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Use Her Name
05-08-2008, 07:08 AM
I've started to write novels where I rarely go "into" a character's thoughts (this is not to say it never happens though). Everything is either said, or done. I've found that it does not make your character seem flat unless the character was flat to begin with. I think what began this was when I looked back at journalism and non-fiction essays or biography where only actions are shown, and no attempt is made at re-creating someone's thought processes. A lot of the non-fiction books I have liked over the years have had this journalistic style, like 3 Month Fever by Gary Indiana and In Cold Blood, Truman Capote. I have also started to write without giving much "stage direction" to the readers. I don't want to tell them what to think, or how to react. I don't want to be the person with the "Applause" sign. I think I've found that if people talk then how much information really depends on who they are with. I end up learning a lot about the character from what they say to other characters, and even in what ways, more "slang" used with one person, more "deference" used with another.

Now, in a way, I have found places where I must give information, and often my main characters (being experts) will give little "classes" so to speak in order to tell both the other character and the reader what they should know. I've seen this before quite a lot. For instance one person tells another one about the local history of the place, rather than me as an omnipresent narrator doing the same thing. So, since they are now chatting and taking a tour, it is no longer "telling." It is much more "Cinematic" since the characters can't just go to sleep and "think about it."

It is somewhat important to not only get the information across but to also make the reader believe that the character is a genuine expert in the field. I often write about people who are involved in specialized "fields" though that is just the "universe" of the book, and has its effects on the plot, but is not necessarily "the plot" or anything.

I guess there should be a question here: So, how do all you writers work with inner thoughts? Do you do Shakespearian soliloquies? Asides? Narrator? Have one person first person and the rest third?

Chasing the Horizon
05-08-2008, 08:31 AM
What POV structure I'm using has a huge effect on how I handle internal thoughts and narrative (as it should). In my fantasy I write in 'shallow' third limited, which is probably closest to what you've described (I've never really heard the term 'shallow third limited' used, but I use it to mean the opposite of 'deep' third person POV). Basically, what I have is a true third person limited, but with a sort of neutral narration style that remains pretty much the same between all the different POV characters. The main reason for this is because I have mid-scene POV changes, and the neutral narration means the tone of the narrative doesn't change, which makes the transitions much smoother. (This is NOT omni, there is no actual narrator nor is any knowledge the POV character doesn't possess at the moment communicated).

In my fantasy series, I only use internal thoughts when they are telling the reader something that isn't being shown in another way (dialogue, action, description, etc.). The thoughts are also almost always put into third person past and combined with the narrative.

When I first started writing I had a lot less internal narrative than I have now. There was a very cinematic feel to my writing then, probably because I've spent a lot more time watching movies than I have reading books. I eventually learned that properly placed and phrased thoughts, observations, and feelings are necessary for truly communicating the characters to readers. I have a lot more internal thoughts in my narrative now than I did in the beginning. There are still some scenes (usually conversations or action scenes) where there's virtually no thinking going on, though. IMO, that's perfectly fine. If the characters are saying what they're thinking, then there's no point in repeating it, and the middle of a major battle is definitely not the time or place to be contemplating anything. But getting inside the characters' heads is the major advantage books have over movies, and not using it when it's appropriate is kind of silly (and not likely to help your story any).

Ravenlocks
05-08-2008, 12:34 PM
Now, in a way, I have found places where I must give information, and often my main characters (being experts) will give little "classes" so to speak in order to tell both the other character and the reader what they should know. I've seen this before quite a lot. For instance one person tells another one about the local history of the place, rather than me as an omnipresent narrator doing the same thing. So, since they are now chatting and taking a tour, it is no longer "telling." It is much more "Cinematic" since the characters can't just go to sleep and "think about it."
What you're describing is still telling, and done wrong it will still come across as an infodump. I also have to say I'm not much of a fan of cinematic writing in novels. It tends to be very bare-bones. To each his own, of course, but I like some meat on my novels. I like to see scenes filtered through a character's POV instead of just getting a description of the scene as if an outsider were watching it.

Having said that, I have to say I don't particularly like directly-quoted internal thoughts. I tend to find them a bit clunky. There are lots of ways of getting across a character's POV and feelings without using that device.

I've never understood the logic behind using first person for one character and third person for others. Maybe somebody can enlighten me.

Use Her Name
05-08-2008, 07:24 PM
I think it all depends on how you use "info dump," in that case. An example would be "turning a calf." Or what is involved in fingerprinting a corpse. You would have the choice to explain the procedure as a paragraph, or to describe and also have two characters talking while they are doing it, or just talk about it. Something like, "Why are you doing this?"/"Because I have to get my arms in there and pull on the front legs... because..."

I actually did come to this POV because people who do what I am writing about are "on" 24/7. They are obsessive. It is all about statistics, training, and that is what they talk about all the time. It is their comfort zone. Real life in a way can freak them out. Now that there shows their relationship to the world.

Since not all stories are about experiences that everyone has had, then there is bound to be specialized information known only to the character. I think every good, best selling novel has "information dumps." They move the action along by painting a more complete picture.

As for writing from a distance: I started writing filtering everything through my brain, but unfortunately I am not a really great filter-- no one should feel they are the perfect filter because everyone has baggage, and the story and characters need to be free of author interference. Writing in a journalistic style seems to make a person a bit more unreadable, and a lot of things can be given away if you get into their heads, but real people are like that. And I don't want my characters to be so predictable that I "must" write certain things. I don't subscribe to the school that says main characters must be likable, just that their actions must be understandable.

I do have a character in my first novel of this series who "filters" but she is totally ignorant of most of what is going on, so her filter is faulty in the first place. She is a child who wants to write, and her mind is constantly working on "novels." I do tend to read a lot of non-fiction and biographies, and I just like that style-- the ability to really step back and not editorialize, just to write what you "see" quashes the urge to moralize, or to engage in propagandistic filters. I like straight out writing in which the author does not set out to convince me that something is right or wrong, or better than something else through emotional appeals.

Phaeal
05-08-2008, 09:53 PM
If you can make all this work, it works. Warning: Metaphoric reworking of that simple dictum to follow!

The proof's in the pudding, and the only way to prove it is to set it out and see if people eat it and ask for more (preferably waving the purchase price), or if they shrug and move on to the next offering, or if they spit it out on the floor.

Of course, you're likely to get all three reactions to the same pudding, but if the majority react by shrugging or spitting, it could be time to reconsider the efficacy of your methods.

Kryianna
05-08-2008, 09:56 PM
I think it all depends on how you use "info dump," in that case. An example would be "turning a calf." Or what is involved in fingerprinting a corpse. You would have the choice to explain the procedure as a paragraph, or to describe and also have two characters talking while they are doing it, or just talk about it. Something like, "Why are you doing this?"/"Because I have to get my arms in there and pull on the front legs... because..."


Turning a calf doesn't have to be an info dump. You can show it and not tell it. I'm not great at writing examples, but I'll try it for once:

Jill snapped the latex glove on her arm, knowing that it was futile; she'd be going more deep than the glove covered.

"That's really nasty," Frank said as Jill's arm disappeared in the cow.

"No it's not," Jill answered shortly, concentrating on the task at hand. The calf licked her hand as she rotated him so he could be birthed. "I was turning a kid once when momma goat farted on me. That was nasty. I pulled out so I could breathe, and billy decided to be born then. I wasn't quick enough to get back in to turn him, and we lost him."
You don't have to spell out that Jill is putting her hand in the cow's uterus; that's evident in her touching the calf. You don't have to tell that it's quite a reach in there; the glove not covering all of the arm gets that across. You don't have to explain why a calf needs to be turned, but can get it across by context.

There's always a better way to write an info dump. It may take a while to find the right way to best fit your story, but it's possible.

job
05-09-2008, 01:12 AM
What Phael said ...

There is no one superdooper writing technique that is 'right' and another everybody-spit-in-this-direction method that is 'wrong'.

Every method can work. Every technique has somebody who can use it.

That said --

The business of putting an infodump into character mouths is called, 'As you know, Bob.'

"As you know, Bob, the third of March is when we celebrate the founding of Port Gullifrag with camel races and fireworks. Every year, you and I are responsible for the White Elephant jumble sale which is the big money maker ..."

Many folks use some variety of this technique because it seems so easy and straightforward.
Actually, it is a difficult technique to do well.

Best way to know if what you are doing works -- look at the individual passages. Show them to somebody. Get opinions.
Best way to move past 'as you know Bob' -- take the same backstory and add it to the scene using a couple different techniques.

Ravenlocks
05-09-2008, 02:10 AM
The thing is, everybody writes through a filter. It's impossible to be completely objective. We all have our biases based on our upbringing and experiences. Our worldview is reflected in the stories we choose to tell and how we choose to tell them.

Viewpoint characters shouldn't be mouthpieces for the writer, though. The character's filter won't be the same as the writer's. And just because you're inside the character's head doesn't mean you have to share everything the character knows. You only have to share what's relevant to the scene. There are plenty of ways to avoid giving out information you don't want to give out yet (although some of them are cheating).

Characters definitely should not be predictable, I'm with you there. But a well-rounded character won't be predictable even if you're inside his or her head.

Ultimately, however, it all comes down to whether a writer's particular style works. We could argue all day about abstract concepts, but if a writer can make something work, it really doesn't matter if that something is "against the rules" or not.

Btw, I like Kryianna's example of showing not telling.

Michael Davis
05-09-2008, 11:05 PM
I write like I enjoy reading. I don't want to follow outside the character as if they are a blank canvas. Each human is a complex maze of conflicted ideas, flaws, strengths, and confusion. I like to know how the character is approaching a situation/dilemma or how they are resolving issues in their convoluted minds. Accordingly, my style includes a lot of internal reflection, either by narrative or my actual thoughts.

David I
05-10-2008, 12:44 AM
Someone once defined an alcoholic as someone you don't like who drinks the same amount as you.

Similarly, an "info-dump" is exposition you don't like.

"Info-dump" is a term of abuse, not a technical term. And not everything is better dramatized than told.

If I thought "cinematic" was usually better, I'd write screenplays instead of novels.

girlyswot
05-10-2008, 12:50 AM
And not everything is better dramatized than told.


That's an important point and one that's often overlooked around here where 'Show don't tell' is generally considered a golden rule of writing.

dawinsor
05-10-2008, 12:54 AM
Fortunately for us, there are lots of right ways to tell a story. Those various ways have different effects though, so readers choose one book or another depending on the effect they like to experience.

My own preference as a reader is for a close, warm third person. That means lots of interior stuff. For me, one of the pleasures of the novel vs a movie is that I get to see inside someone else's head. Also, a close POV is a way to encourage me to sympathize with the character. Because I like these as a reader, they're what I try to create as a writer.

Not everyone will react the way I do though. And that's a good thing.

JamieFord
05-10-2008, 12:55 AM
David took the words out of my mouth. If you're comfortable with a "cinematic" POV, that's fine, but understand the price you pay, which might be one too many info-dumps or just a general emotional distance from your characters. If you're not writing anything with a lot of emotional grit, or your characters are unsympathetic to begin with, you might be fine.

I much prefer to read (and write) from the inside out, than the outside in.