important food is to family.  She puts love into her cooking and it shows in how she lets him taste her soups and makes his sandwiches just the way he likes. While the reader may never glean the depths it’s there behind every description of every action.

You may think creating backstory is hard, but really it is saying what makes them who they are? 

Third, they have to be real.

When was the last time you met a perfect person?  I’m sure you can say some model has a perfect body or hair, but really no one is perfect, and those pretending to be are obnoxious. So why do so many writers let their characters be perfect?  They have no physical flaws, always make the right decision, always have the right attitude for the situation.  Whenever I’m working with a new character who is still putting on a front, I always think of Ms. Frizzle’s quote, “Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.” In the best scenes all three happen.  What happens when this character is asked to take a risk?  How do they respond to failure? When life gets messy, how do they handle (or not handle) it? 

This is a great exercise for leading characters, but authors often fail to do the same for secondary and tertiary characters. Often you end up with cookie cutter sidekicks, best friends, or servants.  For instance, the ideal butler answers the door, bids the person welcome to wait in the adjoining room while taking their hat and coat.  That’s fine, but the reader is going to gloss right over them.  If you want a reader to take note, have six-foot tall Frankenstein-ish, Lurch (Addam’s Family) answer with, ‘You rang.’ Immediately, they know something about the butler and the family who lives in the house.

Making Your Characters Memorable

Secondary and tertiary characters can set a tone and evoke an emotion in the reader by simply the way they appear, act, and speak.  A mousy old man with a limp in his step and a gentle smile, says that he’s been kept around long past his prime. A broad-shouldered woman with her hair tightly pulled back from her face whose words are snippy, gives the reader an immediate unease and a desire to not pass the threshold. 

So look at your character list and find one you don’t love.  It could be the boring typical sidekick who adds no depth to the story, a whiney antagonist who doesn’t have a backstory, or the one-dimensional hero who needs more depth.  Pick one and spend ten minutes getting to know them better, who knows it might be love at first sight.

Jessica White
Jessica White

Jessica White is an admin for the 10 Minute Novelists Facebook group. Her book Surviving the Stillness came out last year. She blogs at https://authorjessicawhite.wordpress.com