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Monday, August 17, 2009

Layering Introspection

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Layering introspection into your manuscript is an excellent way to deepen a character. While in a particular character's point of view (POV), the reader is given insight into that character's thought process and the details of one's emotional reaction to other people and things that are happening in their environment.

Since a character should not describe oneself, introspection is a great way to provide a description of how the POV character sees and reacts to someone else. You can layer in the POV character's feelings about that person. This is essential in using different scenes written in the hero and heroine's POV to show insight into each person's thoughts and feelings. Below is an example of introspection I've used in one of my works in progress (WIP). It is an English Regency and written in the heroine's POV.

The man dressed fashionably in a white linen shirt and tan trousers that enhanced his muscular thighs. He wore tall back boots that shone bright in the sun, a short waistcoat over his shirt with a double-breasted riding coat that was long-tailed in back and had large lapels around a white cravat. His shoulders were massively wide, his posture upright. Heat crawled into her face as Elyse realized she stareed at him. She looked away.

In the above passage, you get a detailed physical description of the heroine, but you also know her reaction. She's staring at him and she's embarrassed once she realizes it.

While it isn't appropriate to dump huge paragraphs of backstory in the first three chapters, you can layer it in through introspection since a character's goals and motivations are so essential to understanding a character's behavior. A writer must balance enough of this information in the first three chapters to keep the reader from misunderstanding the plot and the characters that are still being developed in the reader's mind. Below is an example of layering backstory from the same WIP in the heroine's POV with her stepfather.

He balled his fist again and came at her. She cowered and hated herself for it. With age Elyse had learned to avoid making him cross. It had been a while since she'd suffered from his physical blows. But tonight she hadn't been so wise.

In the few paragraphs above, we learn that this isn't the first time her stepfather has beat her, but over the years she had learned how to avoid being beaten or rousing his anger. We also see her reaction, that she's blaming herself for not staying to her true character by acting with caution and reserve.

Introspection can also reveal conflict. A character's dislike of another character when one is forced to hide that dislike is best shown through introspection. If a character learns that a particular action will prevent him/her from achieving his/her goals, introspection and reveal what that character intends to do about it as a result. That character isn't likely to announce it to everyone, but by reading his/her thought process, the reader knows and can anticipate how the other characters will react. An example of this is from the same WIP in the hero's POV. He has struck a bargain with Elyse's stepfather and promised she could stay with his neighbor, an elderly widow while she served as a nursemaid to his son.

Now all he needed to do was convince Mrs. Warfield, his neighbor, that she could use some company around the house. The sooner he got Elyse away from her stepfather, the better.

In the passage above, we learn that Preston has made a commitment on Mrs. Warfield's behalf without first consulting her. This builds the expectation of potential conflict. The reader doesn't yet know how Mrs. Warfield will react. Also, we know Preston's goal, he intends to get Elyse away from her abusive stepfather. He wants to save her.

The key to introspection is to layer it in your manuscript to deepen characterization and to reveal motivation, goals and conflict to the reader without making it too wordy or lengthy. It shouldn't be more than a few sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs of introspection shouldn't be more than a page without significant reason. If you allow it to go on for several pages, it will slow the pacing of your novel and possibly bore the reader.


Ahhhh yes. I've read books where it just went on and on and on. It's better when it's sprinkled in amongst the action and dialogue.