Writing Point of View – Part 7: Exploring a Character’s Thoughts (Part 3)

brain_ideaaI have been discussing a list of ways to get inside a character’s head in order to establish intimacy with a character and give readers a feeling of “being there” in the scene.

  1. Report only what the focal character sees, hears, feels, smells, tastes, or thinks without using narrator phrases to introduce the sensations.
  2. Avoid describing anything that the focal character cannot perceive or would not notice.
  3. Dive deeply into the character’s mind to explore his or her thoughts and emotions.
  4. Employ motivation/reaction units to make the action flow with a real-time feel.

Today, I will continue a discussion of item #3.

In previous tips, I have shown how to enter a character’s mind through interior monologue, but those examples were mere glimpses into what the character is thinking while acting or contemplating an action. In short, they were shallow dives rather than deep plunges.

In order to fully connect readers with a character, it is helpful to occasionally take a deeper dive and explore the character’s hopes, dreams, fears, and doubts. These plunges also allow you to develop your story’s theme by raising important issues in the character’s mind and slowly bringing them to the surface through the story’s conflicts–themes like sacrifice, courage, forgiveness, mercy, or whatever else the character might be dealing with on a personal level.

Such explorations need to come during a rest period in the story, that is, after one conflict and before the next. Allow the character time to reflect on what happened in the previous conflict, what he or she might have done right or wrong, and allow these successes or failures to factor into the thoughts.

For example, in Reapers, Phoenix successfully rescued a family from scheduled execution in a prison camp (the previous conflict), but he also discovered that many other innocent people were there who needed to be rescued (the next conflict). During the rest period between the conflicts, he contemplates the world around him and its many troubles. His interior monologue explores his role in how to help solve the problems.

In the past, he has been content to just do his job and help in small ways where he can. He is a nobody who can’t do more than that. Yet, the conflicts have shown him that this is not enough. He has to rise to another level and become the hero everyone needs. He has to embrace courage and realize that if he doesn’t step up, maybe no one will.

Without this deep dive, readers wouldn’t be able to understand his inner drive or believe that he would suffer and sacrifice so much. Readers must be able to get in touch with the motivations for his dangerous, sacrificial actions, and, most important of all, they need to connect with his emotions and ride with him on his inner journey. This is a crucial component in getting readers to love your story.

While Sing and Shanghai curled on their cushions, I laid my head and shoulders on mine, my feet propped on the roof’s parapet. A cool breeze wafted over the warm rooftop, caressing my cheeks with shifting temperatures that soothed my tired body. Sleep would come soon. I could feel it.

A few stars shone through the haze, a rare sight in the city. Ever since the meltdown, no one in Chicago bothered to gaze at the heavens. The specter of what couldn’t be seen … or reached … brought to earth the choking reality of our condition. We were trapped, human waste unable to escape from a tawdry shell, this dumpster called life.

And I was a waste-disposal unit, destined to haul forsaken souls to a shadowy door that opened to the unknown—the Gateway, that unexplained beyond-reproach expectation of release from this festering cavity.

A horn blared far away. A woman shouted, something about burning her hand on a candle, likely a cry of pain echoed within many a wall in the windy city. With electricity cut-off hour now past, the lights-out routine had been repeated a million times from row house to row house, from shanty to shanty. The jungle natives did what they could to survive.

In my mind, a thousand matches touched a thousand candlewicks, giving light to an equal number of darkened chambers. A man carried a silver taper to a bedroom and checked on three sleeping children crowded on a bed. The wavering light fell across the contented faces, giving the man reason to sigh with relief.

A woman probed a pantry with the light of a stubby red candle, hoping to find something to prepare for the next day’s meals. Her hands trembling, she grasped a can of beans, then a bag of rice, a thin smile on her face—one more day her children could go to bed without the pangs of hunger.

And in the glow of a flickering unity candle, two inches high and blackened by decades of anniversary celebrations, an old man kissed a frail old woman, slid into bed with her, and blew out the flame.

The scene faded to gray, then to black. All was silent. The city waited anxiously for dawn. They waited for someone to rise up and prove that their hopes and prayers weren’t for naught. They needed a courageous warrior who would open the gate and show them the other side of eternity.

“Hope,” I whispered. “It’s all they have. Who’ll keep it alive?”

“What?” Sing touched my elbow. “Phoenix, did you say something?”

“Just talking to myself.” I settled deeper into my cushion. I had to do more than just talk about hope. I had to make it visible. Somehow Shanghai, Sing, and I would open the ultimate Gateway and see the wonders on the other side—stand together with our hands clasped and witness what has been hidden from everyone for so many years. And then we would return and tell the world about it.

If you have any questions or comments, please post them.


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2 replies

  1. Very good information. This Writing Tip stuff is really helpful and encouraging. These’ll definitely help my books get better. 🙂

  2. That was SUCH a beautiful thought process from Phoenix, my goodness. I aspire to write as excellently and beautifully as you someday, Obi-Wan Brynobi!


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