In all fiction writing there exists a common thread of similarity that runs throughout: characters are not real. I’m currently doing observations on the works of James Hines and his theories of fiction writing, his teachings have recently been on the topic of the distinctions and differences between real people and fictional characters.
Each of his points of objectivity began with the assumption that the evocation of thought in writing is unattainable in real life by reason of the principal that suggests as soon as a person asks what another is thinking, their thoughts are no longer the same. To inquire into the mind of another is to change their thought process in such a way that the one who asks will never truly know what the other was thinking at that moment.
Hines assertion was sound when he said that fictional characters are appealing because we can see inside their minds, whereas this is impossible with real people. The psychology of fictional characters then lies in the spectrum of choice: how intimate is the writer willing to make the character to the reader?
There are a variety of options on the table as to how exactly you will evoke the thoughts of your characters or lay them to exposition openly. I could as easily write in stream of consciousness to bespeak the thoughts of my character as I could place you inside the mind of my character and have you see and live their thoughts.
Mr. Hubbard saw them drag away Ramsey in cuffs as he straightened his coat and planted his cane against the sidewalk, watching. He felt no remorse, his face showed as much. Ramsey was fittingly dressed as a low-life, his face showed a helpless fear. Hubbard mocked the vagabond as he turned and strode back to the comfort of his flat as Ramsey’s cries for Hubbard to help him fell to the cold concrete, unheeded. Hubbard smiled as he pulled the stolen watch from his pocket, checked the time, then snapped it shut and slipped it into his pocket again.
Now, without telling you what Hubbard was thinking, I evoked his thoughts in the form of actions. We get a sense of disdain, a decided dislike of the man. Perhaps it is simply Hubbard’s obvious superior class and social standing, or maybe there is something more substantial to it. If Hubbard was a real man, this would be as much as we could discern from an observer point of view. But, if we were inside Hubbard’s mind, we would know what he felt and thought.
I stood and watched as the pulled the wretch back to the alleys from whence he had come. So much suffering had come upon my unsuspecting life as a result of Ramsey’s intrusion in my office three months ago, the man was a torture, a monster. I straightened my coat while glaring into his eyes and planted my cane on the sidewalk with a finality. This game of leverage and trickery was over and I had won. I gazed back upon the things his blackmail had caused me to do and the blots on my sterling integrity; it hurt, my heart bled with pain as again his serpent eyes and silvery speech goaded me into another poor choice for his benefit. No more. I turned and let his cries for help go unheeded. The knife had finally left my back and entered his. Smiling, I pulled the stolen watch from my pocket, the only evidence that Ramsey had been framed. I checked the time, clipped it shut and slipped it back into my pocket. Revenge was never so sweet.
In this passage of the same scene, we not only learn more about the private lives of both men; knowledge we would never see from the outside. We needed to become a part of Hubbard’s mind to see what he sees and feels. We get the whole story in a way we could never get if Hubbard was a real man. Through fiction we get inside Hubbard’s head, and that’s where the magic of literature happens.
Both passages were short work that I threw together just now, but did you feel any difference between them. Could you relate to the characters, either of them in a deeper way in the second passage over the first?
What I want you to get a feel for is how differently a passage can read when you’re inside the mind of a character. Another method of evoking thought is to have the character orally think. When a character reasons a problem aloud, you can hear and understand their minds and emotions. Most villains will have their great monologue in which they explain their minds, their psychological history and the reason behind their evil. Some will even go into explaining how it happened and why they became what they are. These are minor examples of how you can evoke the minds of your characters.
Finally, you can have the character exist inside their own mind: stream of consciousness writing. When the reader reads exactly what the character is thinking, as they are thinking it, there is an emotional and cognizant reliability between the two. A real person cannot relate what they are thinking as they are thinking it. Only you can know what you think when you think it. So, to have a character who is able to relay their thoughts to you automatically creates a bond between them and you. It’s a personal connection that is often subconscious, we are attracted to the character because they are “an open book”. There are many grey areas in between each of these methods of evoking thought in your characters and different stories call for different methods: find yours.
As always, thanks for reading.
–the anonymous novelist