Monday, May 23, 2011

Chatty Main Characters

Last week, I talked about how internal thoughts don’t necessarily need italics to indicate they are thoughts—that the entire narration is coming from the main character, and can be considered his thoughts. This opens up all kinds of possibilities to really get inside his head and see for ourselves what he thinks and feels about things. And that’s a good thing, right?

For the most part, yes. The closer the narrative is to the character, the better we understand him, and the easier it is to make a strong connection. Also, the chattier the character, the stronger the voice. BUT (there is always a ‘but’), you can also run the risk of having a main character that’s too ‘chatty.’ We want our characters to have opinions, and a clever comment here and there, but if we’re getting a comment every other sentence, that’s too much.

A story’s pacing can be affected by many things. Flashbacks, back story, a lull in the plot, a weak or indecisive main character, too many characters, drawn-out scenes, etc. It’s also affected by internal monologue. If the main character is giving us a side note every two seconds, it’s going to get in the way of the story’s forward momentum and bog it down. The most effective way to weave in thoughts is to find a good balance.

The way to do this is to only let your character comment on what is absolutely necessary, at that moment in time. If a key piece of information is revealed, then we need to know what the character thinks about that. If he witnesses something that triggers an emotion, we need to know about that. But we don’t need to know what he thinks about everything little thing that comes across the page.

Disclaimer: this does NOT apply to first drafts. When you’re writing a first draft, the whole point is to be as creative as possible and give your characters free reign. If you let them comment on every little thing in the story, it’ll help you get a clearer picture of what kind of people they are. That will make their actions more organic to the story, and it will suck your reader in to the point where he won’t be able to put the book down.

So, if your character is filling up your story with comments and opinions, that’s okay! Just be aware that you’ll need to delete at least half of that when you revise. :)

10 comments:

LM Preston said...

I see examples of this a lot in romance novels. It's a trick that most writers have to give themselves permission to use and I personally like reading it.

Tabitha said...

I do, too. It shows a whole lot more than a distant POV can, and I feel like I can pretend to be that character for the duration of the story. It's fun. :)

khashway said...

If a character is really witty then I enjoy the side commentary--even when it takes you out of the story a bit--but in most cases, I think it needs to be used sparingly.

Tabitha said...

I love witty characters!!! I don't mind at all when cleverness and comedy take me away from the story for a bit. It's sometimes a nice reprieve.

But, yeah, comments still need to be used with caution so the reader doesn't get annoyed and start yelling "get on with it already!" :)

Catherine Stine said...

Yes, you make all good points. There is nothing as boring as a character who is frothing at the mouth all the time. Just as annoying as talking to someone like that in real time. The plot has to move along. First person can also become myopic--too limited a viewpoint. Almost claustrophobic. That's why I prefer close third. That said, if first person os done well, it can be an amazing ride.

cleemckenzie said...

Love this post and Catherine's "frothing at the mouth" comment made me laugh. Guess I should check to see if any of my characters are doing that frothing stuff!

Tabitha said...

Catherine - frothing at the mouth! Hilarious!! :) But I agree. I like witty comments and great insights, but in moderation. Too much and I get impatient.

Lee - it was a great comment, wasn't it? :) My characters tend to go all blah blah blah in my first drafts, and then I refine it in subsequent drafts. But I have a better grasp of my characters by then. :)

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

Yes! Yes!
This is also true of dialogue tags and other description that we don't always need. Keep the momentum going forward as much as possible.

Tabitha said...

Definitely!! It's all about limiting the story to what we *need* to know at that particular moment.

Miss Good on Paper said...

I love your point about first drafts. The first draft is really all about getting your ideas down. Thanks for this post!