Misleading Advice

I’d like to talk briefly about a misunderstood piece of advice that seriously limited my early writing. And, heck, still affects my writing.

Don’t give lots of internal monologue (an instance of Show, don’t Tell)

Don’t tell us a million things about what the character is thinking; instead, show through POV and actions. Sounds sensible for a 3rd-person POV, right? Even third-person-limited is mostly outside the character’s head. Don’t bog down in the character’s stream of thought, but instead let us see the world.

So, I tried to follow that. I showed my characters’ internal lives through their actions. I provided their habits and fidgets, the physical sensations of their actions and reactions, the things they did and felt as they went about their various (mis)adventures.

And in came the critiques and rejection letters.

The fine editor of Fictionvale laid this out for me most helpfully: “We can watch a movie faster than we can read a book, and get the same things out of it if the book isn’t giving us the *inside* of the character as well as the outside.”

So that little third-person-limited POV needs to stick its eyes inside the character’s head more often. Narrate the world from their point of view. Stick their thoughts right in there alongside the physical things they see. Your narrative doing a bit of telling can serve to show the character’s mind. By doing so, you bring your reader right where you want them to be: in that character’s mind alongside you.

In most genres and situations, if the reader ever has to guess what the POV character is thinking, then you’re doing it wrong.

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