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A day late
Brief thoughts on interiority
Warning: flashing gif at very end
Hello! A short one this week since, as you can see by the subject/title, I am a day late. I got a lovely question from Jessica via email about unreliable narrators and the first and third person, but I won’t try and tackle it today. First, it’s Saturday (as you may have noticed) and I’m not operating at 100% on the weekend. Second, Bridget and I are hopefully going to be recording Shipping & Handling next week, and Bridget has some very strong thoughts on this subject that will be much funnier if she’s involved.
I do want to talk a little bit about one facet of this question: interiority. It’s a word I use a lot when I am editing. I don’t know how common it is from other editors (Rebecca, help me out here!) but it’s something I’m always wanting more of. What is it, you ask? Basically, interiority is a window into the character’s thoughts and feelings.
I had clients who would joke about making me a shirt that said “but how do they FEEL?” on it, because it was probably the most common question I asked in edits. Now as a freelance editor it’s STILL the most common question I ask. Often, when I point out that we have no idea what a character thinks or feels about a situation in the conversation afterwards the author says “I thought I was doing that.” The problem is almost always that the author knows what the character thinks and feels - they created them, after all. So they don’t necessarily see that those feelings haven’t been made clear to the reader. Often, there is a cue to how they feel, but it comes in the form of a physical reaction- someone tensing up, or frowning, or gasping. Those aren’t bad, necessarily, but too much of it and you have a wincing, gasping, frowning, tensing, trembling mess and for all the reader knows they could be secretly delighted with the entire situation.
The other thing about using physical cues to indicate emotion is that many are observable actions and not felt actions, if that makes sense. For example, I see the phrase “her face fell” or “my face fell” used frequently as an expression of dismay. In the first person, “my face fell” is fine, but it’s not very strong. By switching it up to be more explicit about what it was falling from, and what it was falling to, you can convey emotion much better. “The smile slipped off my face” is basically the same but with added oomph.
Why is any of this important? Without emotional context, the things that happen in the book are just events. Without emotional grounding, it might as well be happening in a vacuum. It’s the emotional journey the character goes on as much as the physical one that gets the reader on their side and rooting for them.
I am keeping it short today but when you’re reading, take note of how authors have their characters display emotions. There are lots of ways to do it effectively, and it’s part of the journey of writing to figure out the way you do it in your own style.
Have a question? Want me to talk about something related to reading, writing, books, publishing, etc? Leave it in the comments or in a reply to the newsletter!
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
Who the hell knows, man. The Habs are playing the Knights, still, and the Lightning are playing the Islanders, still, and Alex Ovechkin and his unreasonably hot wife and extremely large sons are in Turkey on the first leg of their Summer Oligarch Vacation Tour. Something kind of cool that started this week: former Dallas Stars defenseman Stephen Johns is rollerblading across America to raise awareness for depression and mental health. Johns missed out on 22 months of play while dealing with crippling headaches and post-concussion syndrome, and announced his retirement in the same Instagram post. I follow him on Instagram and it’s been really cool to see people turn out at the stops along the way.
One Good Thing: A very funny show about girlboss feminism and workplaces full of petty men by Emily Vanderwerff (Vox)
It would be so easy for Mythic Quest to make Poppy an underdog hero the audience can root for. She is perpetually overworked and underpraised, and as the series gets underway, she simply wants to program a shovel into the game so players can use it to dig stuff. Ian insists she make the shovel into a weapon, because if it’s only a shovel, the players will use it to dig dicks, plus it will be more exciting if players can use it to wail on people. Ian is right on both counts: They do dig dicks, and the shovel is way more satisfying as an implement of blunt force trauma.
The H Word: Arnold Is A Survivor Girl by John Wiswell (Nightmare Magazine)
Predator (1987) doesn’t feel like most slashers. That’s because the safe thing it targets is different. Rather than a suburb or a vacation resort, Predator targets the American male power fantasy.
You Can’t Escape the Attention Economy by Kaitlyn Tiffany (The Atlantic)
These days, if Chang were to make a “silly little joke” about a boy and a bowl of cereal, he knows that it would be considered “content”—a post that can be circulated and noticed, and leveraged to inspire continued use of Twitter by those who want to see more content like it. He doesn’t happen to profit from his Twitter account, apart from linking to his Bandcamp page, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that he might. “In theory, why shouldn’t I get money from it, rather than just promoting Twitter itself?” he mused. I asked Chang if he remembered when this fact became apparent—when people came to understand that every post they publish is a potential moneymaker for somebody at some point. He guessed that it happened about five years ago, around the time when people stopped saying the word content in quotation marks, as if the whole thing was a joke.
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This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond. Is there something you’d like me to talk about? Leave it in the comments or reply to the email! You can support the newsletter here. If you purchase a book from any of the links to Bookshop.org I get a small commission at no cost to you. I am available for developmental editing and editorial assessment services via Reedsy.