Thoughts Whisper Truer Than Description
In the last post I wrote, “Heroes are not wimps, nor indecisive, and usually not overly inner-reflective.” Yet, people are all these things and more, so why shouldn’t the characters exhibit these traits?
Your hero (like real people) can and should have doubts, harbor prejudices, and even be a little self-absorbed . . . in their thoughts.
While the hero acts and speaks in ways demonstrating confident forward movement, inside their head they can be a tangled mess.
The contrast between “thoughts” and “actions” help illustrate a complex character, a person at odds with themselves, one rattled by internal conflict.
Conflict is critical within the fiction framework, and a superb way to show a character’s unsettled mental state is within the natural ebb and flow of confidence.
A person with internal fear and doubts about their abilities, the chance of success, or even a reason to continue, becomes a hero when they push aside debilitating emotions and battles to right a wrong, especially when one of the battles is against their very nature.
In my novel, The Returning, a disheartened and disillusioned immortal yearns to (finally) die the last time and sleep with the Fathers. The challenge was to show his inner struggle of having no purpose (that he recognizes), but still give him a strong constitution—the “hero touch.”
In the example below, the protagonist has died while a young soldier, and has just now realized he has “returned” to the body of a Prince.
Inhabiting a Prince, whose responsibility and future hinges on ruling an entire country. He wanted to run, to hide, to live this life—like most lives before—in seclusion, with the sole hope of dying one last time and leaving the emptiness of his pointless existence once and forever. Let me have rest.
He clenched his fists and forced his concentration outward. Thoughts shifted to what he must do to survive, what he had always done.
Inner thoughts are italicized. Even though much of the first paragraph in the example describes the character’s thoughts and feelings, I decided to only italicize the first and last sentence; I did this to make it easier for the reader. Reading an entire italicized paragraph can be tedious, and as shown, unnecessary—the reader understands the character is thinking “He wanted to run and hide . . . pointless existence once and forever.”
Although the story line is in third person past tense (He wanted to run . . .), the italicized thoughts are in first person, present. Using this altered viewpoint pulls the reader into the immediacy of the situation and the character, without the usual viewpoint-verb tense-switch distraction.
Another example of using italics to introduce the thought process, and how the “regular” type face that follows enhances the main character’s disposition:
What the hell am I doing? He shouldn’t have entered the bar, or even gotten out of his car, but knew it was too late now–Jared had spotted him.
Working on a character’s psyche can be great fun, and used intermittently, enhances the reader’s understanding of the “person” you created.
A warning: if the character’s “soul-searching” is explored too often or constitutes the same questions, your hero will (in the reader’s mind) turn into a brooding puddle of emotions whose actions will be derailed by the inner “poor me” syndrome, and nobody cares about heroes feeling sorry for themselves.
Make your hero strong, but vulnerable, and you are well on your way to making a character readers will identify with and cheer.
See you on the Next Page,
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