A question for all avid novel/short story readers/writers

A question for all avid novel/short story readers/writers.

Consider two approaches to novel writing: one where we hear characters’ inner monologue, and one where a characters’ thoughts and feelings are relayed through description of their expression, body language, etc.


“I’m not going to make it!” Chuck thinks.
Chuck’s body tenses, cold sweat on his wide-eyed face.

The context is specifically within non-prose novels or short stories. Written, non-script material. Similarly this isn’t considering special scenarios uniquely favoring one approach or the other (e.g., a scene taking place in someone’s subconscious mind).

After considering each approach, answer the following in detail:

  • What approach do you prefer and why?
  • What approach do you feel is better and why?

Eight bazillion thanks.

EDIT - Spot the apostrophe misuse for bonus points.

Yea I tend to like a good balance best. I like my characters to have personality to and vocally reacting to a situation is a part of that.

I like the second example the best, because I feel it treats the reader as an observer looking in on the scene. I don’t know exactly why, but I personally do not like to hear a character’s thoughts like in the first example. I would rather have descriptions of how they are reacting on the outside, which other characters could see.

Hopefully that made some sense

I know you said to not consider specific scenarios but because both are equal but different methods I think the person and/or situation being described should strongly influence your choice for example; my favorite novel Dune has some really complicated shit going on that no description of physical surrounding could begin to encapsulate. On the other hand The Road, another great novel is almost entirely descriptive of scenery and nothing else and to deviate from that describing a character’s inner thoughts would dull the intended impact it tries to have on readers.

That being said I’m going with the old axiom: “Show me, don’t tell me.” Because being told a character’s thoughts in depth runs the risk of insulting the audience’s intelligence as if we couldn’t get the hint from some kind of context clue. I think it’s more fun to have a person show their audience the door and let them walk through it of their own accord rather then push them till they’re on the other side.

Which reminds me I hate it when characters talk out loud to themselves as if it’s not a blatantly cheap device to advance the plot.

I strongly prefer the second approach. The reason why is very simple, I was one of the biggest Roald Dahl fanboys in the world when I was in elementary school, and his style of writing takes that approach, which has grown on me.

I think the second approach is better overall anyway because my mind stays focused on the character, as opposed to reading monologue then having a narrator tell me that this is what the character said or thought.

second approach, goes without saying.

for one, you’ve got to show, and not tell. Reading a book is a pretty mundane experience if it’s as though you’re having a 1-person conversation… you know, where the other person just tells you a story on and on and you have no input - you CAN read in to his thoughts with option 1, but you can ALSO do that if you don’t actually get his thoughts, like in option 2.

Think of it this way,

Chuck thinks “OH shit I’m in trouble” - Hmmm, why does he think he’s in trouble? Thought process continues

Sweat pours down chuck’s face, etc - now you’re investing yourself in not only figuring out what he’s thinking, but why - on top of that, you get great details that provide atmosphere.

ultimately the goal is to allow the reader to read. If you’re doing it for him - spelling everything out ala example 1, there’s no point in writing, since your reader will most likely be uninterested in being told EXACTLY what’s going on. at least, any self-respecting reader would…

as a reader, i’m always more interested in investing myself in reading instead of just, well, READING WORDS. there’s a big difference between the two. Reading is a much more meaningful experience if you invest yourself in a book, because it forces you to think - if you’re not thinking, whats the point.

honestly this is one of the first things i learned from my professor about writing, and a lot of people in our class didn’t get it… you’ve ALWAYS got to adhere to the rule, “Show, don’t tell”

Yeah I agree strongly with Orochizoolander on this; show me, don’t tell me. Let me work it out for myself.


Smoothjazz thought Street Fighter X Tekken looked like crap

Smoothjazz went on to Shoryuken.com, and looked at the forums. His eyes hovered over the Street Fighter X Tekken forum; he thought about the gems, the homogeneous combos, the rehashed character models. A sigh emerged from his lips.

I’m hardly an avid reader (avg >1 novel a year) but I appreciate a more sparing use of direct quotations to express characters thoughts simply to break up the cadance of

“(some dialog)” said (character name).

or whatever other synonym they have for ‘said’, particularly during dialog heavy scenes.

Your first example is just lazy writing. You can totally get away with what you’re trying to do, though. It depends on what type of relationship you expect to build between the reader and the character. Also, If you’ve established a really good narrator. Your work may also lack consistency because of it if you don’t allow room for every important character’s thoughts unless there’s a very good reason that the narrator won’t know those thoughts.

Showing externalizes your audience. Generally, we like to derive meaning from what we’re seeing on our own as opposed to being told what to see, so your second approach is the least disruptive. You’re still telling them what they see, BTW. This is a large measure of a good writer. To convey what’s going on without having to come out and say it.

That other type of writing has it’s place, but it’s not going to be popular unless it’s really REALLY good writing. :tup:

I’m super appreciative for all the responses.

second is for narrative descriptive writing. the type where you want your reader to engage in the story. As stated by others.

the first isn’t lazy writing, its text book writing. I don’t always want to read a physics or chemistry book.

Robert Jordan. I like his style. It seems to be a blend of the two leaning toward the latter. Probably 70/30 split. Sometimes, he outlines exactly what the character is thinking, while doing the alternate other times.

Depends on the rest of the story. Generally speaking if the story is in first person I keep it that way and vice versa.

The second approach is the best to me. The first approach is why i could never read screenplays. When people say such and such is a great script, i have no idea what they’re talking about, because there’s so much that isn’t said by omitting the kind of visual cues that are found in novels.

First person is good too; i prefer to write in third person myself however. /shrug

Again, eight bazillion thank yous. Y’all make me man moist. Alliteration.