One of the most common complaints I get from my critique partners is that they don’t know what my character is feeling. And the reason is all too obvious. I skimp on my character’s interior thoughts. Why? Because when I write, I assume the reader should be able to figure out what the character is feeling based on everything that’s happening around him. Shouldn’t that be enough?
No, because the reader doesn’t know the character as well as the writer does and because there’s rarely only one way in which a character might respond to an event. Is the character embarrassed when someone laughs at him, or does he become angry? Or defensive? Or confused? Without interior thoughts to help guide them, the reader may end up assuming a completely different emotion from what the writer intended. And based on comments by my CPs, that happens to me a lot.
Even if the reader guesses the right emotion, you’re still not making your story the best it can be if you skimp on interior thoughts. You want the reader to be emotionally invested in the story, and the best way to do that is to let them experience the character’s emotions right along with them. And that’s not happening if you don’t include the character’s interior thoughts.
But interior thoughts aren’t just about imparting feelings and emotions. They also act as signposts for reader, guiding them through the story, hopefully in the direction you wanted them to go. Want the reader to fall for a false clue? Let the MC think about the clue and the reader will often take the bait. Want the reader to detest another character? Make sure the MC thinks about how detestable that character is. If a reader sees your character thinking about something, they’ll assume it’s important.
This is doubly important for me because I write fantasies where unusual things happen around my MC or where my MC is surrounded by other characters with unusual habits or strange senses of humor. (Think Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy kind of stuff). I’ve found that if I don’t take the time to have my MC reflecting on how unusual these events are, my CPs often end up staring at the page in confusion.
For example, if I have a secondary character open an umbrella before they walk inside a house, and leave it at that, my CPs will assume I miswrote the sentence. But if I have the MC stop and stare and think “what’s up with that?” then my CPs will assume there was a reason for this action, and will be willing to wait until that reason is revealed.
So if your CPs come to you and say they’re confused about a scene, see if adding more interior thoughts solves the problem.