The Inner Critic Gives Depth to Your Characters

Last week, I talked about the insights I am gleaning from Laura Probert’s Writing for Warrior Healing course.  I showed you how to use body awareness to flesh out your characters without a lot of description.

Then I received my second Warrior Writing prompt directing me to pay attention to what my Inner Critic is saying.

And you know what?  Your characters all entertain Inner Critics (ICs) just like yours.  And the messages they receive from their ICs add dimension to their lives.

Your character’s Inner Critics (because we often have more than one) nudge her toward success or failure, depending on how she reacts to the messages received.

Let’s experiment with this like we did last week.

Take a couple of slow deep breaths and allow your mind to empty.  Does it actually become empty?  Or do you now hear your mother’s voice?  “Sit up straight in that chair.  You’ll regret slouching when you get old and stiff.”

Maybe it’s the writing teacher who never quite got your sense of humor.  “Literature is serious writing, and you’ll just never reach that goal.  You should think about changing your major to something less demanding.”

Often it’s the shades of your high school classmates offering their opinions.  “Did you make that outfit yourself?  I guess it’s good to be handy with your hands when you can’t afford the best brands.”

Right-oh.  Now your first order of business is to shake off that queasy, frustrated feeling you get from all that unsolicited advice.  Just breathe it all out and blow it away while telling those voices, “I’ve got this covered, and I’m on my own path, thank you very much!”


Now let’s see how the Inner Critics talk to our characters from last week.

Our Cast of Characters Remains the Same

Nothing changed about who they are and what they’re doing.  But let’s listen in to what their Inner Critics tell them.


Carolina:  She’s hot, she knows it, and she works it.

One long, bare, tanned leg extends from the open door of the convertible.  Once she’s sure she has the attention of every valet on the line, she swings her other leg out, her short skirt sliding enticingly high. 

Inner Critic: “Well, that took entirely too long, Carolina.  Last year, you would have had all four attendants jockeying for your attention before the car came to a stop.  Are you losing your sex appeal already?  You’re not so young anymore, you know.”

Before they get more than a glimpse of something lacy and revealing she unfolds from the car seat like Venus rising from the sea.

IC: “You call that graceful?  My grandmother would have less trouble getting out of a car than you did just now.  Everyone knows you slow down and lose muscle strength as you age.  Who would have thought it would happen so fast for you?”

Dangling her key in front of the closest attendant she purrs, “Promise you’ll take care of my baby, and I’ll make you very happy before I leave.”  Her smoldering gaze stuns the young man into speechlessness.

IC: “Is it just my imagination or was he already eying that horrible little Custer girl while you were trying to seduce him?  She’s only two years younger.  Better get to the lady’s room and check out the hair and makeup.  Maybe another layer of foundation and a brighter lipstick will make you look like you got some sleep last night.”

Only then does Carolina swing into movement, hips swaying, hair floating on the breeze, and red sequined heels winking in the sunlight as she ascends the steps to the clubhouse.

IC: “Watch that step.  You’ll make a fool of yourself in front of the hired help and that little Custer cheerleader.  I hope some of your friends are already here because no one else is watching you walk in.  You’re losing your touch.”


Caleb:  His body serves him, he respects what it can and can’t do, and he takes for granted that it will do what he needs.

As soon as his pickup slides to a stop outside the WildeCat Bar, Caleb shoves the door open.  One booted foot lands firmly in the dust, and before the second one hits the ground, he’s slamming the truck door and on a direct trajectory to the building’s door.  He pauses at the door only to search for the neighbor and fellow rancher he’s meeting for dinner. 

Inner Critic: “Late again.  You want your neighbor to respect you, but you can’t even arrive on time to a meeting you requested.  Your dad taught you better than that.  Time is money.  And you’re wasting both.”

Without a break in his stride, he dodges waitresses carrying trays loaded with pitchers and icy mugs of beer and detours around a group of cowboys attempting to learn the latest line dance.

IC: “Don’t even look at the people having fun.  You’ve forgotten how to spell the word.  Keep on the same track and you won’t have anyone waiting to share a beer at the end of the day.  Heck, when exactly do you call it the end of the day?”

His friend kicks out a chair for him, and Caleb drops into the seat while running a careless hand through his hair. 

IC: “Why can’t you keep up with your work as easily as other ranchers do?  Your neighbor’s had time to have some supper and relax.  And you’re just dragging in on the back end of a problem-filled day that resolved nothing.”

The waitress tries to catch his eye as she slides a cold one in front of him, but he and his neighbor are already deep into talk about the drought.

IC: “If your dad could see you now he’d be so disappointed.  He’d never think of selling off an inch of the ranch.  If he were still alive, he’d have figured out how to make it rain.  This place has been in your family for seven decades.  You’re nothing like your ancestors.  Maybe you should just give up.”


MarySue:  Her body is her temple, and if she has to kill herself with exercise and diet to be healthy that’s just what she’s going to do.

Darn!  She lost count of her ab contractions at the last red light.

Inner Critic: “You have the focus of a gerbil.  How many times have you started over since you left the store?  At this rate, you’ll never finish your sets.”

 That meant MarySue had to do an extra hundred leg lunges before going to bed tonight.  She threw the door of the sedan open and bounced out.  Maybe if she got the groceries inside and put away fast enough, she could catch the late yoga class at the Y.

IC: “Yeah, now you’ll have to take the class where all those svelte soccer moms show up in their fancy outfits.  You’d better dig out the one your mother-in-law gave you last year.  Maybe you can still squeeze into it.”

Passing the mirror on the laundry room door she stopped to run a critical eye over the slight pooch of her stomach.  She knew while she was eating it that biscuit was going to be trouble.  And were those bags under her eyes?  They certainly weren’t there that morning when she left the house.

IC: “A minute on the lips, forever on the hips.  How many times do I have to remind you?  ‘No carbs’ means ‘no bread.’  At.  All.”

Lord, what she wouldn’t give to be able to eat just one delicious, country breakfast without paying for it for the next month.

IC: “Except it wouldn’t just be one country breakfast.  First it would be breakfast, and then lunch.  Then why not dinner since you’ve cheated on your diet all day?  And before you know it you’ll be eating from daylight to dusk.  You might as well take up residence in front of the refrigerator.  You know that’s where you’re going to end up.”

Turning from the mirror in disgust, she jogged into the kitchen with the bags of groceries.  She would do two circuits around the kitchen island before returning to the car for the next load.  Would she never learn that you just can’t enjoy life if you want to be healthy?

IC: “And just who told you were meant to enjoy life?  No pain, no gain.  Except for your hips and belly.  I told you not to eat that biscuit!”


Howard:  His body is giving out on him, but he’s not giving up on it, just giving a lot more thought to every move he makes.

The home attendant reached out a hand to help.  Howard slapped it away.  He may be old and slow, but he could still get himself from one place to another.  Given enough time and a sturdy metal walker.  He never thought the day would have come when his old bones betrayed him like they had last year.

Inner Critic: “Well, you’re a pitiful case, old man.  Looks like everyone thinks you can’t lift as much as your own weight anymore.  Not even enough to get yourself out of a sissy van.”

Now all he could do was squirm on the dense fabric of the retirement home’s van until he could get both feet facing the open door.  At this rate, he’d be wearing out the seat of another pair of pants before you could say, “Bob’s your uncle.”  It wasn’t more than a few inches drop to the pavement, but it felt like miles while his feet dangled as he attempted to reach the ground.  Even when he thought he had both feet on the ground, sometimes he couldn’t tell for sure.  Not a lot of feeling in them some days.

IC: “You’d better hope that nice-looking widow lady isn’t watching right now.  She’s probably having herself a good laugh seeing you squirming around like this.  She’s not going to be interested in sharing your table in the dining room when there are plenty of younger men sniffing around, able to get around without some handsy nursing home attendant hovering over him.”

Today was a good day, though, and he gave a grunt of triumph as he finally levered himself upright with the help of his walker.  Didn’t even crack his head on the edge of the door this time.  Ha!  Maybe they’d have ice cream for dessert tonight and he would celebrate another day on his own two feet—plus two wheels and a pair of metal legs.  What the heck!  He was moving, wasn’t he?

IC: “Yeah.  And for how much longer?  Face it, it’s all downhill from here, you old codger.”


Sit down with your characters and ask them how they feel about the messages their Inner Critics give them.  How do those messages shape the decisions they make?  Do the messages make them want to prove their Inner Critics wrong?  Or do your characters believe every negative thing they hear?  Then allow their reactions to form their stories, defining the choices they make when faced with wrong or right, weak or strong.

Share with us in the comments what you discover about your characters through accessing their Inner Critics.