1. Eldritch
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    Eldritch Member

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    Merging Thought With Exposition

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Eldritch, Apr 14, 2011.

    I'm comfortable with the way my story flows, with one exception. Any time I have my character thinking, and try to merge that with a paragraph of exposition, it always reads like a train wreck (to me at least). Any tips or advice on how to improve this? Here's an example paragraph:


    There must have been an accident, his thoughts fumbled for an explanation. That damned fool Troika must have been doing those experiments of his again, and something went wrong. Troika was always shut away in his cabin, tinkering with things that were never meant to be tinkered with. Though, he did offer useful services to the villagers. He could fix anything that was broken: wagons, plows, bows, knives, and even items that seemed impossible to fix, like broken urns and burned documents. Troika called it a science. What was the word for it... alchemy?
     
  2. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    When, in your entire life, have you ever had an experience you ever describe as feeling as if your thoughts fumbled for an explanation? First of all, unless his thoughts are their own character, his thoughts weren't fumbling, he was. Secondly, it just sounds contrived.

    What POV are you working in? If you're in a close, limited third person, you can just be more direct and cut out the extra filters like italics and clumsy thought attributions. In such a pov, you can literally just cut the attribution and we'll understand this information is coming from the character, and it will make sense without needing a flashing neon sign telling us 'this is the character thinking things!'

    If you're in a more distant pov, then you might want to go with this sort of thing:

    He tried to think of some explanation, but it all had to be some kind of accident. He figured that damn fool Troika...

    This sort of style is a bit smoother, imo, than having thought attributions and italics for direct thoughts that are, imo, not very compelling and don't justify needing to be so precisely captured.

    It looks like a close, limited pov, so the reader understands what's on the page is coming from the character, and you can just cut the 'he thought' sort of tags as we get it's all his thoughts and feelings and experiences, so becomes clumsy (adding a filter between the reader and MC).
     
  3. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    I'm comfortable with how that paragraph flows too. :)

    I agree with popsicledeath on a possible solution though I'd like to point to a different cause.

    It seems to me that you're treating internal thoughts as dialog. If you put quotes around the thoughts he'd be talking to himself. This isn't a bad thing. People do it all the time. If you treat it as ordinary and don't carry on long conversations you can get away with "blah blah," he thought. -- or he muttered, or he pondered.

    But if you find that you need to do it often for flow or whatnot consider examining your POV and zooming out to a narrator who tells the reader the thoughts instead of the character speaking them to us.
     
  4. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the whole concept of presenting thoughts as an on-the-spot internal monologue is somewhat flawed to begin with. We might do this when preparing to speak or write something, but otherwise thoughts are much more of a jumbled flow of abstracts. Melting them into the narrative like Popsickledeath suggests gives a better flow and is closer to reality as well.
     
  5. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Yeah, I personally only use direct thoughts when that direct thought is important and so relevant as to warrant the extra attention.

    Often, you'll see them peppered through commercial fiction where every paragraph the character stops to formulate a direct thought, and it's usually ridiculously inane stuff like "that's a cute red car" or "need to buy milk" that in my mind isn't exactly so important or profound a character effectively stopped to formulate that level of thought.
     
  6. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    I must say that I think like that, with my thoughts as a 'on-the-spot internal monologue' or entirely subconscious.
     
  7. Eldritch
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    I think that internal dialogue-esque thoughts are appropriate in some circumstances though. For example:

    Raiders? What could raiders want with our village? He looked toward the fields and saw that no one had stolen or burned the crops. But crops are the only thing we really have, he reflected, rising to his feet.
     
  8. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    But, if you're in a limited, close, third person pov, you don't even need the italics, and the 'he reflected' becomes redundant. That's my point, heh.

    If that prose were in such a book, and not italicized, no [sane] reader would stop and be confused because they don't know who's asking "raiders?". We'd be reading through the MC, know it's coming from the character, and instead of it having a distracting 'look here, this is formatting to tell you it's a thought' sort of filtering, it simply would be a thought on the page. The thought is effectively created in the reader, instead of referred to or given and redundantly told it's a thought.

    If you're not in a close, limited third person (or first, of course), then it can get confusing, as you then have to clarify when it's a character's thought, as the narrator or other characters may also be getting their say in things as well, depending on the pov.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Chiming in to agree that the thought attribution isn't needed. It's not that the _thoughts_ are bad; the problem is being so specific about attributing them to your viewpoint character, when it's obvious that they're his thoughts. You could get those attributions out by flipping a few words:

    Raiders? What could raiders want with the village? He looked toward the fields; no one had stolen or burned the crops. And the crops were the only thing any of them had. He got to his feet and...

    ChickenFreak
     

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