The power of vulnerability for writers and readers.

There’s something that writers don’t want to talk about, but invariably they can’t help themselves. It’s how vulnerable they feel when they give their work to finally be read by an actual reader.

That single most important person, is after all the reader, unless a writer assumes they will  leave all of their manuscripts to age like fine wine in a dark cellar – never to see the light of day. In that viewing there is the vulnerability, but also the magic.

That magic is where the reader gets to see how the writer has taken characters and revealed them. Hopefully the writer has taken a character through some kind of journey. It could be by space ship, cruise ship or time warp, or perhaps a journey of spirit.

What I’ve learned over the past few years of writing, is all readers love to see the vulnerability of a character revealed, then made into a strength, then solve some sort of problem or situation. Essentially, this is called the story arc.

In a writing class from James Scott Bell he had us watch a segment from Casablanca. He showed our class how Humphrey Bogart who is shown as this hard night club owner shows vulnerability in saving first a young lady from the commandment, then Ingrid Bergman and her husband. Yes, a classic love triangle, but we eat it up. There is vulnerability there…and we love it.

In another movie, James Scott Bell showed Harrison Ford in The Fugitive in a hospital scene. Here is Harrison trying to get out of the hospital, but he stops to help diagnose a sick kid, then he escapes. You can hear the audience melt in the room.

James Scott Bell had a term for this, it’s actually a writers or screen writers’ term called “pet the dog.” This is where a character shows vulnerability and endears themselves to the audience or reader.

Do readers fall for this, this obvious vulnerability scene? Well, yes it seems we do. As a reader who consumes two to three books a month, I love when I see an obvious “pet the dog,” scene. I know the writer is bringing forth another element of the character, one that will make the character seem vulnerable, but in revealing it, we see the real strength in the character.

Character strength is something that writers agonize over. Too much and you have a Cyborg in the Terminator, and too little and we’re talking Sponge Bob Square Pants.  I’m sorry for those of you who think Bob is a strong character.

The essence of the struggle a writer faces was laid out to me in an article in Writer’s Digest  by Grant Faulkner called NAKED (ON THE PAGE) AND AFRAID. His lead quote was;

Good writing requires courage – first to give voice to the truth at the heart of every             story, and then to share it with the world of readers.

Grant went on to write that it’s a common fear that one’s life will be confused with the text on the page. I couldn’t agree with him more. In every book I write, I wonder if someone will see some kind of vulnerability in a character in me, and yet, to be true to the work, I need to put that vulnerability out there.

That is what readers really demand. They demand real vulnerability. If they didn’t then the   multi-million dollar industry of true romance wouldn’t be what it is. Sorry I can’t write true romance, but if I could, I’d start with a vulnerable character and build them up until they consumed the world, but have them do with grace, charm and probably really good shoes…yep…I can’t write true romance.

The strange thing about vulnerability is no one wants to show vulnerability, yet we love to see it revealed in novels that have characters overcome their failings and prove their worth. Do all readers see themselves in this. Are we all the voyeurs that I think we are?

Someone who has totally nailed this topic is Professor Brene Brown, she did a TED talk several years back called The Power of Vulnerability. Did people like it? How about over twenty million views! I’d say people were interested.

I’d suggest, now this is just from my point of view, that you take the twenty minutes to hit Youtube, and check out this talk. That is if you aren’t one of the twenty million that have seen her already.

Dr. Brown gave a very refreshing look at what we see as vulnerable. To me, what she revealed is that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we allow ourselves to be creative.

Perhaps that is because we come from behind our masks and shields to where creativity really lives. This is how it feels to me, that old adage is the “turtle only gets ahead when it sticks it neck out,” is perhaps the essence of what I’m getting at in vulnerability.

My goal, is to keep surfing the edges and then to dive into my own vulnerability as I write, perhaps it will access deeper creativity. Who knows, what lies ahead when I and everyone else sticks their necks out…perhaps we’ll all just move a few paces forward.

I wish everyone happy writing and happy reading.

About lylenicholson

Lyle Nicholson is the author of four novels, two novellas and a short story as well as a freelance writer for several Canadian magazines and newspapers. He now lives in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada with his wife where he indulges in his passion for writing, fine cooking and fine wines.
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