Thursday, June 12, 2014

Don;t Be Afraid To Let Your Characters Talk - Understanding Introspection

I do believe that writers lately have been taught to be afraid of narration. You know what I am talking about - those lengthy paragraphs that do nothing more than to "slow the story down." Writers have been pounded so much with the idea of show don't tell and that we have to always keep the story moving forward. Narration and lengthy introspection is simply not going to do it.

The problem is, we now know nothing about the characters. The stories we are seeing now are really lacking a three-dimensional quality to them and the reason is simple. We aren't letting the characters talk.

Let me explain that I am seeing hints of it. Authors are tossing in hints of that introspection. We see a sentence here, a dialogue tag that gives us some insight. Unfortunately, that is all that these are - hints. What I am talking about here is giving the chance for the characters to do a little "monologuing" as they say in THE INCREDIBLES.

Think of it this way. When you have a problem you are trying to work through. Maybe there is a problem at home, your kids are killing you, someone at work is creating some problems, what does your brain do? It monologues. You talk endlessly in your head trying to work through the issue. You look at both sides, you explore your inner feelings and conflicts. The odds are you aren't solving the whole problem in a single line.

It is OK to allow your characters time to be alone with their own thoughts. Give them a chance to speak. We learn so much more about them when they have these longer moments of introspection.

Please note we are not talking about narrative passages that do nothing more than provide back story for your characters. For example"

Sally watched Blake walk out the door. Her mind raced back to when she was in this same library and her father had done the same thing. They had just had a fight and now she was seeing the whole thing play out the same way.

And then we would see the whole story of Sally and her dad. This is nothing more than an information dump.

Introspective narratives spend more time on the inner feelings of the characters. Yes, there might be a hint to something that happened in the past, but we don't necessarily need it. The focus is the internal conflict of the character. We want to see those internal emotions jumping all over the place in our characters head. We want to hear the things the character should have said but didn't know how to, or didn't want to.

Think of how Shakespeare does it. When he wanted us to really know the characters, he got everyone off the stage and let the characters talk. We could see Hamlet trying to sort out his emotions and motivations with the Ghost, his uncle and his mother. We learn so much about Richard II when he is left alone to speak. Even the comedies with Orsino, Malvolio, and Tatiana have given those characters the chance to think through their problems and wrestle with their fears.

Play around with this some. Give your characters a chance to talk and let them be themselves. You might find a new depth you hadn't seen before.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the excellent reminder that it's okay to go inside the character's head and show his thoughts as he wrestles with a dilemma. A lot of the exterior writing probably comes from emphasis to be more like a screenplay. Some teachers say to write the dialogue and actions first, as if it's a screenplay, and fill in the thoughts and emotions later. I tend to do the opposites. Get into the thoughts and feelings first before writing the action and dialogue.