Character inner thought

I did a pretty cool character exercise the other day that I learned in Bell’s book, Revision & Self-Editing. It took a while, but I am using this tool as part of the editing process from my draft of The Bended Tree.

Bell suggests finding a spot in the manuscript where the character is thinking. Then write for ten minutes on the character’s inner thought, going beyond all reason. This is some of what I wrote, based on the drafted scene I had done with my protag, John.

Timmy was my best friend. We played together as young boys, but Timmy was always a smaller kid and the boys at school made fun of him. I guess it was easier for me to do it, too, make fun of him. I figured he must know I didn’t mean it, but sometimes I wasn’t sure. A few times I saw him cry, which made the tiny flicker of anger that always lived inside me grow hot. 

I don’t know why Timmy’s tears made me so angry. My ma would cry sometimes, after my pa came home real drunk and hit her or cursed at her. He came home drunk a lot. It made me feel so small to see my ma cry and I wished I could take her away somewhere – maybe Chicago or out west – and leave my pa there, alone with Edward. But I knew deep inside my ma would never leave my pa.

Bell says to then find a trait  from the inner thought exercise and ask yourself what is something absolutely outrageous and extreme he might do under the full influence of that trait, and to list 3 to 5 actions. One trait I found is that John has ‘buried explosive anger.’ Some things he might do in the scene under full influence of that trait are:

  1. Punch his friend and leave the store
  2. Scream at the store clerk to shut up
  3. Kick the candy counter over so it tumbles to the ground and run out of the store

I decided that I liked #3. Bell suggests taking that action and “pulling it back 25%.” So this is my entire scene, totally revised. It’s still a little stiff to me, but I feel it tells more about my protag than I had previously written.


Teacher let class out early because of the influenza. She told the children to go straight home, but John and a few other boys wandered toward town, including Timmy who ran to catch up.

The sun bounced off the lake and they couldn’t help themselves from picking up tiny round stones on the beach and skipping them into the water. The pebbles jumped up and down like tiny frogs until they disappeared.

The boys skipped stones until their arms got tired, so they crossed the street and headed back into town, passing Barnes’ funeral parlor on the way. Outside were piles of pine boxes a story high. Timmy stopped some distance from the funeral parlor, dragging his strapped books on the ground. As one unit, the boys clambered atop the boxes and jumped off, going higher and higher, pretending the boxes were the great pyramids of Egypt, which they had studied in school the week before.

“Let’s go, Timmy,” John shouted while standing on a box.

 Timmy picked at the dirt with his shoe and thrust his hands in his pocket.

“Quit acting like a baby,” John said and the other boys laughed. Timmy’s head sunk, but he picked up his books, ran to the boxes and started to climb.

Up and down and around, John ascended and jumped off the highest box, six boxes high, making the other boys roar with awe. When Timmy tried, he fell and skinned his knee and the other boys snorted with laughter. Mr. Barnes heard the ruckus from inside his office and came out to chase them away.

When John got home his ma was standing at the front door, her arms crossed. Mr. Barnes had called. She told John never to play on the boxes again. He rolled his eyes and she gave him a burrowing stare.

“There are people in those boxes,” she said quietly. “They all died of the influenza.”

Two days later John went to meet the other boys at the park to play some ball. Timmy wasn’t there.

After the game the boys went to the drug store. All the boys but John had money, so they bought sodas for five cents and sat at the counter, sipping their drinks quietly.

John saw the clerk whispering over the counter to a customer, so he grabbed a handful of sour candies and stuffed them in his pocket. He picked up a toy car and spun the wheels as he leaned in to closer to listen. He heard Timmy’s name and opened his ears to hear the customer tell the clerk that Timmy had the influenza. John swallowed hard.

“Hey, John, we wanna tell you somethin’,” one of the boys snickered and waved for John to join the boys at the counter.

John’s face burned as he rolled the candies around in his pocket, sweat making them stick to his palms. He kicked the base of the counter, making several packets of candy tumble to ground as he walked out of the store.


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Natasha
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 08:59:06

    I’m definitely doing characters, and then scenes. That’s probably why I have so many plot holes. I think most of my scenes will eventually fit together (those pesky jigsaw puzzle pieces) but I’m not sure — especially since I don’t really know what the jigsaw puzzle is supposed to look like when it’s finished!

    I know I mentioned K.M. Weiland’s character interview. I’ve had the most trouble with Becca, who is basically my alter-ego. I’ve been going through that interview process with Becca’s character and it’s been really interesting. It’s helping me develop backstory on a lot of characters and fill in some details — plus since it’s Becca = me, it feels like a personal psychological journey as well. Kinda weird.

    And, uh oh….. I’m thinking this isn’t going to turn out so well for poor Timmy…. 😦 Nice job, Kathan.


  2. dayner
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 01:01:16

    Oh and, great excerpt. It’s nice to read more if The Bended Tree. Well done, I love the last paragraph! The exercise worked, you captured his feeling well. More, more, more!


    • kathanink
      Mar 04, 2010 @ 07:57:36

      Thanks! Like I said, it still feels a little stiff to me in parts, but I will take care of that in the “polish” at the end. For now I am just trying to fix the characters and plot.


  3. dayner
    Mar 04, 2010 @ 00:53:32

    Ladies, just imagine how much more prepared we will be for the next NaNoWriMo. With all this new information we can’t go wrong. I think I may need to got pick this book up. It seems to be structured differently from Self-Editing for Fictions Writers and I need all the help I can get.
    Just wait until you hear how my first real critiques went for DE. Woo Hoo–I got some serious feedback! Good thing I have thick skin! 🙂


    • kathanink
      Mar 04, 2010 @ 07:56:37

      Wow, very exciting that you got some feedback! Awesome! I am looking forward to getting some (other than you guys), too, but I need to work more on my characters and I have MAJOR plot problems.

      I did an outline of my story, which is changing dramatically now that I am developing stronger characters (or working on it). I think the plot will end up being only a shred of what I did in November.


  4. Natasha
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 23:37:10

    This looks like an interesting tactic. I’m having some problems moving forward with my plot and so i’m not anywhere near this kind of exercise. I think I need to look into Plot & Structure to see if that will help.

    I think I’m in that middle of the jigsaw puzzle now, where all the pieces seem like they might fit in a certain place, and then don’t….


    • kathanink
      Mar 04, 2010 @ 07:54:36

      See, that’s what I was thinking (and not that he’s right, but I don’t know what I am doing!), Bell suggest working on developing your characters before the plot, since if you have a strong character, it wil help to drive your plot. I found that fixing this scene was much easier once I had some basic things in mind about the lead, John.

      I decided a while back just to pick a method and go with it all the way, othewise it would just be too confusing to me. So it’s not that Bell’s way is right, it just gives a method to madness, I guess!


      • Darksculptures
        Mar 04, 2010 @ 08:54:57

        I read an article yesterday — don’t ask me where I read most of the day and it’s a blurrrrrr — that said following any method is the correct method. The article went on to discuss that most books on writing incorporate the same basic elements. Oh yes, it also said that this applied to drafting as well as editing.

        I guess the point of the article was, as long as you have some system of checks and balances — as compared to none — you will end with a better product because you have crafted it with a more careful eye.


        • kathanink
          Mar 04, 2010 @ 09:41:17

          You know when you’re first learning something new…say skiing…you really don’t want 4 instructors telling you what to do, or it will get too confusing. One is plenty. After you learn how to ski a little, you might want to get other opinions on how to improve, but at first, you just want to keep from falling down.

          That’s where I am right now!


  5. darksculptures
    Mar 03, 2010 @ 18:22:28

    I like this exercise a lot. I think when I finish working through my MS using the things I’ve already learned I’ll be purchasing a copy of this book.

    I’ve been meaning to ask how you are going about your edit. Are you looking at everything at one time as you work through the chapters? Or, are you using one exercise at a time and working it all of the way through the draft before moving to the next excercise?


    • kathanink
      Mar 03, 2010 @ 19:03:02

      Well, since I am totally inept at doing any of this, I am working through his suggested sections, in order. I am just doing a few exercises and moving on, so that I can get a feel for what I should be doing. THEN I will start working my way through the entire mss.

      His suggested order is to develop the main characters first, then overall plot, then the beginning of the story, then the middle, then the end.

      After that he suggests working with scenes, then exposition, then voice/style/POV, then setting, then dialogue.

      Finally, I’ll work on theme and after ALL that, the polish.

      I started with character and will continue to work on that as I move forward. Today I did a plot outline (which is living, so it may change some), and next I will tackle Act I.

      This is Bell’s method. I am sure there are other ways, but so I can learn the process, this is the method I am following and so far it makes sense to me.


      • darksculptures
        Mar 03, 2010 @ 19:19:02

        I’m glad to see you are getting so much out of his book and I really think you are handling this edit the smart way.

        Bell’s method of edit almost lines up nicely with Alcorn’s method of outlining before writing and I’m thinking the two systems could actually support one another.

        Since I’m that overly organized type I really think this could work well for me and give me the structure to edit that I’ve been searching for.

        Thank you so much for sharing these exercises. If it hadn’t been for your post I probably would not have been nearly as interested in purchasing Bell’s book.


        • kathanink
          Mar 03, 2010 @ 19:21:48

          Ironically, I hate being this organized in my writing, but I am realizing that I can’t write long fiction without a little more thought beforehand. So I guess it’s working for me. I don’t really have a choice, I suppose!


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