It’s 99.9987% impossible for me to read my fiction with objectivity, but on those occasions where life has dragged me away from it for a month or more, I think I catch glimpses of how it might sound to someone else.
I once hired an author (of some excellent fantasy work) to take a pen to one of my stories.
He crossed out most of the inner monologue.
Action…dialogue…more Action…then this inner monologue: “
She knew he had to be kidding. After all, a nuclear physicist couldn’t be this naive.” Action…dialogue… etc.
So I was scratching my head because I kept coming across page-turners with inner monologue everywhere.
What’s the deal?
Suddenly today, feeling unusually awake and anxiously separated from my story by several weeks, I was reading from the top and cringing at how self-conscious and amateurish the inner monologue sounded.
OK, let’s pretend I didn’t admit that, so you’ll still read the e-book I’m working on, Writing Meaningful Page-Turners.
Reading my inner monologue sections, I couldn’t help but picture some gallant author with something interesting to get across to his (two reluctant) readers. This “interesting something” would also show the brilliance of the stuff that goes through this character’s head. Two birds with one stone.
But it didn’t work because…
It didn’t sound like the character was thinking any of this stuff. It sounded like the author was wedging in pet thoughts.
The books say not to “slow the story down,” with this sort of thing.
I say, where’s the fun in that? I’ve got ideas. What, am I supposed to keep them to myself? Forget it.
And the truth is, stories are full of important ideas.
It’s just that when professionals create inner thoughts for their characters, they don’t slow the story down, they make everything more interesting, more real, more important to the character and more gripping to the reader.
They make it sound as if their clever thoughts are actually coming from the character herself, not from an over-caffeinated author.
How do they do it?
Somebody get me a pen…
The way to make inner dialogue sound natural, like it’s coming from the character rather than from you, is to attach it to sharp emotion.
If your character feels strong emotion in her inner monologue, people are going to believe it’s really her.
She could be thinking about something as dry as statistical significance (p-values), but if she cares about it, the story moves and builds.
For instance, this sounds self-conscious, like the author is thinking:
“P-values were relevant. Only statistical significance separates penicillin from snake oil. Scientists like these guys should know that, she thought.”
But this rendition of the same thing sound like the character is doing the thinking:
“They’re all idiots! She shook her head. A bunch of amateurs who wouldn’t recognize a significant p-value if it bit them in the leg.”
M. Talmage Moorehead
My current in-progress version of Johanna’s novel is written by a girl from a parallel universe. If you’re interested in intelligent design, weird artifacts, genetics and psychology from the perspective of a nineteen-year-old “Hapa Girl,” it may be a fun read. The protagonist is a genius geneticist with a younger brother who struggles with depression, though you wouldn’t know it to meet him. Her evolving story starts here.
It’s an experiment called, Hapa Girl DNA, and is a hybrid itself – a tightrope crossing of fiction and non-fiction. “Hapa” is the Hawaiian term for “half.” Johanna is half Japanese and half Jewish. In writing her novel, she and I ignore some important fiction-writing rules, partly because we like to test dogmas, and partly because it’s fun to try new things.
But the “rules” are essential knowledge to anyone crazy enough to either break them or follow them mindlessly.
So you could download my e-book on fiction writing, the second to last chapter of which gives my current opinions on many of the dogmatic rules of fiction writing. Downloading that 19,000 word pdf will place you on my short list of people who will be politely notified when my traditional novel is done – possibly before the next ice age. (No spam or sharing of your info. I haven’t sent an email to my list yet. It’s been over a year.)
Next time you’re writing emails, if you think of it, please tell your best and hopefully weirdest friend about my blog (www.storiform.com). Thanks. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.