Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Internals

Gut-wrenching, heart-stopping, pulse-pounding fiction. We writers like to make our readers squirm, don't we?

Two weeks ago, I talked about externals...the choreography, body language, and senses of our characters. This week we're taking a look inside. Specifically, we'll cover two areas: Visceral responses and interior monologue.

Let's start with visceral responses by giving a quick explanation. Visceral responses are those initial gut reactions we feel inside when something happens to us. A twist in the stomach, sweaty hands, rapid pulse...Those are all viscerals.

So what are some areas to check in our scenes when it comes to visceral responses?

1) Do I have too few or too many? Are you using viscerals for key moments that warrant them in the scene? If you don't use enough, the reader will feel detached from your character. If you have too many, the reader will start to get motion sick. A good rule of thumb for me is to keep it to an average of one visceral per page AT MOST. For less intense scenes, it might be one visceral in the entire scene. For a major scene, I might have a couple pages that have two or three viscerals.

2) Do I use a variety of responses that make sense with the scene and the characters? This is similar to my post about externals two weeks ago. If your characters are having heart attacks (i.e., their "hearts stop beating") on every page, you have a problem. Really get yourself in their skin and make the reactions authentic.

Resources: As usual, I have to point to Margie Lawson on this one. Her classes really dive deep into visceral responses. She uses her experience as a psychologist and provides in-depth insights into visceral responses and how to use them for powerful writing.

Now let's move on to interior monologue, or in simple terms, the internal thoughts of your characters. Here are some questions to ask as you analyze your scenes.

1) Do I have too much interior monologue? Can you show the same emotions and responses through action and dialogue instead? Or maybe even a whole new scene?

2) Have I handled backstory well? Do you like to have your characters think in one big "backstory dump"? Is there a way to trickle in backstory only when it's necessary to the story? I think most of us have read plenty on the topic of avoiding backstory in the beginning of the manuscript, but we really should be careful in each scene to keep it to only the minimum and the necessary.

Resources: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has an entire chapter devoted solely to interior monologue. And again, Margie Lawson covers this topic fully in her classes.

Your homework, should you choose to accept it: Sign up for or purchase one of Margie Lawson's classes or lecture packets. Or pull out your copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (or your library's copy). Highlight your internals in each scene and analyze them to make sure you have the right balance.

Do you have any pet visceral responses in your writing? How do you typically handle backstory? Any extra resources to share with our readers?

*This post is part of the Self-Editing Checklist series. For the rest of the series, click here.

**Body photo by smokedsalmon /
***Thoughts photo by suphakit73 /


Anonymous said...

Thanks Sarah!

Another great post! These are sooo helpful. I've bookmarked this one and will be checking these points next week.

This is starting to become my writing bible. : )

April Gardner said...

Hi Sarah! Thanks for the number-per-page tip for the visceral response. I need things over-explained. :-) Not sure how many I have. Since I'm starting editing on my sequel, I guess I'll find out soon enough! Great post.

Julia M. Reffner said...

I've noticed I really need to watch myself on too much self-reflection. Which is sort of funny because I've been told more than once I over analyze in this area in real life.

I definitely want to take one of Margie's classes soon.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Freya, So glad to provide something useful!

April, Have fun with that editing! And a number is good, but in the end, we've gotta go with our guts. (LOL, That was a bad joke, I know.)

Julia, It's scary how much real life infuses our writing, isn't it? I tended to under-emote when I first started writing. When I pieced it together with my accounting job, it sorta made sense. It's hard to get excited about tax returns. :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Sarah, another great post! Thinking about visceral responses is something I haven't done much o yet. Your suggestions and numbers per page are very helpful. As for backstory, I want to layer it thoughout the story (as in as my character peels off the layers, perhaps other aspects of backstory will come out too), but I haven't written enough of it yet to know exactly how that will look for me. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Well, after this post I think I definitely need to take the class. Looks like you opened the door to a big topic.

Keli Gwyn said...

Good pointers, Sarah. I, too, had characters with heart issues in my early manuscripts. As often as their hearts raced, thundered, shuddered, etc., it's a wonder my characters didn't pass out at regular intervals. LOL

Sarah Forgrave said...

Jeanne, Lots of writing is the best way to learn, isn't it? Good luck and have fun with it! :)

Mary, I'm not even sure I opened the door. It's more like turned the doorknob handle. There's sooo much more I could have said, but that's what Margie's classes are for. :)

Keli, Glad to know I'm not the only one torturing my characters! :)

Joanne Sher said...

Super, SUPER post. My characters (and I) sigh. A LOT!!! Ohhhh boy. SO need to fix that.

Thanks so much, Sarah

Sarah Forgrave said...

LOL, Joanne! *sigh* :)

Pepper said...

Margie Lawson's classes are so great - and affordable!
One of the best things about them is that you get to keep them and reread them over and over again!

Thanks for this post, Sarah. I'm sorry I'm late. What a great post. I find that I used to use more internal monologue, but now I overdo the dialogue. Argh. Finding the happy medium is the hard part!