Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple

9 Key Elements of Character Interiority | Episode 14

March 21, 2024 Heather Davis Season 1 Episode 14
9 Key Elements of Character Interiority | Episode 14
Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple
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Speculative Fiction Writing Made Simple
9 Key Elements of Character Interiority | Episode 14
Mar 21, 2024 Season 1 Episode 14
Heather Davis

Snag my FREE interiority workbook: https://resources.manyworldswriting.com/interiority

Have you ever wondered how to ensure your readers are so engrossed in your protagonist  that they can put your novel down?

In this episode I'm peeling back the layers of protagonist interiority and revealing how to create your protagonist's inner world and make your novel unputdownable.

In this episode you’ll learn:

What interiority is
The 9 ways interiority manifests in novels
Why you need to add interiority to your novel
How to get interiority onto the page in your scenes
How to balance your narrative with the right amount of interiority 
And so much more!


Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Snag my FREE interiority workbook: https://resources.manyworldswriting.com/interiority

Have you ever wondered how to ensure your readers are so engrossed in your protagonist  that they can put your novel down?

In this episode I'm peeling back the layers of protagonist interiority and revealing how to create your protagonist's inner world and make your novel unputdownable.

In this episode you’ll learn:

What interiority is
The 9 ways interiority manifests in novels
Why you need to add interiority to your novel
How to get interiority onto the page in your scenes
How to balance your narrative with the right amount of interiority 
And so much more!


Speaker 1:

Interiority may feel like a fairly new buzzword in the writing community, but it's an old and important concept. In fact, understanding interiority and using it in the development of your protagonist is probably the single most important thing you can do to make your protagonist resonate with readers. So your novel becomes unputdownable. Hello and welcome to the speculative fiction writing made simple podcast. I'm your host, heather Davis. I'm a book coach, a developmental editor and a fellow storyteller, and this is the show that's all about how to brainstorm, write, edit, publish and sell a powerful speculative fiction novel and maybe just change the world too. A couple of weeks ago, a fellow book coach referred a client to me because she thought this client would be perfect for my coaching, since I work with speculative fiction writers and this writer was writing a high fantasy novel. When I opened his pages, I had two immediate thoughts. The first thought was this Dang, he's a talented writer. And the second thought was this Dang, readers and agents won't get very far in this manuscript before getting frustrated and giving up. Why did I think those two things? Well, because this talented writer had completely neglected the most important ingredient of his novel this protagonist's interiority. So instead of reading like a novel, this manuscript sort of read like a play. Everything was very external action based and superficial. This is actually a problem that many writers have in their early drafts they show external action but they forget about internal meaning, and unfortunately this locks readers out of the story. So let's get one thing straight Novels aren't movies, tv shows or plays, and, unlike those story forms, they don't force us to try and interpret the meaning of the unfolding events just by watching external action. Instead, they invite us in to the narrative in a unique and powerful way through the mind of the protagonist. That's what makes novels so intense and powerful they give us a window into another person's head, which is something we crave but we never actually get in our real lives. Okay, now that we know why interiority is important, let's take a moment to define what it is exactly. So interiority is literally the interior world of your protagonist. It's the window into how your protagonist understands their world and the events of the plot. It's the sum total of the character's thoughts and feelings, memories, inner struggles, likes and dislikes expressed on the page so the reader can experience them as the scenes unfold.

Speaker 1:

To help you really understand this concept, I want to give you an example. Let's imagine the following scenario A woman, kai, brings her wife, amanda Flowers, and says Happy Birthday. In response, amanda suddenly bursts into tears and storms out of the room. Now, on the surface level, this makes no sense, right? It makes no sense because we're seeing it at a very superficial level and the reaction feels completely out of alignment with the external action of the scene. After all, flowers and a Happy Birthday seem like good things.

Speaker 1:

So in order for us to understand Amanda's reaction, we need to get a peek into what she is feeling and why. After all, as humans, each one of us experience emotions in completely different ways. Not only that, but we each have different histories and backstories and life events that have led us to this point of thinking and feeling the way we think and feel. So our actions and reactions only make sense when you think about the history that goes with it and the person that we've become as a result of that history. Meaning what happens to us throughout our lives affects the way we think and feel, and your protagonist is no different. So in order to understand why Amanda burst into tears and stormed out of the room, we need to know more about Amanda.

Speaker 1:

Now let's try this version, as Amanda storms out of the room. She's thinking I can't believe. Kai brought me Flowers today. She knows I don't celebrate my birthday. Does she think I'm just supposed to forget about the fact that this is the anniversary of my parents' death? I am so tired of her trying to fix me by making light of my traumas. Okay, so I'm being a little heavy-handed with this example, but I think you understand what I mean. Now that we understand how Amanda is thinking and what she is feeling, and we have a glimpse into her backstory, we completely get why she bursts into tears and storms out of the room. It makes sense now. Okay, so now that we know why interiority is important, how we define interiority and we've had an example of what interiority might look like, it's time to dig a little deeper.

Speaker 1:

We're going to go through the nine ways that interiority most often manifests in a novel. I want to give you a little disclaimer here. These elements do have a lot of overlap. Honestly, this list is about coming at the same idea from multiple angles. Also, it's important to understand that not all of these elements will be used all at once. Instead, them like seasoning A pinch of this and a dash of that will do you just fine. Okay, let's dive in. Here are the nine ways that interiority most often manifests itself in a novel.

Speaker 1:

Number one your protagonist's worldview. In speculative fiction, the world we've created for our protagonist typically has a pretty big influence on the plot and on the protagonist's character arc. In fact, it's very likely that your world is going to be the driving force for your protagonist throughout the novel, influencing many of their thoughts, decisions, motivations and even perhaps shaping the stakes of the novel. That's why it's super important to know how the protagonist feels about the world we've put them in. Do they feel that the world is safe and free, or do they feel that it's oppressive and dangerous? Do they feel accepted by the world they live in or do they feel othered by it? Do they feel supported by the world or do they feel victimized by it? These are important questions to answer so that you can make sure your protagonist's worldviews are clear, specific and present on the page for the reader to understand.

Speaker 1:

For example, in the Poppy War by RF Kwong, the protagonist is a 15-year-old war orphan named Ren, who comes from a poor province. It's very clear that she feels the world is dangerous and oppressive for a person of her station. She has limited choices in life. She can become a mother, a prostitute or a beggar, or she can study like mad and try to earn a place in a prestigious military academy. She chooses the latter, and that is the inciting incident of the whole novel. It catapults her in an entirely new direction.

Speaker 1:

Number two what is your protagonist's self-view? How does your protagonist feel about themself? Are they confident or insecure? Do they feel like they're a good person or a bad person? Do they feel smart or dumb? Do they view themselves as brave or cowardly? Do they think they are capable or incapable? Ask yourself questions like these to uncover how your protagonist feels about themself, because those feelings will certainly come into play as they're making important decisions, interpreting the events of the plot and interacting with other characters.

Speaker 1:

Number three your protagonist's perspective, your protagonist's unique perspective, is literally how they see things. Their perspective is sort of this all-encompassing term that includes things like their beliefs, their likes, their dislikes, their foibles, their opinions, their moral compass and so much more. It includes all of those things that make them uniquely, the person they are, and it's this perspective that will be infused into everything in your novel. Every paragraph, every line of dialogue should be stained with it. Number four your protagonist's thoughts. Your protagonist's thoughts are a key ingredient to making them come alive on the page, because it's their thoughts that allow the reader to really understand how they are interpreting the events of the plot, which in turn helps the reader interpret those events. Thoughts can be given directly, almost like lines of internal dialogue, or they can be infused into the narration indirectly, by writing passages that simply deeply reflect how the protagonist is thinking. Typically, writers will use both methods throughout their novel.

Speaker 1:

Number five your protagonist's feelings. Many writers have internalized the destructive writing advice show, don't tell, and they use external action to convey internal emotion. However, simply reading that a character is balling up their fists and gritting their teeth isn't enough to make me understand the scene. Sure, I might be able to tell they're angry, but I have no idea why they're angry or what it means in the context of this story and this character. The only way I can know those things is to know what they're thinking and, of course, what they're feeling. So, yes, it's important to actually tell the reader how the protagonist is feeling. You don't have to be heavy-handed with it, you don't have to beat them over the head with it. You can be subtle, but you do need to tell them why. Because when we don't know how the protagonist feels about something, we really don't know how we, the reader, are supposed to feel about it either. After all, your protagonist knows the world and their own life best. We need their insight.

Speaker 1:

Number six your protagonist's internal reactions to plot events. Okay, if I were to choose one thing, one type of interiority that writers consistently fail to give, it's this their protagonists don't react internally to the events of the plot. Often we'll see them having lots of external reactions. They're running, they're chasing, they're sword fighting, they're using their magic, but they never stop to have that internal reaction. That's really going to draw readers in. Remember, readers aren't really there for the action. They're there to see how the action affects the protagonist. And when you skip that part, the reader doesn't buy in as much. They don't feel the novel, they don't feel the authenticity of the protagonist and they are not transported into the story themselves. So every time something happens in your novel, whether it's something really big or something small, just take a moment to ask yourself what's going on with my protagonist internally, how are they feeling about this? And when you can answer that question. See if you can get some of that onto the page, because, honestly, readers find this delightful.

Speaker 1:

Number seven the questions that arise in your protagonist's mind as they process what's happening in the plot. So things are probably going to be happening pretty quickly in your plot. Some of those things will be big and some will be small, but in either case, the protagonist is living through that moment in real time and they aren't always absolutely certain what an event means or what a conversation means, and one of the most fun things that we can see on the page is to allow your protagonist to debate things and question things right there on the page for the readers to experience. So maybe something happens and your protagonist is thinking well, does it mean this or does it mean that? Is this going to happen or is that going to happen, right? So allow them that process there on the page. It will make them feel more authentic and more real and it will help prevent them from seeming like just a cardboard cutout that automatically knows exactly what to do and exactly what's going on. Because, let's face it, none of us are actually like that. When we're facing big situations, sometimes we flounder a bit and we don't really know the answer. Let the reader experience that with your protagonist.

Speaker 1:

Number eight what your protagonist expects hopes and fears might happen next. Let's face it your protagonist is going to be put in some pretty sticky situations in your novel. Of course they are. That's the fun of writing a novel and, just like a real person, they have expectations about any given situation they find themselves in, and it's only by knowing what they expect hope or fear might happen next that the reader can feel invested and be surprised by what actually does happen. Let's imagine a very simple scenario a mother is fixing breakfast for her children and she expects them all to come downstairs, eat and get ready for school. But when her daughter doesn't come down, expectations aren't met and both the mother and the reader feel uneasy, worried.

Speaker 1:

Number 9. The inner struggles that your protagonist faces as the scene unfolds and the conflict kicks off. Look, your protagonist is human, just like the rest of us, and that means they are going to have internal struggles as they're dealing with all the stuff that you're throwing at them. In fact, that's one of the parts of your novel that readers really love. They love to watch your protagonist squirm and not know what to do and struggle with things because it makes your protagonist feel more human and the reader can see themselves reflected in that struggle and they can feel not so alone by struggling with things themselves. For instance, your protagonist might struggle with things like should I do this thing or that thing? Should I go this place or that place? Should I go out with this guy or that girl? The more internal struggles that you can allow the protagonist to work out on the page, the more readers will love and identify with that protagonist. So don't be afraid to let them struggle. Okay, whoo, that was a lot.

Speaker 1:

Now we've been through all nine ways that interiority tends to manifest itself in a novel. But that still leaves the burning question why use interiority at all? Well, from everything I've said so far, you might already know why you need to use it, but let's be really explicit here, just so there's no lingering doubt. First, it helps reveal the personality of the protagonist, and I truly believe that every great novel is actually character-driven. So you definitely want to reveal their personality to the reader, because that's how the reader falls in love with them. Second, it helps explain why the protagonist is doing what they're doing and making the decisions that they're making. Number three it helps the reader understand the emotional gravity of any given situation. Number four it can show how the protagonist's thoughts and emotions are out of alignment with reality. Number five it helps you show the juxtaposition of how a character acts versus how they actually feel inside, because remember actions and feelings can be very, very different. Number six it helps establish goals and stakes, because it's only through interiority that we understand what a character wants and why that matters. Number seven it helps you establish backstory and world building.

Speaker 1:

As you can tell, with this long list of why to use interiority, really, the question is why would I ever not use interiority and how could I get all of these things across to the reader if I didn't? The short answer to that is you actually couldn't get those things across to the reader. After this long discussion about how important interiority is, you might have one burning question left how the heck do you get it on the page? Well, no fear, I have created a wonderful workbook for you that gives you lots of very specific questions that you can ask. That can really help you dig down and find the interiority in any scene that you're working on. Go to my show notes and click on the link for that workbook.

Speaker 1:

But to get you started, I'm going to include a couple of general questions right here. The first one is whenever something happens in a scene, the simplest way to get interiority on the page is to ask yourself the following questions. Number one what does the event bring up for your protagonist? Does it kick off a memory? Does it make them think of some history of the world that they're living in? Is there an internal struggle there? Do they have an opinion about this thing? Are they afraid of something, right? So just always ask yourself what is this event bringing up for my protagonist?

Speaker 1:

The second question that I like to ask is where can I add interiority to this scene? Let's imagine that I already wrote a scene and I look back through it and there's not a lot of interiority. And I can just literally go through it and say where can I add that stuff? Just look for spots where it would fit nicely and just start putting it in Again. It's like seasoning a pinch of this and a dash of that. Just start pinching and dashing.

Speaker 1:

A word of caution, though, before you go back and start trying to insert interiority into your scenes. Interiority is a direct reflection of your protagonist's unique perspective, the unique person who they are. So that means you need to do the deep character work required to understand them before you can actually write meaningful interiority. So if you need to just pause and go back and really flesh out your protagonist, you should know them as well as you know the people in your family. Be even better.

Speaker 1:

Okay, before we wrap up our conversation on interiority, we have one more thing to talk about. Whenever I talk about this topic, a writer will always ask me the same two questions Well, what happens if you have too little interiority, and is it possible to have too much interiority? The truth is, you definitely want to balance. You can certainly have too little interiority. In fact, it's the biggest problem. I see when writers come to me that almost every writer I've ever worked with they have too little interiority in their work and we have to work on adding more to their manuscript. But the truth is you can also have too much.

Speaker 1:

So let's go through the problems with both of those two scenarios. If you have too little interiority, the reader won't be able to track the protagonist's growth through the story and the novel will actually begin to seem more like just a series of events instead of really a story. Okay, so we definitely don't want that. So we wanna add interiority to the work. But can we have too much? Well, you can. Actually, you don't wanna have too much interiority because it will cause problems with pacing and the scene might feel really sluggish and the protagonist it might seem like they're budding in when things are already perfectly clear to the reader. So you really do want to strike a balance.

Speaker 1:

One practical tip I can give you that will help you determine how much interiority needs to be in a given scene is this If the scene is action-packed and really exciting and maybe dangerous things are happening, you're probably going to have less interiority. It's still going to be there. You still need to have your protagonist's reaction to the events, but you're just going to spend less time on it because the events are unfolding so rapidly that your protagonist doesn't really have time to dwell on how they're feeling and what they're thinking. They're going to do that later in a slower scene when they have time to unpack the thing that just happened. So that's just a rule of thumb In action-packed scenes less interiority. In the scenes that come after that are a bit slower. Then you can really let them process what happened.

Speaker 1:

Okay, writers, don't forget to go to the show notes and click on that link to get my free workbook that goes along with this episode. It will give you an even deeper dive into interiority and give you a whole list of questions that will help you explore interiority in every scene you write. Anyway, I hope this episode was really helpful to you. If it was, please take a moment to follow or subscribe to this podcast and share it with a writer friend. It's a great way to show your support, and let me know that you're interested in hearing more. Until next time, keep writing, keep dreaming and remember the world needs your stories right now. So don't you dare give up on your novel or yourself. See you next time.

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