richard harland's writing tips

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The Elements

(Action, Setting, Dialogue, Thinking Inside)



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4. Thinking Inside




The beauty of a half-and-half voice is that it’s very easy to glide in and out of a character’s experience. In the Worldshaker passage I just quoted, ‘he removed his shirt and washed his arms and chest’ describes Col’s actions, which he must be experiencing—but he’s not necessarily thinking about them in this way. His actions might be mostly automatic, while his thoughts run along the lines of ‘It was so unfair. Why him? Why now?’juggernaut

‘It was so unfair. Why him? Why now?’ definitely moves us into his thoughts. This isn’t the author’s protest (so unfair) and the questions aren’t my questions. Using a question is one of the easiest ways of slipping into a character’s thoughts; another is using a self-command, e.g. ‘He had to stop this before anyone got hurt’; another is using a fragmentary exclamation, e.g. ‘Unbelievable!’

There’s a more distantly presented moment in the middle of the paragraph: ‘the more he thought about it, the more he doubted it was possible.’ This is like the author commenting on Col’s thoughts, rather than the thoughts themselves.

We’re back in Col’s thoughts, though, with the very next phrase: ‘A way to go down would also be a way for Filthies to climb up’. The focal length keeps shifting, like a constantly adjusted telescope.

This is more than just handy for the author. I believe it also corresponds to the way our minds really work—with constant shifts of focus.

The last paragraph slides away from Col’s experience. ‘At least he didn’t see her again that afternoon,’ is more distant (‘that afternoon’ rather than ‘this’) and doesn’t give us the thought of any particular moment; but it’s still filtered through his sense of relief in the phrase ‘At least …’

The last sentence moves further away: ‘He had dancing practice with Mrs Landry, followed by foils practice with Mr Bantling, followed by supervised jigsaw puzzling with Mrs Canabriss …’ Those are things that happen to Col, but not presented as he experiences them.

kittenI wasn’t doing any of that deliberately when I wrote those paragraphs, and I wouldn’t want to. I’m getting analytical now just to make a point: that you can slide and glide most anywhere with FID. You can move little by little from a character’s inner thoughts to that character’s actions, to general actions, to events outside the character’s direct experience. Eventually, you can even move across to another character’s inner thoughts.

The gradations and flexibility of FID are a great blessing. You just have to avoid jumping suddenly between extremes, from a thought that’s deep inside a character’s experience to something that character obviously couldn’t experience. Motto for authors: be subtle and slippery.











Copyright note: all material on this website is (c) Richard Harland, 2009-10
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1997 - 2010 Richard Harland.