Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Introspection, How Much is Too Much?

I'm not just referring to the internal monologue that is italicized in our stories as introspection, but when writing in deep POV, all the paragraphs that describe how the character is dealing with something, pondering something, how much is too much for you?

Personally, I love getting inside my characters' heads. And I love reading books where the author has clearly loved doing the same. But when does it become too much?

How much introspection does it take before the reader realizes that there is no longer any action in the story? You know, the time when you realize that you've been sitting idly perusing the character's brain, and nothing in the outside world of the story is happening anymore, that's when the "too much" alarm sounds off for you. When does that happen?

For you, is the limit a page, two pages, or a paragraph of introspection?

Whatever your limit, how do you correct the problem it presents?

Do you slip a little movement in? "Picking up the sweaty glass, she downed the cranberry juice in one gulp before the harsh screams resumed. Would she ever rid herself of that piercing memory? How her daughter's eyes bled for..." and on we go into another string of introspection.

Or do you add something a little more plot moving to add some action? Like a transition sentence or two, that physically moves the character either in time or physicality. Or do you halt the introspection, maybe to add a little intrigue, and move on to a new scene, leaving the rest of the introspection to take place later on?

I'm curious, what is your introspection page space limit? And when you do break it up, how do you seamlessly accomplish the task?

Surrendering to Him,



Jody Hedlund said...

Eileen, EXCELLENT questions!!! I am really struggling with this whole aspect in my novels. I think the introspection can turn into a whole lot of showing our characters emotions and internal struggles rather than leaving it up to the readers to deduce what's going on.

But there is a fine balance between sharing those struggles in short bursts that don't give away too much, and dumping all at once.

I'm trying to keep mine short and weave it in, just like we're told to do with background info. But I'll be interested to hear how others handle this!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Oh, Jody, I really like your connection with backstory. Very interesting, though, I must say I'm much tighter with backstory than I am with introspection.

I suspect different genres weigh introspection differently, too. Romances probably include far more than any other genre, I suspect.

Jessica said...

Hmmm, two paragraphs is good for me, and then I like to "see" where the character is physically. I guess I'm one to break the introspection up a little.
Great question!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Isn't that the best, when you can "see" where they are, what they're doing? That really does draw me into the story world.

Right now I'm reading New Moon, and although there is a LOT of introspection in it, all Belle's, too, I'm finding Stephenie Meyers strategic placement of even minor actions and physicality are really helping me stay drawn into the story. She sometimes goes longer than a couple paragraphs, but her work is compelling.

Jeannie Campbell said...

i'm realizing there is a fine balance, as well. i wrote a post not too long ago on respecting readers. i realized i did too much introspective writing in hopes to get the reader on the same page (but my crit partner said that the reader isn't stupid...they ARE on the same page and i didn't have to just tell ALL...let them assume or wonder how the character feels or thinks in some places). so this is a hard one for me. but i appreciate you bringing this matter up....very relevant! :)

Katie said...

I also love getting into my characters heads! So I have to be careful. I usually go to town on my first draft - introspect until my heart's content - and then do a TON of cutting for the second draft... and the third... and the fourth.

Cindy said...

I find I like to get into my character's head with direct thoughts (the italicized kind) only briefly, and then summarize what's going through their mind with no more than two or three paragraphs. I find that when I'm reading, if it goes much beyond this without some sort of transition, I get bored. But when something bigger needs to be told, I like flashbacks or some kind of movement while the backstory is being told. Whether that the character walking around, enjoying nature or doing something mundane at home. Something to keep me aware of what is going on externally with the character. Interesting post!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Jeannie--Respecting Readers, that's such a key for writers. Thanks for reminding me! Going on and on would definitely not be giving them a chance at all.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Katie, I think we work the same. I always aim for 5,000 more than my final draft count because I know I overdo in the first draft. I need this though to really get a feel for my characters. Lots of backstory gets deleted in the revisions for me, as well as introspection and insignificant scenes.

It's fun to go wild with that first draft, though!

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Cindy, I agree with the minimal italicized monologue. Everything I've studies warns writers to take it easy on this.

Flashbacks and dreams scream for the creativity juices for me when I write them. Finding those slow, easy transitions that don't jar the reader are fun, but challenging.