Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Value of Not Leaving Your Character Alone

My CP dinged me the other day as being too stingy with my MC’s thoughts. And she’s right. It’s one of the (many) areas of writing I need to work on. Interior monologue is a necessary part of fiction, the time when the character ponders what has happened or what is happening or what might be about to happen. It can be used to deliver necessary information and to keep the reader firmly in the mind of the character. After all, stories can’t always be about non-stop action. Sometime the MC just needs to stop and think about things.

This problem often manifests itself when I write a scene with lots of dialogue. I forget to add the character’s thoughts because I assume the reader can figure out what the MC is thinking by his words and actions. This may be true in some cases, but without those bits of interior thought, my characters can seem emotionless and distant.

My biggest challenge occurs when my character is alone and he’s feeling some sort of emotion (nervousness, fear, confusion). Other writers seem to be able to write pages and pages of interior monologue without sounding either overdramatic or heavy handed. Not me. My attempts to write emotionally charged interior thoughts tend to devolve into a morass of cringe-worthy prose within two or three sentences.

The solution? My CP suggested I bring in a throwaway character to solve the problem. Instead of my MC waiting at a train station by himself, thinking about how nervous he is, I'll have a chatterbox show up. That way my MC’s nervousness can be shown by how he responds to the incessant chatter. I'm looking forward to see how well that works.

Question: Do you consider yourself good or bad at adding interior thoughts?


  1. My character apparently has the opposite problem, over-thinking everything.

    BTW, your chatterbox, or whoever shows up, doesn't need to be a throw-away character. In fact, shouldn't be. Think of the cast Rowling uses. It's always better to give a character more roles than fewer. I would suggest you think of a minor character who appears later in the story and bring that person into the train scene or invent a role for this new character to perform later. Okay, now on to my own editing. Arggh!

  2. Hi Ken - I can get really kinda pompous and over philosophical inside a character's head. I like to imagine everything spoken out loud and that really thins out the weeds because in speech you have to cut down the content. If you have access to BBC Radio 4 on Saturday, check out a monster production of Ulysses by James Joyce. Now there's some internal dialogue and I believe a 5,000 word sentence at some point! I admire your quest Ken.