Fiction Writing Made Easy

#102: 3 Common Interiority Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

August 01, 2023 Savannah Gilbo Episode 102
Fiction Writing Made Easy
#102: 3 Common Interiority Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In today’s episode, I’m sharing the 3 most common interiority mistakes I see writers make, as well as how to fix them. Here’s a preview of what’s included: 

[03:20] Mistake 1: The “too passive” protagonist. Your protagonist should always crave agency, even if they can't physically take action. 

[06:17] Mistake 2: The protagonist whose always present. Real people think about the past and future while making decisions. Your characters should too!

[09:12] Mistake 3: The protagonist knows what the author knows. It's important to separate the character's knowledge from the author's so the reader can properly immerse themselves in the story.

[13:00] Final thoughts and episode recap.

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Speaker 1:

So in order to write realistic characters, we need to show how their past and future impacts their present moment at any given time. And if you're thinking this means you probably need to do some character development before you can write effective interiority, then you are correct. Welcome to the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast. My name is Savannah Gilbo and I'm here to help you write a story that works. I want to prove to you that writing a novel doesn't have to be overwhelming, so each week I'll bring you a brand new episode with simple, actionable and step-by-step strategies that you can implement in your writing right away. So whether you're brand new to writing or more of a seasoned author looking to improve your craft, this podcast is for you. So pick up a pen and let's get started. In today's episode, I'm going to walk you through the three most common interiority mistakes I see writers make, and I'm going to share how you can fix these mistakes if you're making them in your draft. But first I want to remind you that I have done two episodes related to interiority already. The first one is episode number 82, that's called Show Don't Tell what this Advice Really Means. And the second is episode number 94, and that one's called how to Reveal your Characters in Her Life on the Page. If you haven't listened to those episodes, you might want to push pause on this episode and get up to speed on what interiority is. But either way, you will walk away from today's episode with some good insights on how you can avoid making some of these interiority mistakes in your draft. So, to set the stage, let's quickly talk about what interiority is and then we'll dig into the three mistakes. Interiority is, on the page, access to a character's psyche as they process information in an interesting way. So it's the character's thoughts, feelings and subjective interpretations of events expressed on the page. And that last part is really important. It has to be on the page. So we're not talking about your character's physical reactions or their dialogue or anything external like that. Interiority is all internal and it's all partial, so it's rooted in that character's perspective and since no two people's psyches are the same, it's something that's unique to that character. I sometimes refer to interiority as the novelist's superpower, because it allows you to reach depths of a character's psyche that no other storytelling medium can. This is what makes novels so awesome and it's why we choose to read novels while having access to so many other entertainment sources, right. So that's a quick download on what it means to write interiority and it's super, super important to include in your draft. Again, if you haven't already listened to those other episodes on interiority, I have linked to them in the show notes and I highly highly recommend downloading them right now so you don't forget. Okay, so let's dive into the three most common interiority mistakes I see writers make, and as we go through each of them, I'll give you some strategies for fixing these mistakes. If you've made them in your draft Sound good, okay. So mistake number one is that the character is too internally passive. So if you've read any kind of craft book or if you've been listening to this podcast, you've probably heard that your protagonist needs agency. Agency just means that your protagonist must have the ability to make decisions, to take actions and then to deal with the consequences of those decisions and actions. So a protagonist needs agency, and agency, by definition, is not passive. But sometimes writers find their protagonist in a situation where their physical agency is taken away. So, for example, if a character has recently been captured or imprisoned, they might end up sitting around in their jail cell waiting for something to happen, but as a result of their inactivity, the whole story feels like it comes to a screeching halt and the reader is probably going to start to lose interest. Now, obviously, there will be situations like this in stories where a character cannot take physical action and or where a character needs to be passive in their actions. So, for example, a character might decide not to confront somebody in the moment, or they might be the type of person who generally likes to seek counsel before they act. That is fine to an extent, but no matter what physical situation your protagonist finds themselves in, they should always crave agency, even if only for a fleeting and or unconscious moment. So to bring this to life a little bit, I want to take a look at an example from A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin, and this scene is from Jamie Lannister's point of view, and he has just been taken along with Brienne of Tarth by Vargo Hote, who also just cut off Jamie's hand. So I'm just going to read you the passage of text. Though Wench had the right of it, he could not die. Cersei was waiting for him, she would have need of him, and Tyrion, his little brother, who loved him for a lie. And his enemies were waiting too the young wolf who had beaten him in the whispering wood and killed his men around him. Edmere Tolly who had kept him in darkness and chains, these brave companions. When morning came, he made himself eat. They fed him a mush of oats horse food, but he forced down every spoon. He ate again at Evenfall. And the next day, live, he told himself harshly when the mush was like to gag him. Live for Cersei, live for Tyrion, live for vengeance. Lannister always pays his debts. His missing hand throbbed and burned in stank. When I reach King's Landing I'll have a new hand forged, a golden hand, and one day I'll use it to rip out Vargo Hote's throat. So in this example you can see that although Jaime is bound and he's abused and he's missing a hand, he is anything but internally passive. In this little bit of text he's remembering what's important to him and he's plotting out his next steps. So internally he's active and internally he's craving a sense of agency. So the key takeaway here is that even if your protagonist is physically unable to take action, they should crave agency. They should want something, including the agency, to take the steps to get it Okay. Moving on, mistake number two is that the character is always in the present moment. So I often see writers craft characters who are only ever focused on what's in front of them and because of this they make decisions and they take actions based only on what's in front of them too, and this just isn't realistic. In real life, humans are never fully present, so we're constantly associating what's happening in any given moment with memories from our past, fears we've developed, biases we hold, hopes we have about the future, our goals, what we stand to lose or gain, what other people think, and things like that. So in order to write realistic characters, we need to show how their past and future impacts their present moment at any given time. And if you're thinking this means you probably need to do some character development before you can write effective interiority, then you are correct. If you need some guidance on fleshing out your characters, go check out episode number seven that's called five questions to help you write better characters, and I will link to that episode in the show notes for you as well. Now let's look at an example to bring this idea of the past and the future impacting a character in the moment, and to do that we're going to look at part of a scene from an ember in the ashes by Saba to here, so I'm going to just read you the snippet of text. By the time Helene and I reach Black Cliff's bell tower, nearly all of the school's 3,000 students have formed up. Dawn's an hour away, but I don't see a single sleepy eye. Instead, an eager buzz runs through the crowd. The last time someone deserted, the courtyard was covered in frost. Every student knows what's coming. I clench and unclench my fists. I don't want to watch this. Like all Black Cliff students, I came to school at the age of 6, and in the 14 years since I've witnessed punishments thousands of times. My own back is a map of the school's brutality, but deserters are always the worst. So in this example we can see that the present moment is making the character Elias think of both times in the past when he's seen a deserter punished, and also the upcoming moment when a deserter will be punished in front of the other students. And this brings me to a key point that you can jot down about fixing the issue of an ever-present protagonist. So in every scene, I want you to look for an opportunity to include at least one line showing the influence of your character's past or of their future expectations and or try to show your protagonist's inner clock so what kind of timeline are they operating within and how can you show that on the page? So an easy example of this is if your character's hurrying, we should understand that and we should feel the effects of them needing to hurry within the scene. And also just to clarify when I say to show the effects of your character's past, this doesn't mean to just include a bunch of flashbacks. If you use flashbacks, you'll want to use them very sparingly, because this will stall your story's forward momentum. So, by definition, flashbacks literally take us back in time, so they will slow your story down. Just something I want you to keep in mind. Okay, moving on, mistake number three is when the character knows what the author knows. So sometimes I see drafts where it's obvious that the author's knowledge of the overall story or how they see a character or a situation is leaking through into the text. So, for example, I was recently working with a historical fiction author and one of their characters was sharing their impression of their own time period, as if they were comparing it to the present day. But if that character is living in the 1920s or whatever historical period in time, they can only reference what has happened before that period, right? So you just need to be careful of stuff like this. But the more common way this mistake manifests is when a writer fails to really get in the character's head and process what's happening in the moment. So I want to give you an example, because this is a little bit hard to explain, but it's super important to identify where you might have made this mistake in your draft. So, for example, imagine that you're writing a story about a 16-year-old ballerina who wants to make it big and perform in Paris. Let's say this ballerina's mom comes home one day and she says hi, darling, guess what? I got you an audition on Thursday. And let's say the daughter responds with oh my god, thank you, mom. What do you think I should wear? The blue leotard or the pink one? I can't wait to tell dad about this. And then she goes off to her room to pick out her outfit or whatever she's going to do, right? So if I were editing a scene like this, where this happened, I would say something to the author like why doesn't the 16-year-old daughter ask her mom where the audition is or who the audition's with? So in this scenario, the author knows what audition the girl is going to, but wouldn't the girl also want to know this information? Because what if it's a lesser ballet company and she's actually not happy about this audition? Or what if it's the one that she really really wants, that will give her an opportunity to perform in Paris? It's not on the page, so we don't really know how to take this information. And this happens all the time in the manuscripts I edit. So the author is usually very clear on what's happening in their mind, but it's not on the page. So there's a gap between the vision in the author's pages and what the reader sees, and it creates confusion. So, to reiterate, the mistake, it's when the character acts as if they know what the author knows, and this is what creates that gap between what the author thinks they're writing and what is actually on the page. Now here's an example of what this looks like when done well, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by JK Rowling Ministry of Magics. Messin' things up as usual, hagrid muttered, turning the page. There's a Ministry of Magic, harry asked before he could stop himself. Course, said Hagrid. They wanted Dumbledore for Minister, of Course, but he'd never leave Hogwarts. So old Cornelius Fudge got the job Bungler if there ever was one so he pelted Dumbledore with Owls every morning, asking for advice. But what does a Minister of Magic do? So in this example, notice how Harry asks a follow-up question about the Ministry of Magic. He's not asking about Cornelius Fudge or about Dumbledore. He's behaving like an 11-year-old kid would, and he's focused on this one line of thought, despite everything else Hagrid is saying. Also, notice how Harry has to ask what the Ministry of Magic is because he doesn't know. He's from the Muggle world, so it makes sense that he would need to ask for clarification about what the Ministry does and why. So, to determine if you've made this mistake in your draft, look for instances where what you see in your head is not actually on the page and when in doubt, especially in your first few drafts. It's better to have too much information like this than too little. You can always pair things down later, once you're absolutely sure your entire story's on the page, and I find it's easier to pair things down than it is to deal with feedback from, let's say, beta readers or an editor who's like hey, I didn't really know what was going on in this scene. So I don't know how to help you. So just something to keep in mind. And there you have it. Those are the three most common interiority mistakes I see writers make and how to fix them in your draft. So I hope you can see that understanding and effectively incorporating interior in your scenes is crucial for creating a compelling story. And by avoiding these common mistakes, such as creating an internally passive character, neglecting the impact of the past and future on the character's present moment and allowing your own writer's knowledge to seep into the character's perspective, you can elevate your storytelling and immerse readers in a rich and authentic experience. Remember that interiority grants you the power to dive deep into a character's psyche, offering readers a unique and captivating narrative. So, as you continue to refine your writing, embrace the challenge of capturing the complex and intricate workings of your character's minds, and by doing so you'll create stories that resonate with readers and leave a lasting impression. So that's it for today's episode. As always, thank you so much for tuning in and for showing your support. If you want to check out any of the links I mentioned in this episode, you can find them in the show notes listed in the description of each episode, inside your podcast player or at savannahgilbocom forward slash podcast. If you're an Apple user, I'd really appreciate it if you took a few seconds to leave a rating and a review. Your ratings and reviews tell Apple that this is a podcast that's worth listening to and, in turn, your reviews will help this podcast get in front of more fiction writers just like you. And while you're there, go ahead and hit that follow button, because there's going to be another brand new episode next week, full of actionable tips, tools and strategies to help you become a better writer. So I'll see you next week and until then, happy writing.

Common Interiority Mistakes in Fiction Writing
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