How do new writers (or writers new to deep point of view) undermine the emotional tension they’ve created with internal dialogue? By not changing their mindset.
I’m in the middle of my Method Acting For Writers course so I often don’t post here as often as normal when I’m in the midst of giving feedback for students every day. However, I often address issues that trip up my students here on the blog for my larger group of readers. Author intrusion is trick in deep point of view because it’s so sneaky.
Many writers are looking for ways to create a deeper connection between readers and their main character. They want to create an emotional experience and deep point of view definitely can do that, but not if you undermine the feeling that readers are IN THE STORY instead of reading a story – if that makes sense. Readers want an emotional experience in addition to being entertained.
A character’s thoughts tend to be the lifeblood of deep point of view. Internal dialogue helps to clarify the WHY for readers. Why is the MC behaving that way, reacting that way, saying that, etc. But writers switching to deep pov from non-deep point of view styles of writing struggle with too much telling in internal dialogue.
The Minset Switch
Because we want readers to feel like they’re in the story with the MC (think of it like handing a reader a virtual reality headset or going through the story like it’s a first-person shooter game), we want to avoid anything that feels like readers are being told a story.
If your story is a car and the MC is in the driver’s seat, the reader doesn’t want to sit in the stands and watch the race, sit in the backseat or ride shotgun. They want to be in the driver’s lap and see everything the driver sees, feel the vibrations in the wheel and feel the lurch with each gear shift. You break the fictive dream in deep point of view if the reader feels like they’re being told a story rather than living it vicariously through the MC.
So writing internal dialogue as though the reader is listening in comes across as author intrusion. Using internal dialogue to convey backstory or “explain” things to readers feels like author intrusion and breaks the fictive dream. You’ve just picked up your reader, taken them out of the story and plopped them right back in the theatre seats watching the story again.
Red Flags For Author Intrusion In Internal Dialogue
Deep point of view is very personal so internal dialogue works best when it feels organic. Ask whether a character would really explain this to themselves if they already know it.
There’s Bob, Cindy’s fourth boyfriend this year, but what’s he done to his hair?
There’s Bob, was he Cindy’s third or fourth boyfriend this year… What’s he done to his hair?
The information that Bob is just one of many boyfriends is “told” in the first example. The second example feels more like the character is talking to themselves, not the reader. If the character already knows who Bob is, why would they explain who he is to themselves? That’s author intrusion — the information is there just for the reader.
If the reader needs some context or information (and you can’t deliver it through dialogue), you have to frame it in such a way that it feels organic to the moment and the character.
Sentence construction using “when” or “and then” or “when this” and “then that” often leads either to author intrusion and telling OR adding unneccessary distance between the reader and the story. Does that mean you should never use those words? Of course not, but they are red flags.
I was three days into my one week vacation when the phone rang.
In deep point of view this is likely author intrusion. It’s narrator-like, isn’t it. Do you talk to yourself like this? It’s likely being passed off as internal dialogue, but it’s just the writer inserting themselves into the story. At best, it’s adding unneccessary distance for readers. If the reader needs info, it’s usually easier and more organic to have it come out via spoken dialogue.
I picked up the phone.
Hey girl! How’s your vacation?
Stella’s voice brought a grin to my lips. “OK. Four days left. I need to get out of this house.”
Structured this way, the reader is IN the story with the MC instead of having things reported to them and the reader gets the necessary information. You’ll often find writers incorporating newbies or someone new to the story because they can stand in and ask the MC questions that the MC wouldn’t think to answer because they already know the info.
I don’t remember driving home or climbing into my bed and fell asleep right away.
So, if the character doesn’t remember doing any of it then the reader can’t know about it. The character can wake up and realize they don’t remember getting there — in hindsight. You could also use a shallower pov technique to show the character’s awareness of their own actions but that you’re just moving them from point a to point b so to speak. (Yes, if you’re doing it intentionally to create a specific effect or as a story-telling tool, telling or a shallow pov is allowed.)
She stumbled through the door and fell into bed. Had she closed the door? Who cares. She shut her eyes and gave in to sleep.
You can get a copy of my book Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point of View Using Emotional Layers here.