Monday, February 23, 2015

Characters and Interiority: Thought-Processes

So I was going to write a post on telling vs. showing and why telling is sometimes acceptable but only in small doses (never in large doses; I promise you the reader would roll their eyes). Then I was going to write a post about antagonists and how you have to humanize them in order to make them not only believable, but to allow to reader to sympathize them in some way.

Then I was sitting at my laptop going, "Um, I really have no clue how to talk about either of those right now." So those are coming, eventually; promise!

Instead I decided to write on something that I personally struggle with as a writer; it's something that's also been my thesis adviser's number one suggestion so far after reading the first two rough drafts of two short stories I'm writing for my senior project.


Technically it's not a word, but I'm ignoring that: in my world, it's totally a word. And it's fun to say. So what is interiority? Simply, it's the inner-workings of your character. As the title suggests: it's their thoughts and their thought-processes; it's their vision of the world and how that vision impacts what they do and what they say.

It's a large part of making your reader connect to your characters, and particularly the character whose perspective the reader is spending time in. Whether you're writing in first person or third, interiority is important.

It's also really hard to do without doing a whole lot of telling. In my opinion, at least (remember: I'm horrible at interiority and it's been my adviser's number one suggestion for improving my short stories; I am by no means an expert).

So if I'm not an expert, why am I explaining all this? Put simply: it helps me learn. I hope it helps you learn, too. (Also: I've never claimed to be an expert on anything involved in this writing thing, so there's that, too).

Despite that, I think there's one easy way to both understand your character's inner workings, as well as show the reader the character's inner workings; and it'll sound more natural.

Write your first draft. However you want. By this time, you should already have at least a little bit of an idea of what your character's motives are, so that'll help you write them and their actions. Once you've got the actions written, go back. Start again and add to the skeleton. You know what you're character's doing, now attempt to unravel the why. What makes them come to the conclusions that they do?

There's a lot of work that comes into this part. What's helped me is to consider a number of things:

  • Consider your character's back story. Their history will help define their future; it determines the way they act on psychological scales. Memories are powerful things, so use them.
  • Consider their relationship with others. Everyone's influenced by somebody else. Something somebody else did, something someone else said. Whether that somebody is a friend or an enemy also has an impact, and determines how far under the skin their influence can get. There's also peer pressure: does that somebody want your character to do something? How does that make them feel?
  • Consider recent events. It's pretty common for people and characters to react and do things without thinking things through when they're in high-stress situations. Likewise, they're also going to react in strange ways when they have a longer time to think. Think about how much time they have to make a decision, and also what kinds of things have happened recently that might influence those decisions; odds are these events could be at the forefront of their minds.
  • Consider your character's motivations. I kind of already mentioned this before I started this list, but a character's motivations are absolutely key. Whatever they're doing, and whatever decision they're making, the odds are that they'll be hoping that their actions bring them closer to their goals, whatever it is.
Like I said, I'm not an expert on this. Far from it. Yet the above list are some of the things I've been thinking about in order to explain my character's thoughts and actions in those short stories I'm writing; they all run in conjunction with many of the other comments my adviser has had to say: things about their goals and their relationships with other characters, in particular.

The key is that you don't have to have a detailed list of how one thought leads to another with a character. What you do have to do, however, is make the reader familiar enough with the character;s thoughts and life that, when they do make those leaps, the reader can follow them and use them to gain an opinion on the character.

If that makes sense. I hope? If ya'll have any suggestions or corrections or additions for me, let me have them; what kinds of things do you do or think about to really get your readers inside the mind of your character?

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Blogger @Rae_Slater talks interiority in characters: her biggest struggle, and how she's attempting to get around it (Click to Tweet)

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