Do Internal Questions in Fiction Show a Deeper Point-of-View?

 

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(Photo compliments of Morguefile.com)

Part of getting published is finding an editor who can help develop your story and edit it for content flaws, grammar problems–and all the other point-of-view and tense inconsistencies writers may have. Sometimes writers agree with their editors comments and other times they disagree. I believe my editor because I’m paying her to critique my work in an effort to improve my craft.

One of the tips my editor recently mentioned in my writing was that my main character had too many internal questions, which came off as weak writing. So I’ve been studying this whole thing and paying attention to it in my writing and in the books I’m reading. As an author, I’m serious about improving the craft on a continuous basis. In trying to write deep point of view my characters often ask themselves questions on the page.

Do you do this? I’d love to know how you tackle this problem. Is there another way to show deep pov without our character’s questioning themselves?

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Here’s an excerpt from a novel I’m currently reading by Brandilyn Collins, Over The Edge, (I can’t put this book down and highly recommend it). Notice the questions she uses to help show her character’s fear, her character’s inner thoughts.

“Wait. Why should I need to trace that number? It had been a prank. I’d probably never hear from that man again.

But he’d said my name. He’d mentioned Lauren’s name. Fresh fear spiraled through me. Not Lauren’s name, no. My brain had been fuzzy. Maybe I’d heard wrong. I would never let anyone hurt my daughter.

I’d never seen a tick on my body. Hadn’t Brock and I just talked about that yesterday?”

Notice how we can feel her indecision with thoughts and internal questions.

Here are a few more in another scene:

I sagged to my left until my shoulder rested against the wall. I so needed to lie down. This man was crazy, yet his diatribe simmered through me. There were people who felt like I did right now–and worse–for years? How could they live like that? How could they cope?

I know you haven’t read the novel to know what the story is about, but do these questions help you feel this character’s pain and thoughts? Do you think the questions help or hinder the character’s dilemma?

I think there’s a balance to maintain. If there are too many questions they become distracting, but sprinkled in at the right times, during tense moments, adds powerful suspense. If used sparingly, questions can show your character’s plight and inner discord.

Perhaps you’ve read a novel where the main character had too many internal questions. Why do you think it became distracting to the story?

The next time you’re reading or writing fiction pay attention to the inner voice of your characters and to the questions they ask themselves.

When do the questions sound like weak writing? When do they add strength to the story?

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Comments

  1. I’m wading through that exact issue in writing now, and am working hard to hit satisfying center. Good examples, more thoughts to ponder.

    • Hi Delores – It’s always refreshing and encouraging to know that other writers have similar difficulties. It’s a challenge to find the middle, but knowing what to look for helps too. I hope you’re finding time to write this summer!

  2. This is a great topic, Michelle! I think the key is only using so many questions per page. I think it is Steve Laube who says if he sees too many questions or internal monologue on the first page, he puts the manuscript down.

    Some questions are important though. At times I flip them into a statement of belief. Instead of, “Could she really trust Thomas?” I might say something like, “Trusting Thomas at a time like this was ludicrous at best.” or something.

    Great thoughts!

    • Hi Michelle-

      Great idea–count how many are on each page. For now I’ve been trying to delete them all and turn them around to statements–like your example. (Which was helpful, thank you!) But now I’m finding more “maybe” and “wondering” words, like: She wondered why he’d frowned at her. (Instead of: Why did he frown at her?) Or: Maybe he thought she wasn’t interested. Instead of: Did he think she wasn’t interested?
      It’s such a juggling act. Thanks for stopping by today!

  3. Faith says:

    Thanks this answered my question too. Writing in first-person for the first time in a novel and this part is tough. 🙂

    • Hi Faith!
      If it’s your first draft don’t worry about internal questions. Spew them out. You can always cut it out later. Writing in first person allows the reader to know all the thoughts in your head. Have fun with it. Don’t hold back. Ha!

  4. Came upon this blog because I’m asking the same question in my WIP. Appreciate the advice to use them sparingly.

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