While we were editing the fifth book of Quirni, we ran across a section that made me cry. My heart hurt for Erica and for James, and it made me want to speak out, change it as an author, to fix things for them. Obviously I didn’t because that emotional response is important.
I have heard again and again, that a writer knows how their reader is affected by how the writer is affected, and so I can safely say book five is the most emotional book we have. No matter how often I’ve read it, that section of writing always makes me weepy. I would like the entire story to be just as emotionally packed. The question is, how do we get there?
I read the story for emotional content when my co-author is done. We plot it together. She writes the scenes, and then I usually add emotion when I feel it is lacking. I know when I should add it by how much is going on in my head. If I find myself thinking about something else, if I’m drifting, I need to add internal dialogue to help juice up the drama or explain what is driving the character.
When I add emotional scenes I add details about characters that create a sense of closeness. The closer a reader is to the character the more they will feel that character and the more they will read. Closeness means a reader will see the character in their mind. They will know what drives them.
Usually, whether a reader loves or hates the character, knowing what the character is thinking and feeling makes a reader care. Internal dialog is a good way to add a close, emotional connection but how much internal dialog is enough before the reader gets bored of personal details or introspection?
Throughout the ages of literature, editors have disagreed on whether to focus on internal dialogue or describing events. There have been swings regarding this, back and forth, more and then less. Sometimes one internal thought is too much. At other times, there’s never enough.
Consider the difference between reading a novel that utilizes stream of consciousness versus one which describes everyone’s facial features and reactions. These are the two sides of the continuum, the pendulum if you will. On one side, a reader is in the head of a character and sees why they react a certain way, and on the other, the reader only sees the movements of the character or characters.
If we think about these two sides another way, as two sides of the color spectrum, like orange versus blue, then it’s easy to see that the middle is not where you want to be. You need a variety of warm oranges, and cool blues to make an interesting painting, not everything mixed up. If you mix too many blues and oranges together, it just makes dirty grey. Internal dialog vs external description is like that.
When a writer combines too much internal thought with too many external reactions the book won’t be as enjoyable to read. Likewise, if the writer is too far inside a character’s head, they can end up forgetting the plot or the people around the character. The same would be true if the writer put in so many details they bore their reader. In that case, a chapter may cover one hour in the story even though it takes three hours to read it. That isn’t usually a good read.
Finding the right place differs every time. It is a matter of variety. It is also a matter of personal preference, of the feeling a writer wants to convey. The writer has to find the right balance for the characters and the book. If a character isn’t very thoughtful, like James in Quirni who starts the books as a sweet dunce, then expressions and reactions are the way to go. If someone is incredibly thoughtful like Erica, it would be hard to understand their actions without being in their head, it will be necessary to be in their head at least for short periods.
Sometimes I add just a little internal dialog to explain the character’s reason for what they are doing or how they feel. Sometimes I add whole paragraphs like when Erica has an emotional break down in book two, Nigh.
In that scene, I added internal responses for how Erica felt leaving Matilda’s Ranch. I used internal thoughts and metaphors to make the emotions visible to the reader while the character was alone and not likely to show a lot of emotion.
By using internal thought and symbolic language I was able to highlight the emotional cacophony of Erica’s beliefs, the duality of her wanting to be with friends and family while being unsure what their presence means to her. I could show how she feared those relationships because of her split mind and how she felt about James and losing him. Quirni needed this because Erica isn’t a talker. She wouldn’t discuss any of this with another character, so we had to get in her head to understand her point of view.
In the end, with our editing process, we have books that are polished, varnished and ready to be framed, the colors carefully laid out to express just the feeling we need. Because of that, Bliss, the fifth book, makes me cry and that’s a good thing.