Happy New Year!!! *Blows horn* It's time for the post you've so patiently waited for. Stina asked: "How do you find that balance between...inner thought and action when revealing emotion? So many writers use action and visceral responses, but agents and editors are saying they want more inner thoughts." and Dana followed up with: "How do you slow down an action paced novel with internal thought and do so seamlessly?"
Finding the balance between inner thought and action, both in revealing emotion and without hurting the pace, can seem pretty tricky. Some of you may wonder why you have to do it at all. So first let's look at some reasons we NEED that inner voice:
- Without the internal dialogue you are not truly in the characters head, and you want your reader as close to them as possible, so that they are connected enough to share their feelings.
- We use internal thought constantly. It's part of life and it's realistic. I know I have a constant monologue going in my head. Maybe not everyone is quite as bad as I am, but everyone thinks unless you're a zombie. And maybe even if you are!
- We can use internal dialogue to control the pacing of the novel and punctuate certain scenes.
- We can use it to impart information, not only about the character but the plot as well.
Great! Now we know why. So the next step is HOW? I will explain and then give examples.
- When your character has a (to use Stina's term) visceral response to something, they must have a pretty strong feeling/thought associated with it. Let's say I'm terrified of spiders and there's a big hairy one hanging over my nose when I wake up (it's happened). Visceral response? My blood turns to ice, my muscles clench and all at once I burst from the bed with a scream. Overboard? You have no idea... :D Anyhow, the moment I'm out of bed, I will most likely not only start doing the "get off of me" dance and shuddering, I will be thinking things like, 'Why me?' And 'I hate spiders! Why can't they leave me alone? Why does it have to be like that time in third grade?' Etc. Now if we were writing this, I'd say to pick and choose the most powerful and unique responses both internally and externally, but I wanted to give you the big picture.
- If the moment is important to your story/character arc you should slow it down and focus on it. The ten minute car ride to school should not take as many pages as the confrontation with the monster spider. One way to do this (and make it meaningful at the same time) is to highlight it with thoughts. The wonderful thing about thoughts is that they don't take very long in reality, so we can have that moment of internal dialogue as the pincer is about to pierce the flesh of our MC. And doesn't that add to the tension?
- Ah here's the biggest one. Physical responses can mean different things to different people. So if you don't make it clear what the character is thinking, the reader may have an entirely different interpretation than intended. We can even turn this around and use it so that our MC misinterprets the response of another character. We do it all the time in real life, don't we? Oh so many delightful misunderstandings...
- BUT you say. Isn't this telling and not showing?? Isn't that a cardinal rule that we hear over and over again??? Not necessarily. You can show a lot through internal dialogue. What a character thinks at a certain point says a lot about them. Where's the first place your head goes? Maybe we now know how selfish she is or how much a certain person means to her.
Without internal dialogue:
The hilt of the broadsword slipped in my palm and I tightened my grip, adding my other hand for support. My eyes darted around the darkened room, searching the dancing shadows for the hint of something more. I edged further into the room. Moments later hot breath bathed my neck and I whipped around to find a hundred eyes centered on me. The sword clattered to the ground.
A fine paragraph.
The hilt of the broadsword slipped in my palm and I tightened my grip, adding my other hand for support. I could do this. I had to do this. My eyes darted around the darkened room, searching the dancing shadows for the hint of something more, aware that each moment might be my last. Every fiber in my body begged me to leave. To turn around and run. But I couldn't let Grayson die because of me. I edged further into the room. Hot breath bathed my neck and I whipped around to find a hundred eyes centered on me. The sword clattered to the ground useless.
Which one was better? What did the second have that the first didn't?