My mom’s a shrink – that’s what I tell people when they ask me if I have any psychology background. I can usually whip out a slew of Freudian-based motivations and behavioral changes analysis as fast as I can recall a friend’s phone number. But the truth is that I’ve been perceptive about people’s thoughts and motivations since I was a kid. One of the things I’ve been good at figuring out is relationships, both for romantic as well as friendship, so I maybe analyze books a little too much (or just enough?). I treat characters as if they are real people so when they break character, I can trace it back to when and where and why. One of the big issues I wanted to write about today was the Lone Wolf character, the “I’m better going it alone” type who (almost always) learns the lesson that nothing can be accomplished alone.

Bearing in mind the psychology thing, I started thinking about why this character never works. Why is this character prominent at the beginning of the story but by the end has softened his hard shell to allow at least one other person in? Why must a lesson be learned for this otherwise self-sufficient character?

You see him in romance novels just as often as you see him in mysteries, thrillers, fantasy, even nonfiction to a certain extent. You may even have a picture of him in your head: the lone wolf, the cowboy who rides by himself into the sunset, the quiet guy who doesn’t want trouble (but it tends to follow him around anyway), antisocial, or just plain mean. Maybe he talks, maybe he doesn’t, maybe his whole family died, maybe his family never understood him.

The reason he never works as a complete character is because being alone is a self defense mechanism in writing. Instead of being alone to stop anyone from hurting him, the character ends up hurting himself so that no one can do it for him. There is always something a little bit wrong with a lone wolf character: sure we admire his strength and aloof attitude, but part of what we want is to be around him. We want his strength at our back, we want him to believe in us and confide in us. We don’t actually want him to be alone.

So if you’ve got a cool loner type, make sure he doesn’t stay that way in your writing. If he does, make sure it makes sense because the reader will question why. Also remember that a character who stubbornly refuses to interact with ANYONE usually has something wrong with him. Human beings are social creatures by design and environment: we’re supposed to be around people. Straight-up hermits need to get out of their caves sometimes. If they don’t, we never hear about them. It sounds like one big existential commentary on life, but no one wants to be alone so why would anyone read a story about someone who is completely alone?