Hello and welcome back to the blog! There’s nothing new to report that I won’t be covering at some point in the post. In my last post, I had an absurdly long introduction. Today, it’s short and sweet. I’d like to talk about an aspect of the story that I recently realized was missing from my own writing. That will soon be revealed. Onward we go.
For those of you that have been constant readers of this blog (thank you, by the way), you’ll no doubt remember that I have been querying literary agents on a constant basis for over a year (a process I have closed for the time being). Most of those queries are in email form, as you would suspect. However, more and more agents are asking writers to submit their queries through a submission manager. I have no problem with this form of query intake, though often it’s more time consuming (I promise this is going somewhere and is related to the subject of the story). Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon a submission form that asked for my favorite sentence in the novel. As a writer with stories of your own, I’m sure you can imagine my dilemma. A favorite sentence? But there are so many to choose from. How does one go about choosing a favorite sentence from a novel you hold so dear? Another dilemma was the simple fact that I had already been querying this novel for roughly six months and it wasn’t fresh in my mind. What did I do? Yes, I scoured the pages of my novel looking for the best sentence.
If you paid attention to the title of this post, then you can likely guess what I found as I scrolled through two hundred pages, reading and scanning all the live long day. It was procedural. Perhaps a definition is in order to obtain a clear picture of the problem with this finding. Merriam-Webster has several definitions for procedure, but we’ll stick with the best fitting. Procedure: a series of steps followed in a regular definite order. That’s how my novel read, like a series of steps in regular order, without much happening in-between. Step 1. Zac hangs out in town square. Step 2. A stranger shows up and raises hell. Step 3. Zac decides to fight against the stranger. It goes on and on, but you get the idea.
So, what’s the problem with that?
Look, action is a crucial part of the narrative of a story. Without it a story wouldn’t move forward. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a story that develops quickly as much as the next guy. No one wants to read a story where a man sits in a room, ruminating for three hundred pages without getting out of the chair. I say action is important so I can say this. A story without some form of introspection or inner monologue is missing out on the fundamentals. As a writer who wrote such a book in the recent past, I feel I can speak on the subject. I’ve always prided myself on having more self-awareness than the average person (yes, that includes writers). For instance, dialogue has always been a struggle of mine. I’m quiet by nature, as a result long monologues don’t come easily and seem absurd. On the other hand, as an introvert introspection has always been a strength. Or so I thought.
Introspection. Inner monologue. What are we talking about exactly?
Inner monologue can be defined as that voice inside your head that provides thoughts on situations and events. This can be as the events happen or in retrospect. Introspection can be defined as the examination of one’s own mental and emotion processes. This is when the character is deep in thought. I know what some of you are saying. That sounds like something only suited for the first person POV. However, both have a place in a third person story. Don’t believe me? Pick up a copy of your favorite third person novel and flip through the pages. Chances are you won’t have to flip for long before you run into inner monologue. I’m currently reading The Institute by Stephen King. Here’s an excerpt:
He didn’t know if his secrets could do him any good, but he did know that there were cracks in the walls of what George Iles had so rightly called this hole of hell. If he could use his secrets—and his supposedly superior intelligence—as a crowbar, he might be able to widen one of those cracks.
Above Luke, the main character of the novel, is deep in thought as he tries to brainstorm a way to break out of the institute. Since the novel follows Luke through much of the book and makes a clear distinction when it doesn’t, the reader can assume any thoughts or feelings are attributed to him unless otherwise mentioned. The narrator simply voices these in the third person point of view.
Let’s not get bogged down with point of view and which is better (I have my opinions and you undoubtedly have yours). The point is introspection and inner monologue can take place in both first and third person. Taking a break from the action to dig a little deeper with your character’s brain at the forefront is a crucial part of a good story. Avoid it and your story will suffer the consequences. Hopefully, you’ll catch the problem before sending it to fifty literary agents while wondering why there aren’t any full requests, again as I did. So far in my work in progress I’ve remedied the problem.
Before I end this blog post I’d like to address character thoughts for a moment. Some of you might be thinking about slapping a thought down and sticking Luke thought at the end instead of using inner monologue. I’m not going to jump out of the computer and slap your hand if you do this (Lord knows I’d like to). However, keep in mind that inner monologue is for deep, reflective moments in a story where a character takes pause, while voiced thoughts tend to be more superficial and in the heat of the moment.
Action is only one part of the complete make up of a story. Adding inner monologue to your repertoire won’t finish the job, but you’ll be well on your way. Thanks for reading. Remember to follow your dreams, even if they terrify you.
Stephen Michael Roth