Scenes that involve violence are difficult to write as they require serious choreography. However, no matter how well we write them, they won’t accomplish their task if we don’t allow time for introspection. Action without a frame of reference is confusing. Also, if we don’t allow our characters a chance to consider what just happened and how they want to proceed, we can end up with undeveloped, two-dimensional characters.
How does the action affect our protagonist? Action, aftermath, action, aftermath—a rhythm that is often compared to the way a skater crosses the ice: push, glide, push, glide.
These moments in the aftermath of violence are opportunities. We want to avoid info dumps, but we also have to provide some information to explain events. These moments of respite are opportunities for us to dole out information that might be needed to answer questions and yet keep the reader engaged. Doling out the backstory only as it is needed keeps the reader reading.
So, we only need to discuss in conversation or internal dialogue things that pertain to
- What just happened or
- What is about to happen.
Action is important because it is interesting and provides drama. Even when we are “gliding” we want to keep the story moving forward. So, we allow the reader to process things at the same time the protagonist does, or we run the risk of losing the story in the confusion.
The story is the hero’s journey, and it must be as much a personal journey as a physical one.
We’re all familiar with the term ‘flat-lined’ as a medical expression indicating the patient has died.
When the story arc is imbalanced, it can flat-line in two ways:
- The action becomes random, an onslaught of meaningless events that make no sense.
- The pauses become halts, long passages of random internal monologues that have little to do with the action.
Readers only connect with a protagonist’s story if they can sympathize with them. They want a relationship with the people who inhabit the books they read. The way we build relationships between our readers and the characters in our stories is through the characters’ conversations and introspections.
The trick is balancing the introspection and chaos, ensuring that contemplation and dialogue don’t devolve into info dumps where your character ponders everything at length.
Some stories are more literary and are meant to be more introspective than active. My favorite literary classics are all about the character’s thoughts rather than their actions.
But if you are writing genre fiction, you must ensure you have properly balanced your action and introspection.
A good way to avoid a flatlined story arc is through character interaction. Your characters briefly discuss what is on their minds. With the conversation over, they move forward to the next event. This offers an opportunity for new information important to the story to emerge.
Introspection opens a window for the reader to see who the characters secretly are, how they react and illuminates their fears and strengths. It shows that they are self-aware.
In an action-based narrative, introspection is brief but important. Internal monologues are minimal and serve to illuminate a character’s motives at a particular moment in time.
Internal monologues should not make our characters seem too clever by introducing convenient knowledge. We like characters who are somewhat clueless about their situation as well as about their own flaws and strengths.
When characters are having a discussion, our point-of-view character will be in the most danger of being too smart. We have to ensure the dialogue is not too exact when the protagonist and her cronies are making predictions because it ruins the mystery of the piece.
The same follows for inner monologues, perhaps even more so.
Throughout the course of the story, each of the characters’ faults and flaws diminish (or in the case of the antagonist they become clearer) because the characters grow and change as people, as human beings. The protagonist is pushed down the path to wisdom. Self-awareness should gradually blossom toward the “resurrection” that occurs near the end of the hero’s journey.
Introspection is important for the protagonist because surviving the journey to self-knowledge is as important as living through the physical journey.
The antagonist should also have moments of introspection as they take greater chances, risk more, apply more effort to winning at any cost.
My characters begin in an unfinished state, like a pencil sketch. My goal is for them to emerge from the events of their journey in full color, fully realized in a multi-dimensional form that readers will remember and think about after the last page has been read.
Credits and Attributions:
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Imogen – Herbert Gustave Schmalz.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Imogen_-_Herbert_Gustave_Schmalz.jpg&oldid=342359236 (accessed May 1, 2019).