Interiority: What It Is and Why It Matters to Writers

Interiority. Help your reader connect the dots.

Monday, I learned a new-to-me term. Interiority.

Interiority consists of a character’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  It is the stuff that is going on inside her head.

Interiority matters because, without it, our character’s actions don’t always make sense.  And this is a problem because some of us, myself included, work so hard to show emotions by physical expressions and actions that we may not back them up with enough thought and feeling.

I read about interiority in a blog post by Mary Kole.  For those of you who don’t recognize her name, Kole is a former agent and current freelance editor.

Think about it.  Your protagonist is visiting her great-grandmother.  The woman calls her Clara and your protagonist snaps at the older woman.  “I am not Clara!”

We get the emotion. She’s angry.  Or maybe she’s hurt?  But we don’t know what’s going on unless you also tell us that this is the name of …

A. Her beloved twin sister who died last week in a swimming accident.  What was she doing near the water?  She couldn’t swim.

B. Her twin sister who had recently started runnig with a wild crowd and  died last week in a swimming accident although she was an excellent swimmer.

C.  The twin sister she despised who had won the gorgeous boyfriend and the college scholarship they had both coveted and, coincidentally, was an excellent swimmer.

You need to know what is going on in the character’s head. You need to know the motivation.  Why?  Because backstory matters.  A, B, and C will each yield a very different story.  You have to give readers more information than just the raw emotion if you want them to successfully connect the dots.


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