1. philipmarie
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    philipmarie Member

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    How do we show what our character's attitudes and feelings are?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by philipmarie, Apr 5, 2011.

    Through the Immaculate Heart,

    I'm writing a novel which is going to be very concentrated on the characters. My problem is that I want to show what the characters are thinking and feeling without using tags such as 'he felt', 'he felt as if', 'he thought', 'he was thinking', etc...

    The Harry Potter books always use the tags above as they are third person limited penetration (which means that while we do see inside the character's head we don't see what is happening from his point of view. To see things from his point of view doesn't mean that you HAVE to write passages like this in first person of course)

    I need help! Thanks for the help that anyone may give me.

    I found this other budding author on yahoo answers and he just interested me with his writing style. http://answers.yahoo.com/question/i...FnirWZTty6IX;_ylv=3?qid=20110404161143AApkhPK I feel that it isn't very good because he is always saying what Theophilus felt like doing or what was happening to him (for example, he felt that he wanted a devil to pop out of the floor and smash his head with a rock) yet we almost never see what he eally is thinking on the inside. We see what his body is thinking but not what his mind is. We only know that he is sad because he's crying and making angry gestures. I think it is too melodramatic.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lots of ways but mostly their reactions to their enviroment for example:

    Socrates balled his hand and smacked it against his palm. He takes a step towards the little git.

    Shun's jaw tightens as he tries hard not to respond.

    He smirks and slaps him on the back.

    I find the bookshelf muse (blog) emotion thesaurus and setting thesaurus very useful in this.

    Mine is first person so my internal monologues are more like:

    Angus don't be ridiculous. Angus you do know you're talking to yourself? Yep. Damn! Now you are answering yourself. Now come on take a deep breath all you need to do is take your top off. Nope! I just can't someone might see me. Angus you are answering yourself again. Oh well shoot me I am going mad as well as terrified.
     
  3. Mr Grumpy
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    Mr Grumpy Member

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    I've been using italics for small internal monologues (and will more than likely get slated for doing so).

    For example, Frank has been catching up with some sleep at work when he's almost caught by his boss, and now is worried the boss might suspect:

    (...and yeah thats a dreadful couple of sentences but it was off the cuff)
     
  4. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    If you're writing a story that is heavily concentrated on characters, you'll probably want a limited and close perspective (and the definition you give for a limited third-person was confusing to me). What this does is cut away the extra filter, as you're representing the character's experiences directly, not referring to them.

    The easiest example of this is with basic sensory details, where we can often see the following two styles:

    or

    The difference is in the first one, we're basically being informed of the thing the character is seeing, and it's an additional step removed (or filtered) from the second example, which presents the image directly.

    The second example is 'closer' and generally builds more empathy, as we become the character, so what the character sees, we see. Where as the first example we're still us, the reader, and a writer is informing us of what the character sees, which isn't as strong an experience from an empathetic point of view.

    If you're writing in a limited, close perspective you can get away with presenting the world directly, as the character would experience it. You'd never say to yourself 'I see the light,' it simply exists and is seen (notable exception for the sake of reality-to-fiction translations, is in prose when something is experienced that is abnormal, it's often as or even more effective to note the exception simply with 'he could see a purple unicorn nobody else seemed to notice' as it's then putting more emphasis on the fact the character is sensing something not typically possible to sense).

    So, if you're depicting a character in a limited, close sort of perspective--basically trying to bring about the truth and reality of a character's experiences--so too you wouldn't write

    and instead they would simply occur, as if experienced, and be written as

    You have to establish this sort of pov/perspective and style, and maintain it throughout, and control it, or it can get sloppy and confusing. But if you stay with it, you as the writer can then simply present the experience directly, giving the sound or image directly and not filtering it through a writer or external narrator pointing out sounds are heard and images are seen.

    This also applies to direct thoughts, and in my opinion makes the not only easier to deliver, but more profound. So too with sensory input, if you're maintaining this style and pov/perspective, you can give the thoughts directly. I've even seen writers skilled enough that, unperceived in the moment of reading, they switch from a third person narration to a sentence in first person, that is a direct thought, not italicized or quoted, no attribution tags, and it made complete and perfect sense in context of reading that it was a thought directly of the character and was very effective since in this style the reader is the character, so the thought simply became your thought as you read.

    I'm not saying do that, necessarily, as switching to first person can still jar some people (usually only if you don't have a masterful control over the pov/perspective), but you can still give direct thoughts if you're maintaining a close, limited pov/perspective that won't need cumbersome 'he thought' attributions and such a style, again, builds empathy through the character, which is good.

    It might help to look up 'free indirect speech/discourse' on google, as it's basically the term to describe what you're struggling with (and I don't want to get in trouble linking stuff, eeep!).

    But the basic idea is prose is either directly quoted/attributed, reported or given freely (and technically indirectly).

    So, you either have a thought cited direct:

    or you have a thought reported:

    or free, indirect discourse:

    It gets confusing, because intuitively indirect discourse is actually giving the thoughts directly (as is giving images directly, not through a narrator or writerly filter), so don't get caught up on the terms! It's better to focus on the style and effect, which leads to very different results at times.

    If we put it all together, we have two different styles and methods of presenting essentially the same sentences and experiences:

    vs., assuming we're in a limited, close pov/perspective, so will understand these things are all in relation to only this character and what he's experiencing:

    Because we're firmly planted in the characters pov, we know that question is coming from the character, not the writer. And because that style of writing brings us closer, and more empathetically into the character's experiences, we become the character and thus the thought [has a chance if the prose is executed well] of becoming our thought, what we too experience.

    The result is generally more powerful, because instead of being referred to a character's thoughts, feelings, experiences, we become the character in such an empathetic way the narrator and writer disappear, we become the character, and thus the character's thoughts, feelings and experiences become our own as we read. This is how good fiction, instead of just telling us a story, lets us live a story, and how at times good fiction can actually become so vivid as an experience--because it essentially is experienced--that people may feel the events they read, in a way, actually happened.

    I've hilariously had friends tell me about something they experienced in nature, a sunset or watching a wild-fire, and then had to point out it was actually something they read, as I also read it, but because the experience was brought to life in this manner and style of writing, felt as if it had actually been experienced, and instead of being stored in the information part of our brain (oh, yeah, I remember that plot) it actually became stored as if it were a memory (something they're actually studying now, to see if fiction can be so empathetically engrossing as to actually make people believe it truly happened to them, as years later they remember it as a memory, not as something they simply read in a book).

    I do want to mention that there's no 'right' way to write, of course, it all depend what you want to do. Sometimes this style, where the narrator completely disappears, may not be the best choice. For some readers, markets, audiences, subjects, etc, it may be discouraging and keep them from reading, because it feels too real about things they don't want to feel (read as: commercial fiction usually employs a distance of some kind, as then the material is faster and easier to consume and the reader doesn't get bogged down by 'feeling' the story, and instead keeps turning pages and just enjoying the plot line and being informed of the character's experiences, not themselves experiencing them).

    It's a decision you have to make as a writer, of course. I personally WANT my readers to feel and experience my stories, especially the tough subjects or moments they may want to pull back from, that's when I work extra hard to keep them pulled in. Then again, even in workshops where others were 'required' to read my manuscripts, I'll always get at least a few who apologize and say they just couldn't keep reading if the subject was too painful or too real (like I have a story about a girl who was raped, and is very confused, and often it's male readers who say it just got too painful and real for them to handle continuing to read). I personally take this as a compliment, though, but understand this isn't what many readers or writers want, so there's definitely a decision that need to be made about the distance you want to create between the reader and the story, and the ways you can do that.
     
  5. philipmarie
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    philipmarie Member

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    Thanks everyone for your help. Popsicle, you are right about writing on uncomfortable subjects and actually, my book is going to deal with alot of uncomfortable subjects. There are going to be alot of mature sexual themes which people may find uncomfortable. This is not to sya though that my book is going to be an erotica because it defintiely is not. Rather the sexual themes in the book will be more familiar to the common man who hasn't had coitus in his whole life; lust, sexual desire, child abuse, etc... Yet, I'll find a way (with the Blessed Virgin's help:D)

    to make the readers keep on reading. Thanks everybody!
     
  6. Infinitytruth
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    Infinitytruth Senior Member

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    Actions speak louder then words for one thing. Also Distinct dialect gives people thoughts on what that character might be like.

    For example, when you hear Golem in 'Lord of the Rings' talk you can tell a lot about his character "Master! Don't hurts us! Please don't hurts us!"

    And his talking in 3rd person lol "Golem knows the way! Follow hobbitses! Follow!"
     
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  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    by what they say and do... not by telling us in narrative, or dialog tags...
     
  8. philipmarie
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    philipmarie Member

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    Yeah, I'm trying to avoid that (even though sometimes telling is inevitable). For example, instead of writing:

    Golem was very, very sad at not having caught the ring when he had the chance.

    I'll write instead:

    Golem sat down on a hard rock crying. Oh if only he had caught the precious ring when he had the chance. Instead, he let those blasted Hobbits get away with it.

    I don't know if the way I wrote it is the right way, may someone please tell me? thanks.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You need to balance showing and telling. I find that the complexities of emotion favor showing rather than telling, to let the reader draw her or his own conclusions and adjust them as the observations accumulate.

    Even in the second example, you're telling more than showing.

    Gollum screamed in frustration, then curled up in a dark corner, sobbing and muttering.

    Let the reader figure it out. Presumably, this occurs in a context that the reader would have a pretty good idea what brought on the tantrum, but that is also why an isolated snippet isn't enough to tell you how it :should: be written.

    Check out Show and Tell
     
  10. philipmarie
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    philipmarie Member

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    I don't understand what you really meant Cogito. In fiction, we have the advantage of diving into the character's mind and seeing what he is thinking, something which film cannot do. Here are three examples which show what I mean: the first one is written in limited viewpoint. We see what the character is thinking but we don't experience events as if we were seeing them through the character's mind:

    Pete waited fifteen minutes before Nora showed up wearing a vivid blue dress that Pete had never seen before. "Do you like it?" asked Nora.
    It looks outrageous, thought Pete, like neon woven into cloth. "Terrific,"
    he said, smiling. Nora studied Pete's face for a moment, then glared. "You always want me to be frowsy and boring," she said.


    The second example here is written in deep viepoint, where not only do we know what the POV character is thinking but we experience events in the way that he is expeiencing them. We are given not the attitude of the narrator but the atitude of the character:

    Pete wasn't surprised that Nora was fifteen minutes late, and of course she
    showed up wearing a new dress. A blue dress. No, not just blue. Vivid blue, like neon woven into cloth. "Do you like it?" asked Nora.
    Pete forced himself to smile. "Terrific." As usual, she could read his mind despite his best efforts to be a cheerful, easy-to-get-along-with hypocrite. She glared at him. "You always want me to be frowsy and boring."


    Notice that in the first sentence, the narrator does tell instead of show but it was necessary and in no way kicked us out of Pete's mind. Then there is the third example which is called cinematic narrative. Like film, it is all show, no tell and we NEVER dwell into the character's mind.

    When Pete arrived, Nora wasn't there. He sighed and immediately sat down to wait. Fifteen minutes later Nora showed up. She was wearing a vivid blue dress, and she turned around once, showing it off. "Do you like it?"
    Pete looked at the dress for a moment without expression. Then he gave
    a weak little smile. "Terrific." Nora studied Pete's face for a moment, then glared. "You always want me to be frowsy and boring."

    (taken from Orson Scott Card's Characters and viewpoint)
    When the author says 'weak little smile', it is not Pete or Nora who think that the smile is weak but the narrator. We have no attitude except as is given by facial expressions and gestures, etc... and I feel that in order to make my story stick more in the people's minds that they may recieve the message, I feel that I must reveal what the character's thoughts and feelings are.
     
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  11. philipmarie
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    philipmarie Member

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    Actually Cogito, I understood the part where you said that "Presumably, this occurs in a context that the reader would have a pretty good idea what brought on the tantrum..." the readers know that Frodo stole Gollum's (not Golem:rolleyes:) ring so they'll know the reason why he is having a tantrum.

    But lets go to another scenario. I don't mean to offend people at all but one of the minor themes which my novel is going to deal with is child sexual abuse. I'm definitely not going to stoop to child pornography and vileness (something which the utterly evil Marquis de Sade actually fell into) and describe in detail the way a child molester raped a young girl, the way he touched her, spoke to her, what he did to her etc...:( even though these things do happen we cannot stoop so low but rather I'm going to show the effects of this abuse. How will the girl view grown ups from now on? What precautions will she take? What disorders may affect her? What reason is there for her to think that the molester did all that because he 'loves her' (this is also known as Stockholm syndrome)?

    If the girl is the protagonist of the novel, the readers can't know this without dwelling into her mind and it'd be even more effective if we used deep penetration. I'm not saying that in order to achieve deep penetration we have to write every thought of the protagonist as an interior monologue. The book would become lame and unredable:

    Pain! Pain! Ouch, the pain. I bite my teeth down on my lips in order to ease the pain. I want to...

    Ok, enough!
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You don't need to read her thought stream to accomplish that. You show her flinching when someone touches her shoulder unexpectedly from behind, her fear of men in general, her constantly waking up sceaming and shaking, her inability to form relationships.

    If you preceded this at some point with a terrified young girl hiding, as the drunken stepfather (or whoever), is searching, and you break off the scene when he finds her...

    The point is, listening to a character's thoughts is overused, because it's an easy way out. The result is the very lame and unreadable condition you wish to avoid.
     
  13. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Sadly there is a misconception that everything we write has to be 1000 % plot related, this theory has been most certainly disproved in the last 2 decades. If this commitment to plot and only plot was correct, many of the published today would be accused of "wasting words" when they place their characters in everyday situations that do not move the story forward per se but seduce readers curiosity showing us how they act, re-act, under re-act.
     
  14. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    I am uneducated in so far as 'fringe fiction" however in so far as the general fiction marketplace the character arc has become an essential element

    A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the storyline.If a plot is bad ass the characters can not avoid undergoing some sort of transformation. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes, be challened, questioned etc.
     
  15. BEyre
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    BEyre Member

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    I have to say, this thread, and especially those posts between Cogito and philipmarie, have been extremely helpful for me as I was wondering what the best POV (and thus how to show character attitude and feelings) would be for my novel I'm writing.

    philipmarie - sounds like you are in a similar boat in how we are needing to write a sexually abused character and the "events" she goes through in a tasteful but yet descriptive way.

    I would be interested in reading an excerpt of one such scene in your book to see how you handled the actual abuse/act.
     
  16. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    That kind of writing (while popular, perhaps) sort of only gets the reader into the ballpark. It's generic. It's the kind of thing where you then get a story vaguely about a subject, instead of about people or characters or humanity.

    Worse, it's often not very engaging, and starts to look like a bad puppet show, where the characters are being pushed around stage pantomiming what they're actually thinking and feeling. Or worse, it becomes a game of charades, where the character is flinching at someone's touch and we get to guess exactly why. The only way it works is if one is dealing with a subject matter in a very generic, distant way.

    I'm sure most writers agree that being specific in one's writing is important. Fiction can't be unique, if it isn't written in a specific way. A generic trope like the ol' girl-cringes-when-a-man-touches-her-shoulder (how many countless times have we seen this sort of thing?) isn't specific. It's not telling exactly how that girl felt and why. Now, some people might not want that level of connection and precision in their fiction, but that doesn't make it better writing, and isn't the purpose of these forums and writers discussing these things and studying to figure out how to make their writing better?

    Sure, you see the tropes and cliches a lot more often, but that doesn't make them better. And why do we see them more often? Because it's easier. The generic cringe-at-the-touch-of-her-shoulder type of writing happens all the time, and by just about anyone. Do you want to write a generic story that anyone could write? (Oh, I know, everything things it's their amazing idea that's going to set them apart, lol). Or do you want to write the story that only you can write? To do the latter, one has to be unrelentingly specific.

    And I know there are different avenues to take when talking about publication, but we also know we all wouldn't be on this site if we were to that point. The business of writing--what sells and why, how to craft what sells--is a different forum, I believe (otherwise most of us are in the wrong place, and we'd be allowed to link to book-selling sites, eh). And I don't know any accomplished writers who would support the idea one should write in generalities, and that getting inside to the character to directly experience thoughts, feelings and motivations is bad writing.

    The shame that I see over and over is writers who look at their favorite page-turner commercial fiction writers, want to be rich and famous, so try to learn how to write in the generic, shallow way that many of these books end up being (from a craft perspective, no indictment on readers who like popular books, as I like plenty of them myself, but that doesn't make them well crafted fiction). But, what many aspiring writers don't understand is that many of these writers spent years studying fiction in order to write that precisely. And I doubt any of them would suggest TEACHING writers to aim for generic, distant prose.

    It's like the adage one must learn the rules before attempting to break them. Many writers of commercial fiction (where we can often see distant, generic prose) learned how to write well, before they consciously learned how to write in a way that appeals to masses and sells. Once one has mastered the art of fiction, then one can write whatever they want. But time and time again I see people trying to master a niche, not realizing they're missing steps, and those steps are usually learning outside or beyond that niche.

    And I'm sorry, but saying listening to the character's thoughts is an easy way out is something I find not only untrue, but misleading. Being able to get inside of a characters head accurately, relevantly and truthfully is what makes fiction fiction and not just a bad stage-show on paper. Not to mention, it's also STILL what makes even commercial fiction moving and meaningful.

    I'm a bit concerned the debate is even whether to represent the internal workings of a character, as the debate professional writers are having clearly seems to be how much to do this, not whether to do it at all. I don't remember the last thing I read that didn't get into a characters head, or represent their thoughts, as it's one of the only advantages fiction has, and professional writers know they have to exploit that advantage.

    And to then, after making such ignorant assertions, to then be completely nonconstructive by declaring it lame and unreadable? That's the kind of BS that gets other people on this site in trouble (with mods and the locals), so I hope it won't stand just because you happen to be a moderator, Cogito.

    Of course, I expect a lot of the choir to come in and defend the preacher who always focuses on them (and chastise me for pointing out what is clear if one actually studies fiction markets, that commercial fiction is written in a more distant, generic and shallower nature). But at some point I can't just go with the whole notion that it's all just opinions, especially when those opinions are so blatantly ignorant, dismissive and even rudely saying such a style and method is lame and unreadable.
     
  17. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the important thing like with everything else is to know your character some characters are happier with you giving details than others. Some have dignity and pride and in that case you would show less - than with a character who doesn't care or wants to teach.

    With my own characters - I have young Angus who would be mortified if I spent too much time describing him naked or a sex scene so for him ... does the job or maybe a closed shower curtain or bedroom door. With some of my other characters they couldn't care less and I go a bit further into the scene.

    The character and story should dictate how much you show and how.
     
  18. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    If we do not get to know our characters beyond the superficial (name, rank and serial number) how can we expect to articulate emotions to the reader ? A great point was made in this thread that all characters will not emote the same way over the same issue.
     
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