Tag Archives: internal monologue

Redundancy And Sleep

Falling asleep readingHave you ever read yourself to sleep? I have. Of course, there’s always that great book that makes me want to keep my eyes open, that causes me to fight my own inclination to sleep. But then there are those novels that work better than any over-the-counter sleep-aid you could buy. I suspect few writers would rejoice if they knew their book had achieved such status!

There can be any number of problems with a novel that reduces the interest level—slow pace, uninteresting characters, low stakes, a lack of compelling action. And yet, I suspect redundancy might be writer enemy number one when it comes to creating a story that lulls people to sleep.

Redundancy can occur at the sentence structure level or at the scene level. To be clear, it may include repetition, but the two are not synonymous. In short redundancy means “superfluity,” or too much of a good thing. Or a bad thing. Mostly, just too much. The greatest reason something is “too much” in fiction is because it’s already been done. Or said.

I believe there are three basic reasons a writer allows redundancy to creep into a story.

First a writer has not learned to trust his reader—or, perhaps, to trust his own ability to be clear. Consequently, he puts safe-guards into the story “so readers get it.” This type of redundancy shows itself in a combination of showing and telling.

In reality actions—showing—should replace the telling narrative rather than complement it.

    Example of redundancy: In an angry fit, he stomped from the room, slamming the door on the way out.

In the illustration above, the phrase “in an angry fit” isn’t necessary because the action clearly shows the anger. To eliminate this type of repetition, the author should omit the phrase that explains what the action is supposed to show.

However, the temptation to explain grows when the action is weak.

    Example: With joy in her heart, she followed him into the room.

To improve this sentence, the author must strengthen the action, making the narrative phrase unnecessary.

    Example: She danced into the room behind him.

A second reason a writer may allow redundancy to seep into her work is because she has forgotten her own lines or plot points and replicates them, or perhaps she hasn’t stretched her creative muscles enough to develop new and fresh dialogue, description, and events.

As a result, events may take on a similar shape. For example, the character is about to step into the street, but someone calls to him. As he turns, he is saved from walking in front of an oncoming car. Some chapters later, this same character is about to lean over a porch railing but someone calls to him. As he turns, he is saved from . . .

Either the writer has forgotten she used this same last-second distraction earlier to save the character, or she hasn’t dug deep enough to find something unique.

Finally, characters themselves create redundancy. Well, of course the writers do, through our characters, but in an effort to be true to the people we have created, we allow them to struggle with what they’re experiencing, often through internal monologue. Nothing wrong with using characters’ thoughts.

However, those thoughts must move the story forward, not recap what happened in the past. If their musings bring nothing new, nothing the reader doesn’t already know, they are redundant and therefore sleep inducing.

At one stage of my writing, I was good at lots of rehash internal monologue. My character needed to understand what was going on. He needed to analyze and come up with a motive that would explain his next decision. The latter is true, except in many cases his thoughts stated the already stated. At one point I realized the particular chapter I was working on was boring me! That’s a sure sign that something needs to change.

As a corollary to this last point, some writers utilize “echoing” dialogue, which amounts to redundancy. Often times the writer wants to reflect an emotion such as surprise or disbelief, so he has one character repeat some part of what another character just said.

Such interaction may be true to life, but restatements don’t tell the reader anything new:

    Example: Tyler shook his head. “You can’t go, John. Didn’t you hear Mom?”
    “I can’t go? What do you mean, I can’t go?”
    Tyler stared at his brother. “Just what I said. You can’t go.”
    John’s tone turned to the whine he’d used as a little boy. “Did Mom really say I can’t go?”

This example may stretch the point, but clearly echoing dialogue isn’t necessary to move the story forward, and there are better ways to show surprise, anger, or dismay.

I can only think of one instance in which writers appropriately used redundancy. In the TV program Monk, the title character suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and did many things redundantly, helping to establish his quirks and foibles. There may be other proper uses of redundancy, but for the most part, writers would be wise to eliminate them from their fiction. Unless their promotion plan includes something about inducing sleep. 😉

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Characters And Emotion

angry manCharacters in fiction feel, and one goal we writers have is to evoke readers to feel along with them. However, in my reading I’ve noticed some problems connected with character emotions.

One difficulty comes when an author tells what the character is feeling instead of showing it. For example, she might say,

    Fred excitedly picked up the package.

The adverb in this case tells what Fred was feeling rather than showing it. Showing the emotion might read something like this:

    A grin lit up Fred’s face. He picked up the package and ripped off the wrapping.

Rather than naming the emotion, the second example shows what the point of view character sees. Of course, dialogue can amplify emotion. If the character picks up the package and says, “I’m so excited,” then there’s verbal testimony to back up the actions.

Interestingly, dialogue can also be used to undermine actions, or actions, to expose a line of dialogue as untruthful. If a character says one thing, then does another, the reader is left to decipher which actually reveals the character’s emotion.

A second problem, similar to the first, occurs when an author tells what a character is feeling, instead of showing the emotion through internal monologue.

Our friend Fred in the example above might be the point of view character. Instead of telling his emotions, however, or even showing them through action or dialogue, the author can show them through Fred’s thoughts.

    Fred picked up the package. He’d had his eye on it all week, even risked peeking at the card to be sure it had his name on it. It did, but he couldn’t imagine who would give him such an elaborately wrapped gift. Santa must be real after all.

A third problem I’ve noticed concerning character emotion is its total absence. Sometimes writers don’t tell or show what a character feels about something that has just happened. Has the protagonist just been fired? Has she had an argument with her best friend? Did he witness a bar fight? Was she forced to take a class she didn’t want?

Scenes need to show the appropriate action to communicate what’s happened, but they also should show how the character feels about those things. And often those emotions linger and, rightfully, affect what a character does next.

cemetery-roses-1102775-mConsequently, a fourth problem I’ve detected is a character who recovers emotionally much faster than is reasonable. One day he buries his dad who was his best friend, and the next day he is off to see the world. Or she has been left at the altar by her childhood sweetheart, and the next day she opens up an antique shop.

In other words, an event that has, or ought to have, caused great emotion, seemingly has no effect on the character’s next decision or action. Instead, what happens to a character should matter.

A character who has been mugged, for example, should have some emotional baggage that influences who he trusts or what precautions he takes for his future safety. The events of the story should not continue on as if he has not experienced this trauma.

In short, stories are built on causation. When one thing happens, it should induce a reaction, including an emotional reaction from the character. The author should show this reaction, either through action, dialogue, or internal monologue.

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Quotation Marks And Where They Belong

Trunk or BootBy and large, English is English regardless of which English-speaking country a person is from. There are, of course, various words that take on different meanings in different locations, but English grammar remains fairly constant. Quotation marks, however, are a different animal. There is more variation with use and placement of quotation marks than perhaps with any other English language guideline.

In this article, I’ll primarily deal with the American usage and placement, with an occasional note contrasting the difference with what is commonly referred to as the British style. For writers interested primarily in the latter, I refer you to The Oxford Guide to Style.

As you might expect, quotation marks are most commonly used with quoted material. In fiction this means in dialogue.

[Editor’s note: My apologies for the backwards closing quotes in the upcoming sections. Apparently if I use the code to create a red font, the quotation marks curl in the wrong direction. I decided more was gained by using the change of color than was lost by the backwards curl.]

    Example: Should I pack your blue shirt as well as the white one? she asked.

Note, there is a difference between dialogue and “indirect discourse” in which no quotation marks are required. In dialogue, the exact words of the speaker are quoted and therefore placed inside quotation marks. In indirect discourse, the speaker’s words are given in summary, rather than in the precise language he used, and therefore are not placed inside quotation marks.

    Example 1 (a line of dialogue): I’ve seen enough, he said.
    Example 2 (indirect discourse): He said he’s seen enough.

In nonfiction using quotation marks with quoted material means quoting another source in support of a point or to offer contrast to a particular view.

    Example: The author advanced his argument by saying, Act 3 begins in the next logical point on that journey.

The placement of the closing quotation mark is always after a comma or a period. Placement in regard to other punctuation marks varies based on whether the mark belongs to the sentence at large or to the quoted material. (Placement when using British English varies from these guidelines.)

    Example 1 (period always inside the closing quotation mark): She gave him an odd smile and said, I wouldn’t eat that if I were you.
    Example 2 (comma always inside the closing quotation mark): If you finish early, you may go, the teacher said with a wink.
    Example 3 (the question mark belongs to the quoted material): Her new mantra is Must you always go?
    Example 4 (the exclamation point belongs to the entire sentence): How shameful if he had to say, I can’t finish!

Quotation marks may also be used in “unspoken discourse,” commonly called interior monologue in fiction. Such discourse would also include silent prayer or telepathic conversation. When conveying any of these unspoken thoughts, the author may choose to use quotation marks or not. Note, however, that placing these in italicized type is not a standard practice according to the Chicago Manual of Style. (For more information on italicized type, see “Italics And When Not To Use Them.”)

Another common use of quotation marks is with titles of non-freestanding works such as articles in newspapers, magazines, or on blogs; individual sections of books; short stories; poems; and the individual title of an episode of a TV show.

The placement of the closing quotation mark follows the same guidelines as with other uses.

Occasionally quotation marks are required within a quotation. In that case single quotation marks, like this, are used. (Note: British style reverses the order, using a single mark predominantly and employing the double mark when needed inside a quotation.)

Example: Did Mr. McGuyre tell us to read Fog by Carl Sandburg or The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost? David whispered to the girl sitting next to him in the library.

Lastly, novelists may wonder about using quotation marks with epigrams, generally quotes from someone real or fictitious, placed before a chapter or section of the book. In this specialized use of a quote, quotation marks are not used.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments section if I didn’t cover something you’d like to know. Happy quoting. 😀

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The Ins And Outs Of Backstory, Part 3

Learning to handle backstory correctly is vital. Some agents and editors talk about it as the element that shows an author is either a competent professional or still in the “learning” stage. Consequently, I’d like to take a closer look at how to weave backstory into fiction using dialogue and internal monologue.

By way of review, backstory delivered in dialogue (or via any other technique) must first be necessary to the story at that particular point, and not a moment sooner. Second, it must contribute to present conflict.

While I believe those points to be true, I don’t believe they show a writer exactly how backstory should fit into dialogue, so I’m backtracking a bit today to give a few basics.

Backstory must fit the story situation

Backstory must be a fitting topic of conversation for the characters in their present circumstances. In the middle of a battle, for example, asking a buddy if he’s ever been horseback riding wouldn’t fit.

Now if two bandits were looking for a way to escape a police sweep and spotted a couple horses in a pasture up ahead, one asking the other about his past experience with horses would be natural.

Second, backstory must add information that the characters don’t already know. It’s tempting to use the “gentle reminder” as a way of conveying backstory, but experienced novelists resist. Here’s an example of “reminder speech.”

“You remember, Jack. We were just kids when Uncle Sal moved in with us for a summer, and that’s when the trouble started.”

Such a reminder nudge happens in real life, but in fiction it almost always comes across as the author talking to the reader rather than the speaker talking to Jack.

Third, the dialogue needs to be worded in the characters’ voices, delivered with the emotion appropriate for the moment. If a character speaks in short sentences or fragments, then the backstory needs to be delivered in the same way.

If the character uses particular jargon, whether regional or job oriented, those words should come into play when appropriate. The main thing is, the characters should sound like individuals. They shouldn’t all sound like the author. And when they deliver lines of backstory, the same must be true.

Fourth, the backstory should be part of a give-and-take conversation, not one lengthy speech. In real life, people rarely string together substantial chunks of information. We tend to interrupt each other, to ask questions, even to move to tangential topics rather than steering a straight course. In other words, the conversation needs to develop organically.

Lastly, appropriate internal monologue — character thoughts — can be interspersed throughout the conversation to give added snippets of backstory.

Below is an example of backstory delivered through dialogue and some internal monologue, taken from HUNTED, the first book in the fantasy The Lore of Efrathah (a story I know well enough to navigate quickly to backstory. 😉 )

Here’s the set up for this scene: Jim has fallen into a parallel world. Among the exiles who found him in a system of tunnels is a young woman he’s attracted to. However, he anticipates returning to his world as soon as possible, so is trying to resist the attraction. Nevertheless, after a meeting, he stays behind to apologize to Elisá (pronounced l-e-SA) for what transpired in an earlier encounter.

Elisá stared up into his eyes as if searching for something she couldn’t find. “Of course. Friends forgive each other such things. You are my friend, are you not?”

“Yes, absolutely! It’s just that, in my world, friends aren’t always that … sure of each other.”

As she stepped toward the exit, Jim took her elbow to guide her into the maze of tunnels.

“Your world sounds complicated.” She pointed the way, and together they sauntered toward the central cavern.

“It’s probably just me. I wish I had friends that I felt sure of, but most of the people I spend time with just want a piece of me.”

Elisá glanced up at him from the corner of her large chocolaty eyes. “A piece of you!”

He chuckled softly. “Doesn’t make much sense, I guess. Back home athletes are looked up to. So lots of people want to get our autograph, have their picture taken with us, that sort of thing. And we’re paid well, so people we know have ‘suggestions’ for how we should spend our money. It’s hard to tell if any of them are really friends.”

She shook her head the same way Jim’s sister had in high school when she didn’t approve of someone he was hooking up with.

His sister. He needed to remember to treat Elisá like his sister.

“But your family must be different,” she said.

“I have great parents. I just don’t spend a lot of time with them, though I want that to change.”

“Anyone else you can be sure of?”

“Kyle — he’s my oldest brother. My sister Karen. I used to think I could count on my other brother Eddie, too.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, uncertain how the conversation had stalled on him. “What about you? Are you close to your family?”

The scene continues, then, with some of Elisá’s backstory.

How well do you think this segment succeeded, based on the tips outlined above? Can you see places in your story where you can deliver backstory through dialogue? Were these tips helpful in showing you ways to make that dialogue natural and organic?

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Filed under Backstory, Dialogue, Internal Monologue