I love reviewing submissions. All those ideas spun into unique stories line my inbox, calling for attention. Lately, I’ve been noticing a common trend in the submissions that reminded me of something I’m trying to be mindful of when writing, which is the balance of interior and exterior action.
There are so many kinds of balances to keep in mind when crafting a story: in-scene vs. summary, what to tell vs. what to conceal. If there are multiple point of views, that gets tricky; or if the timeline isn’t linear, oh my. This post only dabbles vaguely in the balance of what characters think (interior) vs. what characters say and do (exterior). Sure, this might be a simple way of looking at stories, but I find that simplifying the writing process sometimes helps to make it less intimidating.
By interiority, I mean access into the character’s emotions and thoughts. This doesn’t have to mean that readers can read his/her thoughts, but it does mean that readers can understand the events from that character’s perspective, thus encouraging sympathy. Most stories work because the readers genuinely care about the protagonist, even if they don’t like him/her/it.
The common result of too little interiority is a lack of connection with the character.
Or action. My favorite stories are rarely all interiority. Even stream-of-conscious stories, which rely heavily on interiority, uses that interiority to tell us of action.
Making things happen is hard. Having interesting things happen that push the story forward by expanding character and chugging along the highway of plot–that’s even harder. However, the submissions that catch my eye tend to provide a good amount of action, anchored in a solid point of view.
Here is a great exercise to try when feeling stuck in the muck of mundane actions: jot down 25 actions that could happen next. Don’t censor. Feel free to freewrite to expand on any of the ideas. You’ll notice that usually the first 5 or even 10 are not so extraordinary. When it gets to 15, things become interesting. Let yourself play with possibilities. Let the characters surprise you.
Sometimes I do the following: I take a page of a book that I love and underline all the interiority with one color and all the action with another. Then I step back and look at the balance. Different genres and different target age groups tend to have different balances. I love studying in this way, dismantling my favorites to see how they tick. The masters have left their skills on the page, and we as writers-in-training have the best example to hold up to the light.