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How and why you should develop intuition in your characters

This morning, I was working out at the gym on an elliptical machine, not thinking of anything, when suddenly an intense sadness welled up inside me. Having lost my husband over two years ago, I thought it was another layer of grief so I allowed it to rise up and release but instead of releasing, the feeling became more intense and raw. Tears welled up as I continued to work out. I couldn’t figure out what had triggered the feelings and why they were so incredibly strong. And then a thought flashed through my mind—whose feelings are these?

From years of working with and helping people, I know that sometimes I’ll intuit other’s thoughts and feelings, but I’m usually pretty good at recognizing when this happens and setting up my boundaries. For me, this means doing a specific visualization.

This morning, the thought persisted that the sadness I was feeling wasn’t mine. I looked at the man working out on the machine next to me. He didn’t look sad. He didn’t look as if he was in pain. He seemed fine.

But just in case, I did my visualization exercise and continued to work out. The sadness continued. So I tried another experiment. I left the cardio room and went to the weight room. The feelings disappeared and I forgot about the incident.

Twenty minutes later, I was using the pull up machine when that incredible sadness overwhelmed me again. I almost couldn’t breath. I looked around me. Less than three feet away was the same man working out on a nearby machine. Wow! I couldn’t believe it. Then the man got up and walked out of the room. The sadness left with him and I could breathe again.

This morning’s experience reminded me how intuitive we all are. I’m not special. I’m not an empath (I really dislike this word because I’ve heard too many people use it to imply entitlement or a certain superior-ness). I’m just a person who has gone through a certain amount of trials in life that have allowed me to develop my intuition. And I know many others who have developed a strong sense of intuition due to their environment or work.

A friend told me once that his intuition saved his life more than once while he was flying fighter planes over Vietnam. I have friends in law enforcement who have highly developed intuition based on years of being on the street, dealing with all kinds of people. They’ve developed a sixth sense about people and situations. I know a doctor who has saved many lives by using a combination of his skill and intuition.

This line of thought started me thinking about my main character in my fantasy novel—a young woman who has natural healing abilities. She’s a veterinarian who can feel what her animal patients are feeling. As the story progresses, she discovers her other gifts and learns how to develop them. But I realized there was still too much I didn’t know about my character because I hadn’t asked enough questions.

Questions such as:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10 how intuitive is she?
  • Where does her intuition come from?
  • Did she have a stressful experience that somehow forced her to develop her intuition? Or was she born this way? Or, is it a combination?
  • How does she feel about her intuition? Does it feel like a blessing? A curse? A combination?
  • Does she use her intuition in her daily life? If so, how? Is it just with her animal patients or does she use it in deciding what route to take to work each day?
  • Is her intuition a main character trait or something more subtle that she may not even be aware of?

Even though I’m writing fantasy, intuitive characters can show up in any genre.

Some of my favorite characters have a certain intuition about them whether they are hardened detectives who’ve honed their sixth sense about killers over the course of their career or someone like Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield character, a Native American guide who helps people in trouble disappear. Jane’s intuition comes both naturally and through years of experience in helping others.

Why would you want to explore your main and secondary characters’ intuition? Because understanding who your characters are at this deep level will make them more rounded, more human, and more believable.

Even if it turns out your character is as intuitive as a doorknob, at least you will know this and you might even decide to use this knowledge somehow in the story. Does your character make fun of how unintuitive they are? Or does another character make fun of them? For example, I’m aware of what a klutz I am so when I do something klutzy, I make fun of myself and laugh it off.

I hope you have fun using the questions above to explore your characters’ intuition.

Do you have any favorite intuitive characters in literature or movies? Please share in the comments.



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