The Character Tour: Getting Your Readers Inside Your Character’s Head

Your main character is your reader’s strongest connection to the emotions created by your story.  Your job as a writer is to foster this connection by helping your readers get inside your character’s heads.  You know this.  It’s a basic part of character development which (per the statement in this posts’ first sentence) makes it a basic part of writing any story (well).  Unfortunately, too many young writers actually open their characters’ mind up for a guided tour, rather than an emotional connection.  And a tour won’t get you anywhere.

How do they do this?  (And how can you avoid it?)
Here we go.

Kill the tour guide

Okay, don’t kill him, but lock him a way in a deep dark forgotten slightly cliché dungeon where he (actually) won’t ever be found again.  The tour guide is what emotionally distances the reader from the Point of View character.  Don’t fret this, it’s not near as complicated as some writing tricks.  The tour guide is simply a phrase which suffers from multiple personality disorder.  His most prominent personality, “he saw”, often gives way to others like “he thought”, “he felt”, “he observed”, and “he wondered.”

What?  Little old “he wondered?”  What’s so bad about him?  Well even though your reader may not notice it consciously, every little “he wondered” is a subtle little reminder that he (the character) wondered, not the reader.  And they are two very different people, and never the two shall meet.

Though seemingly harmless, these little phrases sneak into beginners’ (and experienced authors’) writing all the time.  If you cut them out, your readers will feel more like they are your hero… and then the story really begins.

Intimate POV

So if you aren’t going to give your readers the “character tour”, then what are you going to do?  First off, you are going to pick a Point of View character for your scene.  Pick one character and get inside their head (and stay there.)  We want to not only see what they see, but we want to think what they think, know what the know, feel what they feel.  That’s intimate point of view.  That is what will welcome your readers into your story.

A large part of intimate POV is interior monologue, which is broken down into three parts.

Opening action

Since you’ve locked “he thought” deep in that forgotten dungeon, you need another way to tag whoever is going to think through your interior monologue.  Of course, once we have spent time in a scene, we should know who the POV character is, and thus whose thoughts we are going to be seeing.  But until that is settled in the readers’ mind you need an opening action.

An opening action is a physical action (typically a response to something that just happened in the scene) which correlates to the interior monologue which follows.

Jack sighed.  That didn’t take long.  A record-low seven seconds, and we were off talking about sports.  Time for a drink.  This could take a while.

“Jack sighed”, is the opening action here.  It signals that we are going to be in Jack’s head, and also sets the mood for his monologue which follows, but notice that it doesn’t distance us from Jack even in a subtle way.  We’re still right there with him.  Additionally, opening actions are, surprise, actions!  They keep your story from the dangerous sloughs of passivity, and also keep the story moving when you might be tempted to let it deteriorate into a string of interior monologues, stalling the story.  (More on that in a moment.)

The monologue

The character’s monologue should be personal too.  Be sure to show who your character is in how he thinks his thoughts.  Snarky side thoughts are funny, but not if your character is a sweet, child-spoiling grandmother.  Just stick you your character during the monologue just like you would during dialogue.

The monologue should be logical.  We should be able to follow your character from “Great, bells again” to “dragons in the southern district.”  We shouldn’t have to make leaps of faith to figure things out.  However, beware of making your monologue sound contrived.  Your character should only walk your reader through it because your character has to walk through it too.

The conclusion

Once you’ve written out your monologue, be sure to have a great concluding sentence.  Something that will stick to your readers.  Something that will help define your character.  Something that will make your readers turn the page.

Other notes

Pacing

Don’t write monologues that take up entire pages.  Be sensitive to the speed of your story and don’t slow things down if they should take longer.  Also, don’t skip over something important.  Which leads us too…

Frequency

How often do you need to show your character’s thoughts?  Often.  We want to see his reaction to everything significant that happens: every important word of dialogue, every door of opportunity that slams shut, we want to see what the POV thinks about all of it.  That intimacy will foster our emotional connection.  😀

Thoughts on underlines

Some authors use underlines to highlight inline thoughts for their characters.

The door slammed shut.  Perfect.  Just perfect.

Although opinions on this technique are varied in the industry, I would argue that this technique is frighteningly similar to the “he thought” personality of our imprisoned tour guide.  The underline signifies to the reader that a character is thinking this, not the reader itself.  Very subtle, but still distancing.

 

Interior monologue and Intimate POV are an essential tools in your character development toolbox when writing any story.  Whether you are establishing character, developing a scene, or even building tension, we want to know what your POV character is thinking.  Don’t be afraid to show us.

 

Brandon grinned.  Now they knew.  Now they all knew.

And this was just the beginning!

 

(That’s right, more POV stuff next week! 😀 )

 

Photo: all around me are familiar faces, Stephen Dann, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Questions?  Thoughts?  Let me know in the comments below!


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Brandon

Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.

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  1. Elizabeth July 26, 2017 at 2:36 PM - Reply

    May I just say that I love your blog? Very muchly.

    Currently in the process of switching POVs around in my WIP and this helped a lot!

    • Brandon July 27, 2017 at 7:47 AM Reply

      Yay! Thank you so much.
      And I just did some POV switching in my own WIP so I feel your pain.

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