REVEALING YOUR CHARACTER’S THOUGHTS TO YOUR READERS
When writing a character’s inner thoughts they should come across to your reader as spontaneous, natural and casual, unless the emotions of the moment warrant otherwise. One’s thoughts should not sound rehearsed. One’s inner thoughts should fit the mood and the situation the character is involved in. We may think using the same tone and personality we talk with but our thoughts change much faster! There is no time for thorough analysis of every fleeting thought. Just give your reader a glimpse into your character’s subconscious.
Beware of allowing your characters to think in the same fashion that they would converse with your reader in the same room. They are not standing in front of the reader face to face so the prose should not come across as such a dialog. Remember, thoughts are private musings! No one is supposed to hear the conversation that is going on inside one’s head except oneself. Thus, we should not try to impress anyone. And there is no need to explain the character’s thoughts to the reader.
Allow the readers to figure out for themselves the significance of what is flashing through a character’s mind during a scene. You can reveal thoughts to explain a character’s actions or reactions to something that is happening. Allowing the reader access to a character’s inner thoughts often reveals hidden aspects of a personality. Thoughts can be a means of telling the reader some of the back story. One’s thoughts exposed can also be a means of allowing a character to betray oneself. Or, it can be a means of revealing true bravery.
The character should never let on that he knows the reader or anyone else knows his inner thoughts. He can never act or react like the reader or another character knows what he is really thinking.
Allowing your readers to see inside your character’s mind is not the same as when an Elizabethan theater actor, performing up on stage, makes a dramatic speech supposedly from a mountain top exposing the pimple on his soul to the theater audience. Remember, you are allowing your readers to ease drop! Write your prose accordingly; as if the reader is secretly listening in. Don’t tailor the thoughts or edit them. Stay in character and think in character. Do not drift in and out of context. Do not let yourself as author step in to explain. Your character is having a conversation with him or herself, not talking with the reader or to you, the author.
It is best to only allow your reader to go inside a character’s head when you absolutely cannot reveal something in any other way. Stick to revealing a character’s personality through the character’s actions or interactions with other characters whenever possible. Unless the info is vital at that particular moment to the telling of the story, suddenly revealing one’s thoughts will seem out of place, to the reader.
Letting your reader inside a character’s mind is best reserved for those times when it would be unnatural for the character to share his thoughts with another character in the story but your reader vitally needs that info right now. For instance, if what your character is thinking is too painful or awkward to say out loud and his coming actions will seem out of character without an explanation then by all means express his thoughts. But if the character can explain his actions by telling another character at a later time what was going through his head then hold off.
Try not to see inside every character’s mind except when writing comedy. Usually exposing one character per scene, just the main character in the scene is tolerable. Access to multiple thoughts during the same scene turns the scene into slap stick! Remember, that you cannot possibly reveal all of a character’s thoughts, so pick your moments carefully.
*Be sure to make it clear to the reader, especially if there are more than one characters present in the scene, that they are reading the inner thoughts of your character and not reading an actual spoken conversation. You can simply announce you are writing the inner thought. For example:
Barney thought, “I am going to kill Fred if he doesn’t shut up soon!”
But, many authors choose to use italics to designate a character’s thoughts and reserve quotation marks only for actual talking scenes. This assures that there is no confusion for the readers regarding what is being spoken and what is being thought. For example:
Barney watched Davina and her mother swirl on the dance floor. They look more like sisters. He marveled.