Character Development: Step 4 Internal Commentary
"What we like to think of ourselves and what we really are rarely have much in common." Stephen Edwin KingThis article is proving to be more difficult then the others because I'm kind of struggling with the content. I'm comfortable enough in my writing skin to admit this openly, but I'm also stubborn enough to make this article one of my best. I know I sound cocky, but whatever... if it's true then I'm not bragging.
Writers use dialogue to convey their characters' emotions, actions, and personality. We also use dialogue to create a more realistic interaction between characters, but there is always more unsaid between them than is said. I mean, just consider how often we filter what we say to each other in everyday conversation. If we spoke half of the shit we thought, we would have zero friends and/or family left in our Facebook and Instagram accounts. Okay, maybe it's just me, but I doubt it. There're about 150 people who would get it...I should probable clean my social media accounts...
Writers may or may not realize how often we filter the words of our characters and how that filter leaves the reader feeling as if something is missing. It is a wonderful tool in writing if you want to keep your readers guessing about what your character is up to, but sometimes it's important to share your character's' internal thoughts. I love reading a good book and all of a sudden, I get a little bit of insight into the character in the form of italicized sentences. When writers share the private thoughts of the characters with readers, it's as if we now know something about the character that even the other characters in the book don't.
When writing my novel, Âmés Brisèes, my main character's internal commentary was as important, if not more so, as what he said. I know most writers scream from the hills to show don't tell, but not everything can be shown effectively; sometimes, the reader needs to hear what the character is thinking versus seeing how their thoughts affect their actions. What if the thoughts don't cause the character to act differently? But giving the reader that little bit of insight into the character through internal commentary creates a connection.
Example from Ch. 2 of Âmés Brisèes
"You lookin' for something to do today?" She stood on the wrap around front porch of her yellow house in a pretty sky-blue sundress and I swear she looked like the wind was only blowing because she was waving her hand and blinking her thickly lashed lids over violet colored eyes at me.Without knowing the true context of this passage, anyone can figure out being approached by this woman in such a way was a damned good thing. I use John's internal commentary on the situation to express to the readers how this experience is akin to winning the lottery. Anyone within the story, would not know how excited he was because his actions are so mundane, he could be talking to his grandmother.
"Yes, if you need something done. I don't mind doin' it for you." I stayed where I was with my legs planted shoulder width a part, my left arm hanging loosely at my side, and my right hand planted over my brows to shield my eyes from the scorching sun, hoping to catch of glimpse of my walking fantasy standing on her front porch. Pay dirt, here I come!
I could have shown John's excitement by having him shift his weight from foot to foot or maybe having his voice quiver or some other such way, but then the reader wouldn't feel the excitement running through their veins just as John does.
When writers tell the stories of our characters, we do so with hopes that readers will see themselves in the story. We hope they will connect with our characters in ways that make them worry about them as they are shopping for grocery the week after finishing the book. We want our characters to become real flesh and blood in the minds, hearts, and souls of our readers... if this is not the goal, then why the hell are we writing?
The million dollar question:Why is allowing the readers to know the inner commentary of a character important in character development? Three words: depth, intimacy, and voice.
Defined as deep insight, intensity, an apparent existence of three-dimensions. Readers can't connect with flat characters because these types of characters don't change nor do they bring about change as the story unfolds. Readers want to see dynamic characters with personality highs and lows just like they have. Readers need a character to have dirty thoughts about the sexy delivery guy even though she's happily married. They want to laugh at the expressionless thoughts the other characters in the novel are not aware of. Giving readers access to the internal commentary of characters allows an opportunity for them to view the characters as "real" people. Whatever the hell real means. My characters are more real to me than most of the people I grew up with, but I may be a little biased. (Me, sharing my internal commentary with you, lol.)
Intimacy is probably the most overused... Should I use the SAT word, hackneyed... naw, overused is just fine. ...word in the English language. I asked my husband what intimacy meant to him and he said something like, "When I make love to you." I know it's not wrong, but this is one of the definitions of the word, but it's not the only one. Men struggle with intimacy more than women struggle with verbosity. Mothers of sons, do better with your boys, please.
When I want to create intimacy in my readers toward my characters, I want an emotional closeness, a familiarity of and with the characters. I want my readers to become emotionally invested in my them; so much so that when a character is hurting or behaving uncharacteristically, my readers yell, scream, cry, and generally lose their shit over what is being done to, by, or for the character. When a reader knows the intimate and private thoughts of a character, especially when other characters do not, they are protective of that intimate knowledge. Really, the way I write demands my readers to forge intimate connections with my characters and their stories. The is probably me projecting my need for real intimacy in my relationships, but nobody has to ever know that because nobody can read the thoughts floating through my head. he-he. (Shit, I did it again. Too late now, you've already seen it.)
I hate this word with all the passion I can muster. I taught high school English for over 13 years and I knew what I meant when I told my students, "This is not your voice, and because I know your voice, I know you copied and pasted this entire paper. F! That's your grade." Then they would ask, "But Ms. Shawn. What you mean by voice. I mean, I know you know how I sound when I'm talking, but what does that have to do with my writing?" Trying to explain voice to ninth through twelfth graders is like trying to explain PMS to a man. No point in giving myself another headache. So, I'm going to assume... Yes, I know what happens when we assume, but whatever. ...that professional and aspiring writers are reading this post and you understand the term voice as it relates to writing. Sharing the internal commentary strengthens the character's voice. There are several different types of voice and they dance in the same circle as points of view, but I digress. Internal commentary ensure every word counts and it further establishes a consistency of personality and continues to hold on to the reader's attention.
Okay! I am comfortable with what I've written here. I hope it makes sense when other people read it. Yea, it will...it's good. Don't worry Ella, you've got this. Don't be afraid to turn the filter off and let your readers into the minds of your main characters. Next week is the final week of the character development series and I will share my insight on creating a believable background story for your characters and how to present that story in the most effective way.
Remember, writing is a journey and every so often, the universe provides stepping stones to make the journey easier. Enjoy the trip and remember to keep writing and stay enchanted.