Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday Writing Tip ~ Character ~ 4/18

Connecting with the Reader

Ah, characters.  The people who make your book go 'round.  Let's face it, without engaging characters that your readers fall in love with, your book is going nowhere, doing nothing.  I can't tell you the number of books I've started and quickly set aside, never to finish.  In the past, I never understood why I didn't like these books, what element was missing.

When I started posting my novel on Critique Circle, I received a critique that greatly perplexed me.  The critic told me my characters had too many internal thoughts, and I shouldn't spend so much time living in the heads of the characters.  We ended up starting a discussion about this with others, and it seemed to be split on what people believed was the correct way to go about writing.  Most men, it seems, don't like to write a lot of internal thoughts and feelings.  Women spend more time in the heads and hearts of their characters.  And, of course, this is a total generalization--it was a woman who told me I had too much! :-)

I didn't change the way I wrote after this discussion, however, but continued with the internal thoughts of the people in my little world.  After all, my argument was this:  how can I possibly care about someone I know nothing about?

I recently took a class on mystery writing and this subject popped up again.  Boy was I happy to learn that the expert teaching the class agreed with me.  Steve Alcorn says plot is events that happen in your novel to move the action forward.  But the real heart of the matter, the thing the reader cares about, is the story.  And that, my friends, is what is going on within your characters.  The emotional part of your novel.  What your MC thinks and feels, his hopes and fears.  The effects situations have on him personally.

I finally understood why some books I just couldn't care about.  It is this missing element of internal thoughts.  Of actually knowing the character, being invested in what is going to happen to her.  Caring about the things she cares about.

Take the following snippet from Always and Forever.  If I were taking out Lilly's internal thoughts, I would basically remove everything that is underlined.  Try reading it both ways, and see what you think.  This scene includes Lilly, Zach, and Zach's grandmother, Leticia:

Lilly exited the elevator at the top floor and knocked on Mrs. Woodbridge’s door. She opened it and backed into the room, dragging the food cart with her.

“Lilly, you should have had one of the orderlies bring that up.” Zach’s voice filled the room all at once and sent a shiver down her spine.

She had always been a sucker for a deep, seductive voice. Unfortunately, experience with Charles taught her a sexy voice and the face of an angel could hide the heart of a sadist. She didn’t get the sadist vibe from Zach, but how well could she really know a person she only saw once a week? Charles fooled her for almost a year. 

Lilly turned the cart in the small space and pushed the door closed. “Don’t worry about it, Mr. Woodbridge. It’s my job, after all. I’ll have dinner set out for the two of you in a moment.”

“You’ve known us three months now.” Leticia wagged a finger in Lilly’s direction. “I’ve told you there’s no need to be so formal. This is Zach, and you must start calling me Leticia.”

“Of course, Leticia.”

At night, during her most secret fantasies, Lilly always called him Zach.

As a reader, I want to understand characters--know their thoughts and hopes and dreams. 

One caution, however.  Make sure the characters don't experience the same thought over and over, or that they don't go on to tell another character about the thoughts they just had.  I did have a teensy little problem with this in a few chapters.  In one chapter, Lilly thought about her skills at cooking, looked at/smelled her cake, then Zach arrived and they talked about her cake, and then she explained how she loved cooking while thinking about the cake.  Overkill!  WE ALREADY KNOW LILLY LIKES COOKING!!! my crit partners screamed, and rightly so. 

Here are some more blogs dealing with this topic:

Breathe life into your characters with internal dialogue, and your readers will think about them long after they put your book down!

Enjoy your Wednesday, everyone! Have a terrific week, and happy writing! 


  1. This discussion on Critique Circle really helped me polish my final work. My male protag was too macho, too alpha and not emotional enough. After rethinking this, I was able to soften him and make him more adorable inside while still portraying a hero on the outside.

    1. It helped me too with my male MC. Zach was a little too womanish, perhaps he still is, but since several people offered to take him home if Lilly didn't want him, I think it worked out! :-) I did modify things slightly because of this discussion, although I'd never take the thoughts out to a great extent. Goes against my style. It's all about learning new things, right?

      Thanks for everything, Rachelle!

  2. I like my guys to be the strong, silent types. Yeah, I'm all into the alpha males. :D

    I want to know what the women are thinking moreso than the males. I like it when the women characters define the male characters based on her thoughts. Then I like her thoughts to be contradicted by the man's actions.

    I know I say quite often that I'm tired of the modern romance, but I keep going back to romance books. hehe!

    All the writing books I've ever read stress character development and plot movement. If your character doesn't change, then what's the story? You have to have internal thoughts to realize any change.

    I was reading a modern book by a male writer and from page one to page 10, there's nothing but blow by blow action in battle scenes. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to finish this book!

    Anyway, let me end before I finish a novel on your blog!

    1. Thanks, Diane. Very good point and one I hadn't considered. Without internal thoughts it WOULD be hard to realize whether the character actually underwent a change. Anyone can change their actions for a while, but thought process changing is another thing.

      My Zach definitely undergoes a change of thought process... the views he holds of the world are basically the thing that changes, so if I didn't give his internals, the reader would never know.

      Thanks for coming by!!


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