Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Characters Who THINK (too much)

I recently read an article online that gave advice not to have your character go off by him/herself, just THINKING. This came at a serendipitous time, because in my current WIP, I was struggling with an annoying pattern. I would have an event, and I'd follow it by having my main character retreating to ponder everything she'd learned, trying to make sense of everything. By herself. With no other actions going on besides pacing, wringing hands, and slamming things around. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The trouble with that set-up is that it's static and stops the forward action of the plot. It's dwelling in your character's head for an entire page…or even a few pages. It might be a place where readers will skim and be bored. Often it's a place to Tell, information-dump or background-dump, wallow in gratuitous backflash memories, or exude melodramatic emotions.

photo: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

1. It's easier to get away with characters thinking in length if the Voice is ultra-strong.
2. If your characters must stop to think, try not to repeat information or go on too long. Tighten your revelations and ponderings.
3. Try to break up the thinking by having some of the pondering/reactions happen WHILE the initial situation is going on. But be careful not to slow the pace, especially in tense action scenes.
4. You can also break up the thinking by turning part or all of the thoughts into a dialogue scene with another character. Bounce your main character's ideas off someone else. I did this recently with my current WIP, and it worked really well! It furthered some inter-character relationships at the same time.
5. If your main character has no one else to confide in, have the character perform meaningful action that furthers the plot simultaneously.
6. A note: often it's GOOD to have a more restful or thoughtful scene in between hectic action scenes. These let the reader take a much-needed breath, and actually heightens the tension and excitement of the more active moments. Just be sure not to confuse restful with boring or static. There still needs to be conflict and some plot-furthering going on.

Have you noticed your own characters sitting around thinking too much?
What else can we do to be sure our characters don't spend too much time thinking?
When you read a book, what do you think about characters who think (a lot)?

If you plan to celebrate Thanksgiving next week, 


  1. The pattern you mention is like riding in a car with someone just learning how to drive with a stick shift -- jerk, jerk, jerk. You get caught up in the flow of the action -- think -- endlessly.

    Yet, my favorite series heroes: Travis McGee, Spenser, Harry Dresden, Phillip Marlowe -- all reflect throughout their adventures.

    I try to have my characters reflect on the run, in the midst of heading to or fleeing from some danger. Insightful post. :-)

  2. One thing I enjoy when I read a character's internal dialogue, is when their thoughts are laced with witty humor. I am attempting to do just that in my middle grade W.I.P.

    Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving too, Carol!

  3. Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I used to do plenty of that thinking stuff with characters and now I tend toward conversations with others but still,,,it is sooooo easy!

  4. YES!! Drives me insane. See, this is why I'm a minimalist. Economy of words. Less is more, and I'd rather SHOW what my characters are thinking by how they react to situations than by them pondering.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  5. Thanks for this; it came at a very appropriate time!

  6. I like to have my characters think on the go, but I find it's better to put all the thoughts in while drafting--even overthink everything. Then cut, cut, cut later in revisions. Usually betas and CPs are instrumental in helping me weed these out.

    Too little thought on the other hand is a disconnect.

    Great reminder, Carol!!

  7. I might have the opposite problem. After a first draft, I find I need to inject what my character is thinking into the scene so her motives and actions can be understood. My first drafts resemble watching a movie with the sound off. There's action and dialogue but I feel disconnected from it.

    Now I just need to figure out how to do it all at once.

  8. You always have such good, fresh writing topics! Great points. Hope you had an awesome Thanksgiving!

  9. (With NaNo over I have more time to visit..hehehe)

    I particularly love this tip: "have the character perform meaningful action that furthers the plot simultaneously." Good advice :)

  10. My CP's let me know when there's too much thinking. It can drag a scene down.


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