Connective Threads

When many authors are requested to add interior monologues for a major character, they tend to panic. The person giving the advice may make an innocent suggestion like “Pick up a great novel you like, or one you just read. Study how that author does it.” That’s fine until you actually start reading. Then you realize that the reason you like the novel is because the character can ramble on about their private thoughts for pages at a time. When well written, an entire book can be an interior monologue. So how in the world are you supposed to do that?

Luckily, the goal of achieving penetration into a main character can be accomplished on a number of levels. The one I’d like to discuss today is simple to insert and surprisingly effective. It is the memory of a previous incident inside the book. For illustrative purposes let’s say: Lenny sees a black-and-blue mark on the back of Nathalie’s arm. He asks her about it and she finally admits her husband, Arthur, is sometimes too rough with her. The first thought to be inserted might come naturally to you. Lenny reacts immediately to this information: That’s terrible. Arthur must be a cruel man. This immediate reaction then becomes the foundation of the later remembered thoughts.

In order for the method to work, the first memory needs to be separated from the incident by a run of pages. One good place is at the beginning of the next chapter. Lenny is driving with Nathalie, and he glances over surreptitiously to check if he can see the bruise. He remembers when she told him and that initial reaction. Right away you are drawing the reader deeper into the narrative. The reader was engaged in the other stuff you wrote after the incident; the bruise was pushed to the back of his mind. By reminding him, you are interlinking two pieces of your narrative.

The next bead on this string might occur 50 pages later. Lenny meets the husband, maybe during a chance encounter while Nathalie is grocery shopping. No matter what Arthur says, Lenny remembers: this guy beats up his wife. As a reader, by now I don’t care what that guy says, either. I want to find out what Lenny is going to say, knowing that about the guy. I’m involved, because Lenny reminded me how he is going to react. Again, further penetration. A simple memory can cause the reader to anticipate. She is inside Lenny’s head.

A modification of this technique can be achieved by layering new information on top of the memory. Another 50 pages later, Lenny notices that Nathalie is downcast. She admits that because she has been spending so much time with Lenny lately, Arthur went into a jealous rage. That’s all she says; she’s too ashamed to tell any more. But Lenny, because he remembers, jumps to conclusions. He imagines what happened in that house last night. He’s looking carefully at Nathalie to spot any more bruises. He wells up with anger inside because he’d like to march over to the house and tell Arthur to pick on someone his own size. All of this run of interior thinking stems from a simple mark on the back of Nathalie’s arm. By continuing to remember it, you can make it the basis for your protagonist’s ongoing interior reactions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
—Douglas Adams

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine

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