Sunday, January 12, 2014

Technical Topic -- Being Introspective

Elsewhere, somebody says, more or less  --
My WIP is full of introspection.  I'm going overboard. 

It's good to spot this going-overboard-with-introspective problem before you disappear under the waters.

Introspection distances us from the story.
It is generally pretty boring unless the character is introspecting about how to murder someone with a can opener.
Or overthrow the government. 
Or lure somebody into bed.

This exercise is one approach to the introspection problem:

-- Make a new document of the scene.

-- Remove ALL the introspection.
I mean -- just all of it.  All the internals. All the flashback.  All the philosophy and self-doubt and angst and toing-and-froing about what to do next, all the moral uncertainties.  In short, every moment the author takes the reader into the character's head.
This includes flashback and thinking about what's happening elsewhere or mulling over what just happened and roughly about anything that is not under the POV character's nose at the moment.

-- Put the internals into a separate document.

-- Nudge a bit at this stripped-down version. Can you goose up the pacing? Can you give the scene more forward momentum by adding dialog or action?

-- Move internals into dialog

Instead of him thinking 

He was so sad Connie had failed her exam. Why wouldn't she study? What was wrong with her? He felt frustrated and annoyed.

Write it out as dialog

He snapped, "Why the hell can't you study?"
"I try--"
"You failed another goddamn exam. Do you think you're going to become an architect with a bunch of C+ grades?" He kicked the chair beside the fire.
"It's not my fault."
"Bullshit it's not your fault."

You do this movement from introspection to dialog because dialog (and action) is more interesting than introspection.
Because dialog allows folks to react to all the stuff that's floating around in the POV character's head. Because the POV character gets to react back.

Actual brain contents and why we avoid introspection.
-- Now you go to the snippets of introspection you have saved in the other document and allow yourself to use a tenth of that introspection.

-- Do not re-add the rest of the introspection till the next draft. After a couple weeks away from the introspection, you will be less in love with it. The new, faster, sleeker, more-vivid story will compare favorably with the sluggish, introspective story.


  1. What a delightfully ruthless technique!

  2. (Jo rubs her hands together)

    Yes indeed. That's me, being ruthless.

    But somebody's only going to do this if they think they've got too much introspection. And if they think that, they probably do. *g*

  3. Wonderful advice, Joanna. Thanks.