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Internal Monologue, or, Why 300K Of Introspection Is Not A Story.

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by BrightFeather, Nov 18, 2005.

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  1. BrightFeather

    BrightFeather Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Nov 13, 2005
    My Master has been telling me that I should share. :D I wrote this essay a few years ago for http://fanfic101.com but the webmistress never got around to posting it because of DRL.

    Internal Monologue, or, Why 300K Of Introspection Is Not A Story.

    It's seductive. It's easy. How can any fanfic author resist letting their audience know EXACTLY what their favorite characters are thinking? All of us do it, but how much is too much? My children, let us do a quick review of the mechanics of a story. First of all, YOU MUST HAVE A PLOT! Plot? You say. Why do I need a plot? Simple, without a plot there isn't a story. Your characters must have something they want. Somehow, they must get what they want during the story. Don't get me wrong, silly, happy fluff can be a good thing. However, a 100K or longer piece of fluff that's chock-full of internal monologue isn't a story. If your character doesn't get from Point A to Point B, then what you have is a character study, not a story. Perhaps they do get there, but how many words did you waste to do it?

    I've heard it before. "But this is just my tastes. Loads of introspection is just my style." And/or "I'm only doing this for fun, I don't care if I don't become a better writer." Uh huh. Lovely excuses for lazy writing. Usually, the ff writers who say that use the same excuse to cover a multitude of sins like rotten grammar, horrible characterization, and lack of any real understanding of the show, book, or movie in question. Learn craft if you want to write good, solid stories.

    Internal monologue is perhaps the easiest thing to write, and conversely, the easiest thing to screw up. Since I found fanfic and started both reading and writing it, I've seen hundreds if not thousands of bad usages of this tool. What is internal monologue? Simple. Internal monologue is whenever you, as the author, let us, as readers, in on the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the characters. Thoughts seem to be some of the trickiest parts of this for many novice and not-so-novice ff writers.

    One of the questions I see pop up on a regular basis is, "How can I distinguish the thoughts of characters?" I've seen this done in fanfic in a variety of ways, most of which serve as nothing more than visual distractions from the story. For example, here's a way you SHOULDN'T write a thought. <<I can't believe he said that to me,>> Mac thought. WRONG. Another way I've seen is this: [I wish Clark would just tell me why he couldn't share his secret,] Lois thought. WRONG. I've also seen fanfic authors use different methods of doing this to denote who's speaking. Consistency is the rule here, children. Pick a method, preferably the correct one, and stick with it! I've been guilty of this before I learned the right way to do it.

    In the literary world, the ACCEPTED way to denote thoughts is with single quotation marks and italics. However, because fanfic is usually in text format, italics aren't feasible. Following that, direct thoughts should all be shown the same way, with dialogue tags just as if that person is speaking. Your direct thoughts should look like this: 'If only Nick would just *try*,' Nat thought.

    Indirect thoughts are what are commonly known as introspection. Unfortunately, the overuse of this is far too widespread in fanfic. It's the mark of an amateur hack. I've seen authors, who claim to know what they're doing, spend so much time with this that they end up with a character taking 30 pages to descend one flight of stairs. Not only would this be boring to watch, but your character ends up with their thoughts going around and around without ever getting anywhere. Repeat after me: "I AM NEITHER JANE AUSTEN NOR HERMAN MELVILLE. I AM NOT GETTING PAID BY THE WORD. I DO THIS FOR LOVE, NOT MONEY. I WANT TO DO THE BEST JOB I CAN." Thank you. Now, let us continue.

    An important thing to consider when writing introspection is real time. Do you suddenly stop in the middle of a conversation and spend three hours debating if y
     
  2. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 20, 2002
    Interesting topic for discussion. [face_thinking]

    Internal Monologue, or, Why 300K Of Introspection Is Not A Story.

    I would disagree on a few counts. First, I do think that a character study and a story can be the same thing. A story is basically an author talking about "what happens." A character reflecting on certain events might be all that "happens" in a story.

    Secondly, it can depend on the type of story. I've seen amazing vignettes that are anywhere from 300 - 2,000 words. Sometimes they have a story, as you've defined the term, and sometimes they're just character study. But in the case of the latter, there's a story. There's something you can infer from the thoughts. So even if nothing happens, even if the character winds up back at his original opinions, you have a better idea of how the character would react in a situation. Or at least how the author feels the character would react.

    And thirdly, the characters don't always get what they want, but there's still a story. ;)

    Which category would you say "day in the life of" stories fit into? The way I see them, they're both. You have a character study - seeing how one particular person exists and thinks and feels. You also have a story - how one particular person exists and thinks and feels. It might be just an average day, where absolutely nothing of interest happens, and the character's life doesn't change in any way. But to me, that's the most fascinating aspect.

    This I really don't agree with. I know a lot of people on these boards who say they write fanfic to have fun, and I've seen their stories before the beta work starts - they're not full of writing sins. And while those who want to be profic writers might use fanfic as practise, the rest really just might not care. For the latter, it's a hobby, and hobbies are meant to be fun. There's no requirement that one must improve at a hobby in order to have fun. And simply having fun doesn't always imply that the person isn't putting in a certain amount of effort.

    This actually did remind me of a story, and I don't know how well the example can be applied, but here goes... :p

    The Mahabharata is an ancient Indian text - basically an epic poem - that tells the story of a huge battle fought between two sets of cousins. Just before the battle begins, a cousin on one side, Arjuna, throws down his bow and arrow and refuses to fight. The god, Krishna, who's acting as his charioteer, simply tells him he has to fight. Arjuna picks his weapons back up and moves on.

    The Bhagavad Gita is one of the most important religious and philosophical texts in Hinduism. It's a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna and expands upon the "You have to fight" command. What's interesting is that it supposedly takes place right in that few-second exchange during the Mahabharata. But when you take into account the length of the dialogue, you might think, "How could that be possible, that they're just stand
     
  3. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    I would like to point out that, in real life, speaking or writing is quite a bit slower than thinking about a subject. So introspection could be done at lightening speed whereas saying it would be paced accordingly. Just try and write down everything you are thinking and you'll find out just how fast you really think. So I could see how 2-3 pages of introspection could take place as a character moves from one foot to another.

    Secondly, a character study/vignette doesn't have to have a plot - it can still be great and be nothing more than a single moment in that person's life. I've read many stories like that and they've been wonderful and heart-wrenching and very entertaining. That's good enough for me as a reader.
     
  4. AlisonC

    AlisonC Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 27, 2005
    A short character study is one thing, but for longer stories, there has to be some kind of plot. Characters exploring a relationship is a plot, as would be an interplanetary war. However, a single character ruminating without a plot or a point other than navel-gazing generally will not hold many readers' interests for more than a couple of chapters.

    Now, a story could be told through a character's thoughts, in flashbacks; there's a plot, but shown in a different manner. No problem. But aside from vignettes and other short character studies, stories need to go from point A to point B.

    I disagree with the limit on how much introspection to put in per set amount of plot time. This will vary from story to story and writer to writer, and the characters involved will make a difference as well. Sometimes it can be a useful way to deliver backstory or other information to a reader. But in these instances, the character just thinking about things has a purpose; to get a better understanding of the character, to get the reader up to date on other events, to sneak in clues about other characters - it advances the story.
     
  5. DarthBreezy

    DarthBreezy Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 4, 2002
    OK, My turn to pick this apart...

    [blockquote]Internal Monologue, or, Why 300K Of Introspection Is Not A Story.

    It's seductive. It's easy. How can any fanfic author resist letting their audience know EXACTLY what their favorite characters are thinking? All of us do it, but how much is too much? My children, let us do a quick review of the mechanics of a story. First of all, YOU MUST HAVE A PLOT! Plot? You say. Why do I need a plot? Simple, without a plot there isn't a story. [/blockquote]

    No, I utterly disagree. In fact, a story that relies too much on 'PLOT' can and often gets bogged down in its sence of MUST. CONNECT. THE. DOTS.


    Y[blockquote]our characters must have something they want. Somehow, they must get what they want during the story. Don't get me wrong, silly, happy fluff can be a good thing. However, a 100K or longer piece of fluff that's chock-full of internal monologue isn't a story. If your character doesn't get from Point A to Point B, then what you have is a character study, not a story. Perhaps they do get there, but how many words did you waste to do it?[/blockquote]

    Waste? Waste words? Never...

    [blockquote]I've heard it before. "But this is just my tastes. Loads of introspection is just my style." And/or "I'm only doing this for fun, I don't care if I don't become a better writer." Uh huh. Lovely excuses for lazy writing. [/blockquote]


    Errrr.. "Lazy Writing?" I actually take so much offence here there's nothing I can say.


    [blockquote]Usually, the ff writers who say that use the same excuse to cover a multitude of sins like rotten grammar, horrible characterization, and lack of any real understanding of the show, book, or movie in question. Learn craft if you want to write good, solid stories.[/blockquote]


    Again, this is a VERY broad generalization, and utterly unfair. Fan fiction is all about exploration and slef expression...

    [blockquote]Internal monologue is perhaps the easiest thing to write, and conversely, the easiest thing to screw up. [/blockquote]

    No, the easiest thing to 'screw up' is the way a person comes across when offering an opinion.

    [blockquote]Since I found fanfic and started both reading and writing it, I've seen hundreds if not thousands of bad usages of this tool. What is internal monologue? Simple. Internal monologue is whenever you, as the author, let us, as readers, in on the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the characters. Thoughts seem to be some of the trickiest parts of this for many novice and not-so-novice ff writers.[/blockquote]

    Hmmm, I'm sorry, I guess you and I aren't reading the same works.o_O


    [blockquote]One of the questions I see pop up on a regular basis is, "How can I distinguish the thoughts of characters?"[/blockquote]

    Wait, I thought this was on "Internal Monologue - that's One person's thoughts.
    [blockquote]
    I've seen this done in fanfic in a variety of ways, most of which serve as nothing more than visual distractions from the story. For example, here's a way you SHOULDN'T write a thought. <<I can't believe he said that to me,>> Mac thought. WRONG. [/blockquote]

    Other than the obnoxious << >> (which on some fan fiction sights is the ONLY way to delineate thought (ADult Fan fiction . net - unless they've changed their format)

    [blockquote]Another way I've seen is this: [I wish Clark would just tell me why he couldn't share his secret,] Lois thought. WRONG. [/blockquote]

    Again, FORMAT ISSUES MAY BE TO BLAME

    [blockquote]I've also seen fanfic authors use different methods of doing this to denote who's speaking. Consistency is the rule here, children. Pick a method, preferably the correct one, and stick with it! I've been guilty of this before I learned the right way to do it.[/blockquote]

    You are also guilty of talking down to your audiance. Some people might find this offensive enough not to take you as a writer or your points seriously.

    [blockquote]In the literary world, the ACCEPTED way to denote thou
     
  6. BrightFeather

    BrightFeather Jedi Youngling star 3

    Registered:
    Nov 13, 2005
    Whoa. Hold on a second here. This was written two years back for Fanfic101. It's a craft site specifically for fanfic. And the style is tailored to conform to the website. I even included a link to said site at the top of my original post. And I had no reason to think that this would offend people--I'd posted it on the craft boards for JAG six months ago. It was well recieved.

    Look, I'm sorry if I made people mad, but I didn't think it would. I've been here for less than a week, and I don't want to cause trouble. I've asked that this thread be deleted, because, frankly, coming from my original fandom, I'm just not too fond of contention. I've seen wars split fandoms, and it's not a pretty sight. I have no wish to offend anyone, I didn't mean to, and part of me thinks I should stop playing with my shiny new toys, go back to JAG, Pretender, or Forever Knight, and leave Star Wars alone.

    BrightFeather
     
  7. BrentusofGath

    BrentusofGath Jedi Padawan star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 12, 2005
    My thought on that: You want the reader to feel a part of the story. You want them to be able to guess at some things and not always be told, 'this is what so and so thinks'. If the reader feels a part of the story, then they will like it more than if they're told every single thought and feeling the main characters have.

    So basically, I agree: I think introspection should be used with care and sparingly.
     
  8. Uldir_Fenn

    Uldir_Fenn Jedi Youngling star 2

    Registered:
    Apr 11, 2004
    hmm, you've given me something to think about. Thanx for all the info!
     
  9. DarthBreezy

    DarthBreezy Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 4, 2002
    It doesn't matter When it was written or if it was the style is tailored to conform to the website, you posted it at this one. It deosn't matter if it was "well recieved" (Personally, I don't see how -) It's not constructive and the tone over all is very hurtful and condesending. I've read a lot of rants on styles of fan fiction in my nearly 4 years here, even written a few myself, but nothing has come close to this.

    [blockquote]
    Look, I'm sorry if I made people mad, but I didn't think it would. I've been here for less than a week, and I don't want to cause trouble. [/blockquote]

    Well, I'm not 'mad', but your peice got my hackles raised, and I replied to as much as I could with the same honesty as you put forth. I made some very pointed observations about the tone of the peice, and pointed out the things that I as a reader found objectionable and disagreed with.



    [blockquote]I've asked that this thread be deleted, because, frankly, coming from my original fandom, I'm just not too fond of contention. I've seen wars split fandoms, and it's not a pretty sight.[/blockquote]

    Now now, fandoms and families go through ups and downs, this one is no exception, yet we all stick around because at the end of the day we respect eachother as writers and fellow Star Wars fans. Perhaps it wasn't pleasent to see how the tone of your essay could be construde as offensive, especially when posted in the mist of a fandom and a board where a lot of introspective works are posted and are very well recieved.



    [blockquote]I have no wish to offend anyone, I didn't mean to, and part of me thinks I should stop playing with my shiny new toys, go back to JAG, Pretender, or Forever Knight, and leave Star Wars alone.

    BrightFeather[/blockquote]

    OK... *deep breath*

    I'll be blunt, (and people who know me are holding their breath as they know I am never anything BUT)

    I think you should take a second look here. Look at your essay and the reaction there of. People were hurt by your tone, people were offended, just as you seem to be by my reaction to it. Now you have seen the other side of things - I've seen authors stop writing over less. Not just introspectives, but fan fic in general - it's incredibly sad, especially if they do so after finding this place wich is so open and welcoming of ALL styles of stories - even those that are not 'postable' due to the particular limitiations of our boards (not just explicit stories, but even other fandoms) can find links and fellow fans which will lead them on to the other places. That's the joy of finding one of the best and biggest repositories of Star Wars fan fic - it can lead to so much more. Cutting and running because of a percieved misstep is like cutting your nose off to spite your face.

    I didn't dissect your essay because you're new, I dissected it because it was there.

    Take a deep breath, look around and see what you might be missing. Join some social threads, read some stories. You'll find that fan fiction of all places where registration dates are the last thing anyone really cares about when it comes to the meat of things - which is writing stories about people and places we care about.


    Breezy


     
  10. rhonderoo

    rhonderoo Former Head Admin star 9 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Aug 7, 2002
    Let's not pick anything apart here. I would remind everyone here to remember on these essays that they are expressing an opinion. There is a way to agree and disagree. I want politeness, people, even if you disagree. :)
     
  11. DarkMan77

    DarkMan77 Jedi Youngling star 2

    Registered:
    Mar 23, 2005
    Fan fiction authors are non-profit writers and therefore do not need a professional approach to writing.

    Fan fiction is a way for an author to express him or herself as he/she sees fit and it is up to the readers to decide whether or not they like what they read.

    The readers can make suggestions or give hints that may help the author (in a polite manner ofcourse), but even then it is up to the author to take these comments to heart or discard them.

    I myself have written and am writing fic. English is not my native language, so i ask readers to take that into account. I have heard no ill comments about the way i write, yet because of the era i write about (about 4000 years before TPM, or the KOTOR era as it's called.)i have only a dozen or so readers. I do the best i can and i hope people like what i write , but subtleties aside i will not change what i write and how i write for anyone. You do not have to read it!

    Final thought: Fan Fiction is, and should always be written by fans first and foremost.


     
  12. DarthBreezy

    DarthBreezy Force Ghost star 6

    Registered:
    Jun 4, 2002
    Roo, I think there's a vast differance between dissecting an essay (which is basicly one large opinonion post) and 'ctitiquing' a story - and this is a case of the former. To post an essay is to invite commentary, and in many cases it needs to be done point to point - (You should see how I dissected Kel-ene's Star Wars essay - that was a beast and took me hours but it lead to a lot of fun discussion :p).

    There's been no flames, no rudeness or name calling on the part of the authors, but the piece invited discourse and discussion, and most decidedly a differance of opinion.

    I have issues with they way some of the opinions of the piece and how they were presented, and was mearly presenting the other side - disagreement AND more importantly, discussion.



     
  13. rhonderoo

    rhonderoo Former Head Admin star 9 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Aug 7, 2002
    Breezy, you know I love you...but tone, think tone. I'd rather see a disagreement made with a conciliatory statement than what could be considered a confrontational statement. Nobody has said anything about anyone personally either in the essay or in their agreements/disagreements, this is all just about ideas and opinions. Tone can be misconstrued very easily on a message board and create needless hurt feelings, even if we don't mean it.
     
  14. Healer_Leona

    Healer_Leona Squirrely Community Mod star 9 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jul 7, 2000
    Edited as Roo expressed the same thing but better :)
     
  15. JadeSolo

    JadeSolo Manager Emeritus star 6 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Sep 20, 2002
    edit: Doh! I'm a slow typer.
     
  16. dianethx

    dianethx Jedi Master star 6

    Registered:
    Mar 1, 2002
    Sorry, Mods but I agree with Breezy and that doesn't happen very often. I would like to have a discussion about introspection - it's a very interesting topic and one worthy of lots of viewpoints. I also think that BrightFeather has some very good points to make and with her background, I'm sure she could give a lot of educational perspective to the discussion.

    I believe, however, that the tone of the original piece was rather insulting to any person writing introspective pieces. However, if the words, children, hack and lazy were to be removed, it might be better and less confrontational. Certainly, it would focus the reader's attention back to the discussion and away from hurt feelings. I ask her very politely to do that.
     
  17. rhonderoo

    rhonderoo Former Head Admin star 9 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Aug 7, 2002
    I understand where you are coming from, diane. And were this a regular post, and not an essay, I would whole-heartedly agree. This is an essay, though, and not directed at posters on this forum, but an opinion piece on an element of fan fic. It could just easily be refuted with another essay.

    My point is that we not take a confrontational tone in debating the essayist's opinion. You can, however write your own essay and refute every word she's saying and in your own style.
     
  18. oqidaun

    oqidaun Manager Emeritus star 5 VIP - Former Mod/RSA

    Registered:
    Jul 20, 2005
    First of all, YOU MUST HAVE A PLOT! Plot? You say. Why do I need a plot? Simple, without a plot there isn't a story. Your characters must have something they want.

    I agree. You have to have a plot to write a good story. Plot is structure. It is the framework on which the story hangs. Plot is the central conflict that moves the story forward. People who tell stories need plots. Your characters have to be doing something, getting somewhere, resolving an issue, etc... I'm rather intrigued by the fact that "plot" is such a dirty word around these parts. It's such a simple concept--a basic element of story telling--that its importance should not have to be debated. When I ran a fantasy writers writing circle, we did a lot of exercises with plot and used Ronald B. Tobias' 20 Master Plots to organize our discussions and exercise pieces. Anyone who is having difficulties with plot or interested in becoming a better writer may want to look at it.

    However, and I believe this is what the essay's author was aiming at, not all character-centric fanfic pieces have obvious plots. They are just character elaborations. The plot itself is provided by the preexisting film or book from which the characters originally appear. In fanfic it would not work with an exclusively OC story--the reader has no established attraction or interest in the character to substitute for the lack of a viable plot. The strength of such pieces focused on canon characters lie in fact that character already exists and plot is already in place. It is a concept that "works" in fanfic and I suppose some other genres--without aiming to have my comments censored, I am inclined to include "plotless porn" as another area that doesn't need a great deal of complicated plot structuring. It works because the writer and reader are looking to revisit or establish another angle to a preexisting character or simply engage in voyeurism. Yet, at the same time, the fluffiest Anakin and Mary Sue visit Abecrombie & Fitch story has a plot--even if it's not a very sophisticated plot, it's there. Again, plot is not a frightening or snooty literary concept.

    How much introspection is too much? I think quality is the real issue. Quality introspection if well-crafted so that it flows nicely into and out of the story shouldn't be constrained by a set limit. Flow is a key point, though. Do the introspective elements of the story mesh with the rest of piece? If you look at James Joyce's masterwork "Dubliners" it is a introspective monster, but well done. And that leads me to my next point...

    Should we even bother to write good fic? Should we ever try to improve our writing style? It's just fanfic after all.
    It seems that everytime we end up in a critical discussion of writing style or structure or some other element, people end up offended or surprised that anyone would raise such an issue. Criticism is unacceptable as is the thought of someone reading these stories with an eye to plot, structure, characterization and pacing. The obligatory "I'm just having fun" defense always crops up whenever anyone conjures up the demons of grammar or plot or characterization. As it's fanfic, technically we're all having fun. We all enjoy what it is that we're doing. Some people take it more seriously than others and some people use it as a means by which to improve their writing as a whole, but we're all having fun here. I am very conscientious about what I write and how I write. I love the process and I love telling stories and I try to make each thing I write reflect the best of my skill. Here's the issue from another angle: in addition to writing, I'm also a musician. I have people I go out with and play with for fun--yet, even though it's "just for fun" when I pick up my bass I'm doing my damndest to play well. Even when I'm with my music buddies jamming and goofing around I play well. I tune my instrument, I make sure that I'm listening to and responding to the drummer and that I'm in a key consistent with the piece we're playing and mindful of what the guitarist is doi
     
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