1. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Writing without using introspection

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by essential life, Sep 12, 2009.

    I was planning on writing a short story where there is dialogue, description, and action, but no introspection. You don't get a sense of what the characters are thinking or feeling except through word and deed. How common is this type of writing?
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Not very, because its very difficult to read (as in it requires a lot of effort by the reader to translate something completely flat into something that has emotional weight). That said, there are a few modernist authors (I'mthinking like Hemingway, or Bret Easton Ellis) who write in a similar manner some of the time, and the writing is amazing, but still, IMO, very difficult to read and emotionally draining.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's called showing instead of telling. The reader infers thoughts and emotions only from what can be observed by a spactator.

    It isn't ALL there is to showing vs telling, but it's a major part of it.

    Most writing doesn't use showing exclusively. Most writers will give you a direct line into what at least one character is thinking.

    It can be a useful exercise though. I wrote a short story that way once.
     
  4. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    There's a story called, "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson using this same method: the observant perspective.

    You should read it.
     
  5. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    I take it, it would be easier to pull of in a short story though, right? For an entire novel, that would be pretty weird.
     
  6. Shattuck
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    Shattuck New Member

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    Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is told in such a way, and not only is it a full novel, but in my opinion is one of the greatest works in recent history. I think the important thing is that such a style requires a reason; in Blood Meridian you don't see into anyone's head because it doesn't matter. Every message in the book is action-driven and deals with such lofty symbolism and allegory that you can extrapolate plenty of information without it. American Pscyho (Ellis) is pretty much the same way. You get little sprinkles of introspection, but as it goes on you begin to realize that even those bits are just a facade. If you can pull it off well it is a very interesting concept, but like many other styles it can be absolutely horrendous if you can't manage it properly.
     
  7. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just be careful not to fall into the temptation of making your characters superficial.
     
  8. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    That's what I was going to say... :p
     
  9. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Writing like that can only be superficial. Any deeper meaning is absent from the text itself and must be inferred by the reader, which is what makes reading this kind of writing so emotionally challenging.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Screenplays.

    I don't know if I could read a whole novel like that. I didn't get very far into American Pyscho. Not my kind of novel.
     
  11. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    I think that's the rough equivalent of "show don't tell." Isn't that exactly what that's all about? The more you can convey to your reader via what's actually taking place (especially so, through the significance to your MC--as in 3rd person close, e.g.), the more likely you are to engage your reader's imagination along with your own. The MC need not "think about himself to the reader" or even inform the reader about his own view by informing another character. He need only DEMONSTRATE to the reader through his own behavior and the behavior (and details and mood and so forth) he sees in front of him what's going on in his world in a way that shows the reader very clearly (and imaginatively) what's significant to the story you tell.

    I think it's the ideal objective. Go for it!
     
  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Deeper meanings can be conveyed through showing, using symbolic actions and such. What I really meant was to not fall into the trap of disregarding the characters' inner life. They should still have conflicts within, no less elaborate than if exposed directly. Less they could become convenient cardboard set pieces.
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    But that showing your doing needs to be put in a context before it becomes meaningful. With zero 'introspection', we can't be told that the reason the woman is sitting by the door wringin her hands is that she is waiting for her husband to come home. We can't know anything other than the absolutely superficial, hence any 'inner life' you design for your characters cannot be shown except through their externalisation of it, which will only create a variety of ambiguous possiblities the reader may invest themselves in. Without anything except the physical, it becomes virtually impossible for you as a writer to control how the reader thinks. Dialogue will help establish characters, but still, with zero 'introspection' all youcan reveal is what they actually say, which rarely reveals what the character is actually thinking about.

    As I mentioned before, this writing is very very difficult to read for that very reason. So much of the text relies on the reader to bring it to life that it becomes very draining. The text becomesa vacuum of emotion, and it takes huge exertion to navigate within it.
     
  14. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    Wouldn't the narrator saying, "She was waiting for her husband to come home" give that information, while still not being introspection?

    Perhaps the reason people are hesitant to accept this type of writing is this: They don't really know what it means.

    Even if you know exactly what it means and I misunderstood you, perhaps we still don't really know how good or bad it is until we read it for ourselves.

    The story I intend to write will have much less introspection than the usual book.
     
  15. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Introspection is one of the things novels have that set them apart from movies. Why would we want to avoid that advantage?

    In a movie it is usually awkward to share a character's thoughts. Anime does it a lot, though. I think it works well.

    Knowing what goes on inside a character's head makes them more real. I feel like I'm getting to know them intimately. I get to know thoughts that even their friends might not know. I don't see the advantage of taking that away. You might as well write a screenplay.
     
  16. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Detail matters, of course, when it matters, and certainly you can't write without it. The question is how much showing can actually substitute for straight "introspection" and "telling" your reader what's going on in your character's head.

    I think something like what you've offered here is a perfectly wonderful challenge to "show" the reader what's going on and engage the reader's own imagination in such a way that it guides the reading of the story in a manner that suits the writer.

    ***
    e.g.:

    She sat in the uncomfortable ladderback chair by the door, twisting a handkerchief in her arthritic hands. She ignored the whistling teakettle and the smell of burning roast. The sound of the grandfather clock signaled 9:30 with a single resonant bell. In that very moment she understood her husband had finally made good on his unspoken threat.

    ***

    I think that "investment" of the reader in what you call "ambiguous possibilities" (e.g., what threats?) is exactly what compels readers to read on and find out what's going to happen and why. The author can direct that journey through the story by "showing" behaviors and meaningful details in order to "reveal" what's likely going on within the character who's experiencing it (i.e., she needn't simply report that she's worried because her husband isn't home in order to show the reader that's so). In fact, the character herself can't possibly know everything that's relevant to the story that's about to unfold (so "showing" provides the writer with ways to plant seeds that portend things that might happen or suggest mood or raise particular notions about what those "ambiguous possibilities" might be.

    I don't know how else a writer can build the tension required to make a story compelling, in the very particular way a specific story requires.
     

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