Interior Thoughts Reveal Character
I spent time yesterday adding more interior thoughts to a character. My critiquers felt they needed to know the character better at this point in the story. I’ve done the requisite “Show, Don’t Tell,” but readers still felt they needed more to really know the character. What does she FEEL here? What is she thinking?
Some things I learned:
- Show, Don’t Tell. Be sure you’ve done this first and done it well.
- Action, Reaction. The right places to put interior thoughts are as a reaction to an action. Or clearly, the story’s pace must be so rapid that there’s no time for thought and the reader understands that the reactions are delayed, but they will come.
- Less is More. I didn’t need lots added anywhere, except once. I just needed to clarify. For example, if A slaps B on the face, B could have many different reactions: I deserved that; how dare you; my last girlfriend did that and therefore, I hate you; etc. The goal here is to clarify what the emotions are.
- The Why of Emotions. This is the hardest for me. Why does the character feel this way? asks a reader. Well, just because they do. Nope, that’s not enough.
I don’t have to explain the WHY all the time, but there are crucial times when it must be there. The reader doesn’t want, “I feel this way because. . .” But there must be something to make feelings understandable.
Flashbacks work here, but should be used sparingly. A hint of a reminder about something earlier might work.
How do YOU handle interior thoughts that reveal emotion and character? Any examples or tips?
One response to “interior thoughts”
About 20 pages into my WIP novel, the heroine faints from fear. In order to make this believable, the reader has to understand why she’s so afraid. So I use a short flashback (which I’ve hinted at prior to this scene) and weave it into the present, as if she’s reliving the experience. Of course, this option will only work once.
In other places, I’ve tried to show my characters’ thoughts vividly. When my narrator pities the antagonist, she says, “A twinge of pity flickered in my heart.” In the next scene, after the antagonist has been a total hag, my narrator says, “I hated her blond insolence.” Yes, I’m telling what she’s thinking, but both are reactions to what has gone before; both are short; both show us something about the kind of person the narrator is; and both connect with overarching images or themes in the story.