Interior Dialogue

What is your character thinking?

“What does your character think about what just happened?  What does he feel?”

This is one of those questions that I hate getting from a critique partner.  I hate it because 99% of the time I know the answer and I think the information is in the story but my reader just doesn’t get it.

There are three ways to get this information across.

  1. Dialogue between characters.  One character can always hand the reader this information by telling another character.  “I hate you.” “This stinks.”  “I wish I could take back the whole day.”  Unfortunately this doesn’t always work.  Your character might be alone or it may simply be something she wouldn’t naturally say to the people around her.  Besides if you do this too often, it sounds as if the character was speaking directly to your reader ala Lemony Snickett.
  2. Actions.  In many ways, it’s true.  Actions do speak louder than words.  If you character puts his fist through the wall, everyone will clue in on his emotions. Giggling and hand clapping?  Ditto.  Jumping backwards and running like mad?  Check.  And this often works well but it isn’t right in every situation especially if your character is trying to mislead another character.  When that’s the case, you don’t want her loudly broadcasting her feelings to anyone but the reader.  And when that’s the case there is only one way to take care of it.
  3. Interior Dialogue.  If you aren’t familiar with this term it is what your character is thinking to him or herself.  As she smiles and thanks her lab partner for turning in the project early, she might also be thinking “Fabulous. This means it wasn’t proofed.”  That will tell your reader that she doesn’t have a lot of confidence in her partner and that she is the more conscientious student.  Again, you have to use this technique frugally because spending too much time in your character’s head it can slow the story down.  As with dialogue, keep it short and sweet and it will get the job done.

What is your character thinking?