Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What's on Your (Character's) Mind?

Photo by nkzs/StockXchng.com

Sam Lawrence, an athletic man of thirty-five, hiked north of Enchanted Rock, a pink granite dome covering 640 acres. He squinted. Was that someone sprawled in the brush ahead? Good thing the hiker was wearing a red jacket or she might have been missed. He sprinted toward the victim, who had a slim build and thick, shoulder-length brown hair. What was a woman doing out here all alone? Of course, he was also on a solo hike and, as an Eagle Scout, Sam knew--and had violated--the rule about the buddy system.

“Hey! Are you all right?” Sam called as he reached the hiker. “I’m a doctor. Where are you injured? What hurts?”

The hiker turned and opened brown eyes. Dark peach fuzz grew above his upper lip. “My . . . my ankle. I fell and twisted it."

A teenage boy. Sam shook his head at his dumb assumption that the hiker was a female.

“Okay, relax." Sam knelt, then slid the hem of the youth's jeans up his calf and searched for bleeding. None. Good. Just an ankle the size of a cantaloupe. "Before I splint your ankle, I’m going to check your pulse, that sort of thing. I’m Sam. What’s your name?”

“Uh . . .” The youth hesitated and struggled to sit up. "The name's Bond. James Bond.”

Sam grinned. “I've always wanted to use that line, too.”


Literature has been widely influenced by the film industry. We want our books to unfold for us in immediate scene, just as they do in movies. We've all heard: "Show, don't tell." Movies are all show, no tell--unless there's an irritating narrator. But movies lack an important quality that's readily available in books: the ability to know a character's thoughts. One of the most powerful weapons in your writer's arsenal is interior monologue, which is a character's unspoken thoughts.

Besides getting to know a character on an intimate level, interior monologue allows the author to disclose information that would be awkward in a conversation, to reveal a character's reaction to an event, to expose what a character is really thinking, which may differ from what he says.

In the first paragraph of the scene with our hiker, the reader shifts seamlessly from descriptions of Sam's actions to his thoughts without italics or speaker attributions.

The reader experiences both the external world and the point of view character's thoughts without realizing something powerful is taking place--an advantage movies don't have. As you create a scene ask yourself what your character has on his mind. Chances are your reader wants to know too.


Lisa Jordan said...

I know you're not doing much writing at this point, but I really miss reading your writing. I was so caught up in the short scene and wanted it to continue. Great post, Roxanne. I really enjoyed it.


Roxanne Sherwood said...

Compliment greatly appreciated! (I always post with fear and trembling, wondering if I sound dorky.)

FYI, I took this from a 7-page scene I deleted from my book. I spent a lot of time writing it, only to determine that it veered from my plot.

BTW, I'm a fan of your writing too. :-)