Thoughts on Thoughts

One advantage of the written word is the ability to reveal a character’s feelings and emotions, or even their actual thoughts. This helps make up for the fact that we can’t actually see the person, as we would in visual media. There, the viewer can see facial expressions, read body language, and hear the emotion in a voice.

There are different ways to reveal a character’s thoughts. Below are two examples. The first is indirect, and the second uses italics to indicate actual thoughts (a common practice).

  1. He told her that his train had run late. She wondered if that was really true.
  2. He told her that his train had run late. I wonder if that’s really true?

Which of these techniques to use is really a matter of preference in my opinion. The first form is almost universally used. Some authors make heavy use of the second form, while others use it sparingly. There are even some who adamantly claim that actual thoughts should never be shown, but I have found their attempts to prove that it is never necessary to be unconvincing. Sometimes the second form is the only really choice.

When writing, I use whichever form seems most appropriate. And it varies depending on whose viewpoint I am writing from. The second form is particularly useful for characters that are sarcastic, smart alecks, or simply lie frequently. For example:

He nodded, saying, “Yes, I’ll give your proposal serious consideration.” That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard! How stupid does he think I am?

For me, deciding how often to show actual thoughts is simply part of developing a character, and it’s something I’m still working to refine.

Viewpoint

When writing a fictional story the author needs to decide how the story is to be related to the reader. Will it be told from the viewpoint of a single character or multiple characters? It could even be told from no particular viewpoint, simply an impersonal relation of events. Most authors opt for at least one viewpoint character because that allows the feelings and thoughts of the character to be revealed to the reader. This one of the key advantages that writing has over visual media.

I chose a single viewpoint character for Audrey of Farmerton because I wanted to gradually unveil my fantasy world. That worked well, allowing the reader to learn more as Audrey did, and it also simplified a number of things. But for the sequel (tentatively titled The Witch’s City), I am switching to multiple viewpoints in order to better utilize the other characters that appeared in the first book. I am, however, only using a single viewpoint character in each scene. There is a style of writing known as third person omniscient in which the reader is privy to the thoughts of many characters at the same time, but I decided against trying to use it.

Writing from multiple viewpoints is proving to be a mixed blessing. It’s nice to be able to relate things that occur in locations apart from the main protagonist and which she may never learn about, but it also complicates matters and requires more planning. And when a scene contains multiple viewpoint characters, I now have to decide just whose viewpoint to use. I’m finding it challenging, but that’s just another part of trying to become a writer.

Another issue with multiple viewpoints is making them fit the character. Some characters basically say what they think, while others might frequently say one thing while thinking another. Personally, I find the later type to be the most fun to write. I like showing the actual thoughts, especially when they’re sarcastic or snarky. And how to properly show these thoughts will be a topic for a future blog post.