Writing Tips: Inner Worlds

Our Quick Guide on Inner Worlds and why you need 'em

Giving life to character

Authors of genre fiction - adventure yarns, thrillers, fantasy epics, whodunnits etc - have a horrible tendency to neglect the inner. Why bother with all that deep & meaningful stuff (they say) if the point of the book is a rollicking plot & plenty of action?

Big mistake. NO author can neglect the interior, because the interior is why readers read fiction at all. We don't just want to see Bond saving the world, we want to feel what it's like to be Bond saving the world. If you don't achieve that sense of interiority you haven't even got off the starting line. The reader won't care about your story, because they can't care about your character.

OK, so how do I build one?

Take any random 2-3 pages of your text. Check it to see if you have

  • Any mention of that character's thoughts. (Don't count thoughts which pretty much any bystander would have had eg: "The man was covered with tattooes, weighed in at about 220lbs, and had a long curling scar running down the side of his face. X thought he looked like a nasty customer.") Count only those thoughts that are clearly specific to your central character.
  • Any mention of that character's feelings. Again, things like 'he felt hungry' are fine, but they don't really distinguish that character from the rest of the human race. You're looking for stuff that individuates your protagonist's inner world from the rest.
  • Any mention of that character's physical sensations. Here you're looking for sentences that tell us about how a character feels inside his body, what smells he comes across, what sounds he hears & how they impact him, etc. Again, disregard the obvious, and look for things unique to your character.

  • Any discussion of memory, or the character's past. We are people shaped by our pasts: don't forget to give your character a strong, individual past . . . But also, of course, don't slow the book down by having too much flashback. If you're unsure on this, I'm afraid there are no guidelines we can offer - every book is different. That said, do read on to the end of this post.

How did you score?

If you didn't find any interior world mentions, then you have a major problem. You must go back through your whole book and make sure that you bring your character's inner world to life. You will not succeed otherwise. Do note though that before you do this, you need to make sure you have a firm grip of your protagonist's character. Our Ultimate Character Builder is the secret of success there.

If you have some inner world mentions, but not many (say just 1-2 per page) then you have probably undercooked your inner world. Review your novel carefully for this issue, with a view to building this aspect of your novel.

If you have multiple inner world mentions on every page, then well done you.


Can you give me an example of getting it right?

A foolish question. This is the Writers' Workshop. The chunk below is taken from a novel recently published by a WW editor. The novel is a classic adventure yarn with no pretensions to being anything more.

But just look how continual is the reference to thoughts and feelings here (highlighted in bold. Note that sometimes as in "oh for God's sake!" the feelings are implied rather than started outright: they're still here though). If your MS does not read like this, then isn't it about time it did?

Oh for God’s sake! Let’s do it.’

Willard felt angry and out of control. The cast and crew were on their thirteenth week of filming their feature, Heaven’s Beloved. They already had enough film in the can to make a six hour movie. But Willard was a realist. He’d seen the rushes. And they were bad. Badly done, badly shot, and dull. Deadly dull. The script had been hastily revised. Stunts had been shoved in in a desperate effort to lift the story. Willard had grown to loathe any mention of the budget.

And now this. The Gallaudet [airplane] stood in one corner of the roof, with the wind on its nose. They’d selected the plane for its low take-off speed, but even so, Willard guessed, they wouldn’t be fully airborne by the time they reached the edge. Would he have enough lift and forward speed to keep his tail clear as he left the roof? He didn’t know. If the tail caught, would it hook him downwards, or just give him a fright? He didn’t know, but felt sick thinking about it. In the past, he’d preferred to hand the tough stunts over to professional stuntmen, but his last two stuntmen had quit on him after rows over money. In any case, it was only flying wasn’t it?

What's your genre?

As a general rule - but, be warned, this is very oversimplified:

  • Romantic or relationship-led fiction will tend to involve relatively significant amounts of inner worlds
  • Ditto anything with a female protagonist
  • Ditto anything more literary (and literary novels can also carry more weight of flashback.)

On the other hand:

  • More action oriented fiction can have less inner worlds material - but that absolutely doesn't mean none at all.