Train of Thought
by Michelle Janene
Many authors struggle with how best to represent internal thought and reflection in their writing. In order to draw the reader in, we need to be in the skin of each character. Readers want to escape into an adventure and feel what the character feels, and experience a journey through them. But how does that look on the page?
Do we write pages of italicized text so the reader knows they are inside the character’s mind and thought process?
Perhaps it’s better to write deep without any narrative and never use italics so the reader isn’t interrupted and distracted.
Maybe it’s both.
One of the first things an author needs to do to draw their reader into the lives of the characters is to remove words like: thought, felt, saw, and heard. These are narrative and put distance between the reader and the story.
Example: She was afraid as she heard footsteps. VS. A shiver raced up her arms at the rhythmic thumbing of the approaching steps.
The water felt cold on his hands. VS Goosebumps rose along his arms as the brook trickled between his fingers.
Removing words that separate the reader from the experience allows the writer to use more of the sensations the character is experiencing. The reader shivers too though they are snug in their home.
While the above examples are experienced and reflected upon in the character’s mind, you find no italics. The events are lived just like we would experience them without internal dialog about it. As we go about our days, we note things that are soft and hard, loud and quiet, pleasant and unpleasant, but we don’t often talk to ourselves much about it.
When we write the character’s experiences, we need to format them the same way. Living in the moment, noting surroundings and sensations, and only adding italicized internal thought occasionally.
Example: A shiver raced up her arms at the rhythmic thumbing of the approaching steps. The harshness of each thud grew until she shook. He’s found me. Run!
Goosebumps rose along his arms as the brook trickled between his fingers. A breeze brushed part of his face. When did I shave last?
It is important that the reader not get overwhelmed with internal dialog where the character is just babbling to themselves. The story still has to move forward. Something needs to be happening. Even if it is only the character wrestling with his own decision and thought process, but even then, don’t stay there too long. Once an issue has been grappled with, then action needs to be taken.
It helps to think about your scene as if it were part of a movie. If the words on the page would translate to a screen as an actor sitting alone silently, the scene needs to get out of the character’s head and get moving. Shoot Your Novel: Cinematic Techniques to Supercharge Your Writing by C. S. Lakin is a great resource to start thinking of your words like a movie.
Thoughts are important to our experience as humans. To have the rare privilege to know someone else’s internal musings and struggles can help us know we are not alone and options of how to handle situations in our own lives. As writers we have the unique opportunity to crack open the internal workings of another. Let’s use that gift wisely in the way it is presented on the page so it can have an impact and not distract.
About the Author
Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer.
She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.
You can read Michelle’s “Writing Corner” column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.