Novel Aesthetics & Revising a Novel

Being that my background is in interior design and visual merchandising, one of the things that inspires me most and drives a lot of my storytelling choices is visual aesthetics. Looking back, this has especially been the case with my WIP, TEROH.

For better or for worse.

I like the subtle complexity of dark espionage stories, the suffocating sense of paranoia, and the way this genre looks on the big screen. I like elemental magic and the larger-than-life way it can be portrayed. I also like the look and sound of old black and white movies like melodramas and film noir—fedoras and glamorous femmes fatales, chiaroscuro lighting, mid-Atlantic accents, psychological drama…

And that’s what drove a lot of my choices while developing TEROH.

The strange thing is that, when I first started writing, I really hadn’t watched very many black and white movies. Just a few. So for them to have such a big influence on the style of my novel seems almost…disproportional, in retrospect. Nevertheless, it’s this very combination of elements that helped determine the spirit of this story.

notorious1946
Notorious, 1946. Image by RKO Radio Pictures (corporate author), The Kobal Collection. Photographer: Ernest Bachrach. – Chicago-Sun Times, Public Domain. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9571484

What got me thinking about all of this in the first place is because not long ago, I watched the 1946 movie Notorious with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman for the first time—and I realized something: the style of this film is almost exactly the blend of elements I’ve been trying to channel all along with TEROH. Not directly in a studied, intentional manner but in my own loose but inspired way. (There’s also some romance, I suppose, but it’s by no means the main story.) Granted, I tossed in some fantasy/occult elements, too, which is suited to a more gothic tale. Still, I feel like noir draws some things from the gothic genre, which I’m also drawn to at times. (Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea anyone?)

So why does any of this matter?Read More »

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Portraying Character Thoughts Across The Page (Part II)

So I thought last week’s post would be the end of looking at various ways to portray character thoughts (mostly as it pertains to a third-person POV), but then J.P. Cabit made a comment that really got me thinking…and I decided to make a Part II!  (Lots of great comments were made last week.  If you haven’t checked out Part I yet, you should take a peek!)

Okay, so JP shared an example which was unusual to me because I realized I also like to write in a similar style at times but wasn’t actually sure what to call it.  So, for your benefit (and with his permission!), I’m going to quote it here:

Alex turned and danced out of the room. Brianna hated it when he acted like this—who did he think he was, the king of France? And anyhow, there was no king of France, which made his situation all the more silly. What a roitelet. Or, that was what Ms. Jones had called him. Brianna thought it had something to do with Les Miserables. Which is exactly how Alex made everyone feel. There! She nodded, feeling full of rightness.

Now for me, the unusual thing about this example is not that it doesn’t use italics or quotes to indicate a thought, but rather that in addition to this it doesn’t always use filter words like “thought” or “believed” and is told in a way where the line between character and narrator become blurred.  It even has the feel of stream of consciousness (SoC) about it, too, but it’s in third person; usually when people talk about SoC it’s used in first person.  (As I talk about below, I have some confusion on the difference between SoC versus interior monologue.)

Okay, I thought, so what do you call something like that?  I thought maybe it was something like “stream of consciousness in third person,” but I was almost certain there were more concise ways of describing this.  Since I had to start somewhere, I decided to plug “stream of consciousness in third person” into Google and see what popped out.  Mostly, there was some stuff about Katherine Mansfield, who I’ll bring up again later, but a deeper search led me on this trail in which a myriad of terms were thrown at me, terms such as:

  • stream of consciousness (of course)
  • internal monologue (sure)
  • direct internal monologue (huh?)
  • indirect internal monologue
  • narrated dialogue
  • quoted interior monologue
  • psycho-narration (I’ve also seen it spelled psychonarration, though neither is in any dictionaries I’ve come across)
  • direct/quoted speech
  • indirect/reported speech

.  .  .

Really?  I’ve never heard of most of these before, to be honest.  And when I read about them and compare them, some even seem to be expressing basically the same ideas.

Why can’t things just be simple???

Anyway, eventually I sussed most of it out in my head–or tried to, anyway.  Here’s how I understand all of this (and perhaps someone  can add some clarification, as well, as I’m no expert here).

Styles of Third-Person Narration

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way.  Wikipedia lists three styles of third-person narration.  They are as follows (taken from the site):

  • Quoted or direct speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. “And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?” he asked.
  • Reported or normal indirect speechHe laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
  • Free indirect speech [aka “free indirect discourse” (FID) as well as two other names, according to Wikipedia]He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?

That’s pretty easy to grasp, right?  I don’t use this terminology, but it makes sense to me.  Also, to clarify something, it seems they are using the term “speech” to encompass both verbal (external) thoughts and nonverbal (internal) thoughts, so this is still very much relevant to this post.

Did you see how in the last example it became a little blurry as to who was doing the talking?  It’s basically like blending elements of first-person POV with third-person.  Katherine Mansfield was known to do this, as well.  (If you have nothing better to do, you should check out her short story, “Miss Brill” (1920), made available by the Katherine Mansfield Society.  It’s a good example of using free indirect speech at length.  Virginia Woolf was another earlier author who used this style in her novel Mrs. Dalloway.)

Now, going back to JP’s example, it looks like he actually uses two of these styles, both indirect and free indirect speech.  I’ll re-quote it and color-code it to make it easier to see.  Indirect speech will be in orange and free indirect (the “blurry” parts) in blue; plain narration will be left in grey:

Alex turned and danced out of the room. Brianna hated it when he acted like thiswho did he think he was, the king of France? And anyhow, there was no king of France, which made his situation all the more silly. What a roitelet. Or, that was what Ms. Jones had called him. Brianna thought it had something to do with Les Miserables. Which is exactly how Alex made everyone feel. There! She nodded, feeling full of rightness.

(If you think I’ve color-coded this wrong, then please say so!  As I mentioned, I’m just learning about these terms myself.)

Right, so the short and sweet answer to “what do you call it when the line between character and narrator are blurred in third person?” would be “free indirect speech” (or discourse).

Thanks, Wikipedia.  That much makes sense to me.

Okay, but that still doesn’t address the “stream of consciousness” element I suggested was present in this example earlier.  But that’s the thing: does JP’s example actually use stream of consciousness, or is there something else going on here?

Stream of Consciousness vs. Interior Monologue:

I was looking at various descriptions of both SoC and interior monologue and comparing them before, and to be honest most were difficult to tell apart.  There was one place, however, that made a clearer distinction.  (I think so, anyway.)  Here’s how Britannica describes SoC: “[a] narrative technique in nondramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions—visual, auditory, physical, associative, and subliminal—that impinge on the consciousness of an individual and form part of his awareness along with the trend of his rational thoughts. […] To represent the full richness, speed, and subtlety of the mind at work, the writer incorporates snatches of incoherent thought, ungrammatical constructions, and free association of ideas, images, and words at the pre-speech level.”

They also have a definition for interior monologue (IM), but it’s their comparison I find interesting: “The term interior monologue is often used interchangeably with stream of consciousness. But while an interior monologue may mirror all the half thoughts, impressions, and associations that impinge upon the character’s consciousness, it may also be restricted to an organized presentation of that character’s rational thoughts.”

In any case, I think the example JP gave actually uses a very similar style to Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill,” which is said to use stream of consciousness in some sources and interior monologue in others.  Hence my confusion.

That’s the problem with the internet sometimes; it’s confusing.  When people use the word “may” in their descriptions, it leaves room for interpretation and makes things wishy-washy, you know?

So I guess I only have one question for savvy readers…

How do you understand the difference between stream of consciousness and interior monologuing?

(Okay, maybe more than one.)  Does the former always have to be choppy and erratic?  Is SoC just a sub-technique under IM?  (That’s how I understand it.)  Also, could SoC be used in third person while using free indirect speech?  (The New World Encyclopedia tries to provide further explanation on this, though honestly it’s still pretty confusing.)  And lastly, would you say JP’s example uses interior monologuing or the stream of consciousness technique?

I think next week I want to talk more about some of the other terms I listed earlier, just ’cause I had never heard of them until recently and think they are interesting.

Portraying Character Thoughts Across The Page

Late post!  I started up another post earlier about a different subject then decided halfway in, “Eh, never mind.”  Then I went away and came back to some of the partial drafts I’d started but was unsure on whether I wanted to continue and came across something that better suited my current mood.

Sometimes that happens.

Portraying Characters’ Thoughts Across The Page

Not too long ago I came across this post by writer Marlene Nash-McKay; she talks about the various ways to show character thoughts on the page.  It got me thinking about the methods I use and also those used by other writers.  It also got me thinking about whether there were standards nowadays about which methods to use and which to drop.  (There’s a lot of linkage in this post just to show the trail of my search and giving credit where credit is due, though I don’t anticipate anyone to visit them all; in fact, I think that’d be unnecessary.)

So I was looking up articles about this on the internet, as Marlene suggested, and came across one discouraging the use italics for internal thoughts where a commenter contrasted by pointing out how William Faulkner used italics to portray his characters’ thoughts.

Unfortunately, I don’t read much Faulkner (not sense high school, anyway), but I was still curious.  So I looked up more references made to him–starting with the link shared by the aforementioned commenter, Nicole, leading to an article written by David Jauss at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs website.

Faulkner’s Approach

It’s pretty long, and I was only interested in it as it pertained to Faulkner, so here is the one sentence from Jauss that caught my interest where he talks about examples from Faulkner’s Light in August: “In short, Faulkner quotes Joe Christmas’s conscious thought and then, in italics, presents first a semi-conscious thought that exists simultaneously with it and then the unconscious thought that underlies them both.”

I found another description of Faulkner’s approach on Spark Notes, also referring to Light in August:

When a character speaks, verbalizing his or her thoughts or reactions, Faulkner indicates this in traditional fashion, through the use of double quotation marks (e.g., “I”). However, thoughts that remain internal and unspoken, often spilling out in a loose, stream-of-consciousness manner, are indicated by single quotation marks (e.g., ‘I’). Finally, the third layer to Faulkner’s character development consists of unconscious thoughts—the characters’ innermost psychological workings, of which even they themselves may not be aware. These are indicated in italics.

What I most like about this approach is how it makes the distinction between conscious and subconscious thoughts.  Personally, in my own writing, I find it necessary to make the same distinction, though I go about it differently.

So that’s one, admittedly outmoded way of portraying thoughts.  I can see why it wouldn’t work today, but the idea behind it–the organization of the various thought levels–is nice, I think.  As the article sums up, “[Faulkner] creates multifaceted portraits of humans in all their flaws and subjective bias—people whose perceptions of the world are often blurred by prejudice, misinterpretation, self-delusion, and deep and blinding personal need.”  And I love that.  I love writing about complex characters, ones that feel more like actual people, and I love the idea that something  as complex as the contents of a person’s mind can be shared in an elegant, simple yet varied way.

So that’s one old-school approach, but what are people saying about showing thoughts (both internal and external) today?

The Modern-Day Approach

Here is a Suite101 article written by Vickie Britton on “Handling Internal Dialogue in Fiction.”  I think it sums up the “modern” approach nicely.  It presents you with acceptable options and lets you decide which to use.  However, it also discourages mixing these methods together; it basically just tells you to pick one and stick with it.

I don’t get that; why are writers today required to streamline everything in their novels down just so it can be super easily digestible?  Personally, I feel this is almost too modern an approach to writing.

I like to think that combining this more modern approach along with Faulkner’s would allow for the most nuance in portraying characters’ thoughts in storytelling–if that’s what you’re going for.  (Yeah, if your story’s writing style is more streamlined because it calls for simplicity, then I can understand why you’d want to stick with only one method.  If not, then you are being unfairly limited in accomplishing your storytelling goals.  So long as you have a good reason for mixing methods, then I don’t see why it should be a problem.)

Faulkner’s Approach + Modern-Day Approach = A Modern-Day Faulkner-Like Approach

Okay, I just made that up, but you get the idea.  (Or rather, I hope you will by the time I’m through!)

Like Faulkner, I prefer to distinguish between three different levels of thought processes.  I may not use them all in one paragraph, but I certainly like to use all three throughout an entire story.  (I should point out that this is for a third-person POV, as is my preferred perspective.)  Though, here’s how I go about about showing them:

  1. (external) as direct speech, indicated by “quotation marks”: After he left the room, Lara said to herself, “I hate it when he does that.”
  2. (internal) unspoken, though deliberately voiced in the character’s mind; indicated by italics: Lara balled her fists and squinted at him.  You just try that again.
  3. (internal) as part of the character’s deep, unconscious inner workings, voiced instead by the narrator without quotation marks or italics: His wounded pride was the last thing on Lara’s mind.

#1 is straightforward and easy to identify; it’s useful when the character wants her thoughts to be heard.  #2 can be used in a sneaky fashion, to show thoughts that a character may or may not feel comfortable or see need to voice out loud, or perhaps if they are in a situation where they can’t say something out loud (say, if they’re underwater).  And #3 is nice when you want to get a point across in a situation where it may not necessarily make sense to have your character say or think something directly–like perhaps at a point where a character is overwhelmed with too many thoughts and emotions to precisely communicate anything at all; instead, the author can then step in and choose what to show through narration.

I’m sure there are many other reasons to use any of these methods; these are just a few.

One reason why I like to use all three in the same story is that it simply mixes things up.  You’re not limited to any one method; you use what you feel is necessary when you feel it is necessary.  It also allows you to play with subtext and context or sometimes say more with less–say one thing while meaning another (without having to lay it all out for the reader in a self-evident way)…that kind of thing.

As the Suite101 article mentioned, though, publishers may have specific guidelines as to how they want things done.  Not that I have any clue as to what those guidelines are….

So what method(s) do you tend to use for showing character thoughts?

Do you tend to use just one, or do you have several?  Also, do have any idea what most publishers would find acceptable these days?