Friday, April 8, 2011

Writing Craft Lesson - Expressing Thought

How to express what a character is thinking? This was the dilemma I was dealing with this week. Although, it’s fairly obvious to a writer how to do this. I started to put the process under a microscope, and over think what I was trying to do by trying to come to a "universal" or "right" way of doing it.

My dilemma was this. In some books, such as "Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R Martin, he always expresses character thought through the use of italics. This would be shown in the following way, "John moved to the wall and rested his back, How in hell are we going to survive this?"

These italics mean that the thought is coming straight from John, as if we have a telepathic connection to him. This is great for establishing a direct connection with the reader to the character, and is what I used for most of my writing.

Then I began to read "Under the Dome" by Stephen King, an unusual read for the most part. King expresses his characters thoughts by pumping his POV through the use of a strong voice, i.e. "There was that stupid woman again. She sat down, crossed her legs, and expressed a mug look to the audience. Mark groaned and sat down."

King is just expressing imagery, but the fact that he’s expressing a point of view, or an opinion into the words, (that stupid woman), we obviously assume that it’s the characters opinion of her that is generating this description. For me, this style of expressing thought gives the writing a greater flair because it adds personality and voice to the writing. It may lessen the connection between reader and character, but I feel it may add a little more mystery to the story.

So I guess it seems that I prefer the latter right now. I feel it makes the writing more engaging. I just asked this question on Absolute write, and the response seemed to be relatively the same. Most believed that there wasn't a right or wrong answer, unless you stick to a few fundamental principles.

Basically, the readers experience is king. If the reader isn't confused, and obviously gets that the words are in fact the thoughts of the character, and is perceiving the characters point of view in relation to the events around him or her, then it’s perfectly fine.

Also, choose what one works for you. As the writer, if you’re not comfortable with what you're writing, then it will show. You will express fragmented sentences that won't flow right. So just express it the way you want to, the way that your natural voice wants to express it. If the readers get it, and it feels good to you to write it like that, keep writing it that way.

Lastly, be consistent. If you keep switching from the thoughts of the character expressed directly in italic, then to the narrator expressing it through POV, then you begin to confuse the reader. The reader doesn't want to have to "work out" what approach you're taking. If they have to do that, then they have left the story and may put the book down altogether.

So in conclusion,
It doesn’t matter which approach you take, as long as the reader knows what you're doing, that it feels good for you, and that you pick one approach and stick to it.


P.S Since this blog is getting some readers now, I think I may add a writing craft lesson every few days, with some philosophical theory placed in between. I think it will be the best format for the blog, but feel free to have your say.


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