Character Development: Using your Character’s Thoughts

When I give character development writing workshops, I discuss the five ways you can show character as express your character’s personality:

  • Appearance
  • Actions
  • Words (dialect, vocabulary, etc.)
  • Perceptions
  • Thoughts

Showing a character’s thoughts in well-timed doses can illuminate and help develop his or her personality. And think about it. We humans are what we think about, and our thoughts reveal our true selves. Our character’s function the same way. If you want your character’s to feel real to your readers, they need to function as we do.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using thoughts to develop your characters:

Our nature comes out in our thoughts: Sociopaths think sociopathic thoughts. Judgmental people think judgmental thoughts. Naive people think naive thoughts… You get the picture. In the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen was a teenager full of angst and post-traumatic depression. The book revealed this so consistently through her thoughts that many people enjoyed watching the movie more than reading the book because they didn’t want to spend any more time in her head with her thoughts than they had to.

Showing someone’s thought processes can reveal his character. For example, in my first book, A Prophecy Forgotten, I use my character Maurice’s thoughts to show his ability to read people:

If Maurice had to venture a guess, he would say the captain’s poor spirits were the result of receiving an assignment he thought was beneath him.

(He’s dead on. Captain Picante had just been assigned to guard Tommy.)

I also throw in what Maurice thinks about his ability to read people:

Now Maurice never considered himself bright, but even he knew that picking a fight with Davian, Seraph Zephor’s right hand soldier, was downright foolish. But picking a fight with Major Davian’s men while Davian was in the vicinity? That was practically suicide.

g Maurice’s self doubt enhances his character.

Use thoughts to express your character’s true desires. My main character, Davian, is a goal-oriented soldier. He meets his objectives, he doesn’t hang out to have fun… He’s the guy no one invites to parties and also the guy no one wants to get on the wrong side of. Most people would guess he was eyeing power and trying to move up the chain of command. They would be wrong, however, and I try to hint at that using Davian’s thoughts.

He slapped yet another bloodsucker and wished for the 3,424th time that Elysia and Morvenia would agree to take a year of cease-fire so he could go home, read a couple of good scrolls, and maybe start a vegetable garden.

Don’t forget the interplay between thoughts, actions, and words. For example, Davian and his men cross paths with a suspicious gnome. Davian’s thoughts about the gnome are quite different than his words:

The mornacht had opened the sack and was counting its contents: cherubian drekels. Why would a gnome have cherubian drekels, and why would the mornachts accept them as payment?

If he’s just a messenger, it makes sense, thought Davian.

He shook his head. Impossible—absolutely impossible. No cherubian would ever join forces with the mornachts. The gnome probably stole the drekels. Davian pocketed his spyglass and rejoined Eric and Marcus behind the rock.

“Everything okay, Major?” asked Marcus.

“Just fine.”

Here are a few things to keep in mind when using thoughts:

  • Only use thoughts when you can’t express what is going on in a character’s head through actions or words. Show, Don’t Tell.
  • Keep thoughts in the character’s voice.
  • If your narrator is first person or third person limited (i.e. not omniscient) you will need to use dialogue or other “tricks” to show the thoughts of your non-POV characters rather than stating them directly. For example, my character Marcus isn’t a POV character and my narrator doesn’t get inside his head. I wanted the readers to know what he was thinking so I let Davian “tell” them.

Marcus pursed his lips together and gave the others—especially Eric—a slight glare, which told Davian that Marcus disagreed with the rest of the unit for what he would have called their outright insubordination, but silently agreed that going out the port was too dangerous.

How have you used thoughts to express your character’s character?

*****

Do you have M. B. Weston’s Elysian Chronicles on your Kindle yet? Get them now for only $2.99–less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte! (Click here for A Prophecy Forgotten on Kindle and Out of the Shadows on Kindle.)

Be sure to check out M. B. Weston’s YouTube Channel (YouTube.com/TheMBWeston)!

Fantasy, steampunk, pulp, and paranormal novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. To receive notification of M. B. Weston’s book releases click here to subscribe to Dark Oak Press & Media’s e-newsletter.

Click here for a full listing of M. B. Weston’s published books, and be sure to check out her ever-growing list of published short stories here.

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About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
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