How to Show Your Characters' Thoughts

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How do you show what a character's thinking and feeling?

Think of the ways you know, in real life, what the people around you are thinking and feeling. You can't read their minds, but you still know when they're upset or excited, if they're trying to make you feel guilty or planning to ask you on a date.

Here are some of the ways that you know:

  • from what they say
  • from the way they speak (Is the tone gentle or harsh? Do they mumble or shout? Do they hesitate? Are there significant silences?)
  • from their body language
  • from their actions.

Your readers can learn about your characters in the same ways.

Sometimes a scene or a story is written from the point of view or perspective of a particular character. This character is called a viewpoint character.

If a character ISN'T a viewpoint character, we show his or her thoughts and feelings from the outside (words, facial expression, body language, actions). If a character IS a viewpoint character, we can also show his or her thoughts and feelings from the inside.

  • We can do this with direct thought, where we quote the words that the character is thinking. (Example: "Jim is usually so punctual," Sally thought. "I hope nothing's wrong.")
  • We can do this with indirect thought. (Example: Sally looked at her watch again. Jim was usually so punctual -- she hoped nothing was wrong.)
  • We can do this through the character's physical sensations. (Example: She felt her stomach tighten.)

Different people show their thoughts and feelings in different ways.

Think about how a specific character would react, for example, to being angry. Maybe he would become icy, stiff, and overly polite. Or maybe he would get red in the face, raise his voice, and kick the furniture.

Here's a little questionnaire you can use to get to know your characters a little better.

Character Reaction Questionnaire

Character's name:____________

Describe this character's reaction or behavior when...

  • they feel slightly nervous:
  • they feel scared:
  • they feel affectionate toward someone:
  • they feel jealous:
  • they dislike someone:
  • they feel physically attracted to someone:
  • they have something to hide:
  • they're angry (do they have a boiling point?):
  • they are feeling trapped or defensive:
  • they feel guilty:
  • they feel bored:
  • they feel excited about something:
  • they feel confident or proud of themselves:

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Story Writing Tips - Next Steps

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