Teachers Write 7.20.15 Mini-Lesson Monday with Guest Author Anne Nesbet

Happy Monday, Teachers Write campers – and welcome to our third week of writing together. It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through summer camp, isn’t it? Today, you can head to Jo’s blog for your Monday Morning Warm-Up…and then come back here for Mini-Lesson Monday with guest author Anne Nesbet. 

AnneNesbetPhoto1

Anne writes novels for middle-grade readers and also teaches. Her first two books are set in a magical version of Paris and are called THE CABINET OF EARTHS (HarperCollins 2012) and A BOX OF GARGOYLES (HarperCollins 2013). She’s also written THE WRINKLED CROWN (HarperCollins 2015) and CLOUD & WALLFISH, a historical spy-vs-spy story set in East Berlin in 1989, coming from Candlewick in 2016. Anne lives near San Francisco with her husband, several daughters, and one irrepressible dog. Here’s her lesson for today:

Getting into Characters’ Heads: Some Sneaky (and Wonderful) Narrative Strategies

We build new worlds in our stories, and the richer the details of those worlds, the more our tales will haunt the reader. But just as important as any outside landscape (whether we’re talking about a standard-issue middle school, a house on the lonely moors, or a castle inhabited by humanoid dragons) are the inner worlds of our characters. Inviting the reader into a character’s head is a way to add depth, spice, and resonance to everything that happens in the story.

There are many fine ways–some trickier than others–to show your readers what your characters are thinking. Help us see the world of your story through the eyes of your characters! Here are some narrative strategies that can help you do exactly

Strategy #1. You can QUOTE the character’s thoughts.

Fancy term: Quoted Monologue (or “interior monologue”)

What it is: The author quotes the thoughts going on in a character’s head, almost as if he or she had hidden a microphone in the person’s brain.

Example: “‘I can’t believe I blushed like a fool when Lulu said hello. How come I’m always such a freaking idiot around her?’ thought Joe, as he scuffed the ground angrily with his toe.”

A quoted monologue is the simplest, clearest way to convey the thoughts of a character. Sometimes you’ll see quoted thoughts written out in italics, instead of captured within quotes, but the effect is the same (I can’t believe I blushed like a fool…). This technique isn’t subtle, perhaps, but then again, subtlety isn’t always necessary. Sometimes we just want to listen in on the characters as they think!

Strategy #2. You can TELL us about the character’s thoughts.

Fancy term: Psycho-Narration

What it is: The author narrates to us the thoughts of the character–using the language of the author, not necessarily the character himself.

Example: “You could tell from the way his toe kicked little scuff-marks into the earth that Joe felt miserable. Poor Joe! He was thinking about how flustered he had become when Lulu said hello. Joe always judged himself harshly–and no one can judge more harshly than a fifteen-year-old boy–after a run-in with Lulu.”

In psycho-narration, in which the narrator describes the inner world of a character using the narrator’s language, the divide between character and narrator looms rather large. (In our way-too-obvious example here, the narrator jabbers on about the nature of “fifteen-year-old boys” in a way no actual, self-respecting teen would speak of himself.)

“Telling” is not always a bad thing, by any means! Sometimes (often) we are writing about characters who do not yet have a full understanding of what’s going on in their own heads; sometimes the story will be richer for the narrator’s hopping in to make something clear–or to infect the story with his/her own perspective on the matter.

Speaking of narrative infection, here’s a third strategy, much sneakier than the first two, but potentially very effective:

Strategy #3. You can sneakily quote the character IN DISGUISE (disguised as the narrator)

Fancy term: Narrated Monologue (also called “free indirect discourse”)

What it is: The author presents the thoughts of the character in the form of narration (not quotation), but using the language of the character.

Example: “Joe couldn’t believe he had blushed like a fool when Lulu said hello. Why was he always such a freaking idiot around her?”

As you can see, these are Joe’s thoughts in Joe’s own words (as in the example for “quoted monologue” above), but Joe’s words are disguised in the third-person and past-tense costume that a narrator might wear! Although the example here is a particularly simple one, in practice the narrated monologue can create some very interesting, perplexing, tricky situations. When the voices of narrator and character infect each other, the prose can become complex indeed.

 

Today’s Assignment:

Think up a character with a different way of looking at the world (and a different way of talking) than “you” (as narrator) have. Your character is thinking about something. What is s/he thinking?

1. Show us using Quoted Monologue.

2. Tell us using Psycho-Narration.

3. Sneakily bring us into his/her head using Narrated Monologue.

____________________________________________________

Note from Kate: If you’d like to share one of your examples in the comments today, feel free!

 

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44 Comments

  1. Posted July 20, 2015 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    Hi, everybody! I thought some more examples might be helpful! It’s late at night now, so the book that comes to mind is darker than most children’s literature, but it’s a good one anyway: did you know that Dostoevsky’s first draft of Crime and Punishment was written in the first person?

    Here are Raskolnikov’s thoughts (in the first-person draft, as part of an extended “quoted monologue”) after he murders the pawnbroker and her sister:

    “I was just about to go up the stairs when I remembered the axe. After all, it was necessary to put it back, that was the most important thing, and I was so shattered that I had forgotten about that. God, what problems I had had, it was only a miracle that everything had gone all right, that I had gone without notice through all these horrors.”

    Dostoevsky eventually decided the book would work better in third person (so that one of the lines above becomes, “And yet there was still one more important job he had to do: he had to replace the hatchet without attracting attention”), but still Dostoevsky uses all three of the techniques described in my post above to get inside his main character’s psyche.

    Here’s a passage (in David Magarshack’s translation) that moves from ordinary narration (the narrator simply telling us what Raskolnikov does) to quoted monologue (Raskolnikov’s thoughts, in first person) to narrated monologue (Raskolnikov’s thoughts, disguised as third-person narration): “He took off his boot [ordinary narration]: ‘Yes, those are bloodstains! The whole toe of the sock is soaked in blood!’ [quoted monologue] He must have carelessly stepped into the pool of blood on the floor of the old woman’s room. [narrated monologue]” See how that last sentence sneakily translates the first-person thought (“I must have carelessly stepped into the pool of blood…”) into the third person?

    And as another example, here are four consecutive sentences in which the narration moves deeper and deeper into Raskolnikov’s mind:

    1. “Suddenly he remembered that the purse and the articles he had taken out of the old woman’s trunk were still in his pockets.” [Could count as psycho-narration, since we’re being told what he’s “remembering,” but not in Raskolnikov’s own words.]
    2. “Till then it had never occurred to him to take them out and hide them!”
    3. “He had not even thought about them when he was examining his clothes!” [More psycho-narration, though the exclamation points already suggest we’re slipping into Raskolnikov’s mind and into his own words; the text is getting closer and closer to narrated monologue]
    4. “What was the matter with him?” [And that’s narrated monologue! It’s Raskolnikov’s question–“What’s the matter with me?”–disguised as something the narrator is saying.]”

    It’s amazing how often these techniques show up, not just in long Russian novels, but in many children’s books. I guess it makes sense, though: authors of all kinds want to help readers sink into the minds of their characters.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Good Morning!
      No excerpt from me this morning. I will practice critiquing. But, I want to say what a great exercise! I’m not an English / Language Arts Teacher so I appreciate learning the fancy lingo to things. And, I really like seeing the example from Crime & Punishment. It’s so good to find examples of things in literature for students. As a Teacher Librarian, I do that a lot!

      • Posted July 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Linda! Yes, these are “reading strategies,” as much as they are “writing strategies.” It’s so important to know when when a narrator is speaking, and when we’re hearing the voice of the character. As all those examples from Dostoevsky demonstrate, writers will sometimes slip inside the characters’ heads so gradually–or sneakily–that the reader can’t see the border between the narrator’s ideas and the thoughts of the character. In my experience, students like pulling out their metaphorical magnifying glasses and trying to figure these passages out. It can be very, very important to know who’s speaking!

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      This is fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing this example. My adult book club recently read Crime and Punishment, and I can’t wait to share this with them.

  2. Andy Starowicz
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Good morning, Ms. Nesbet and TWer’s!

    Thank you very much for the activity. It was a great way to start the day. I often use strategy number one in my own writing (I left an excerpt below), but I am going to try and use the other two strategies.

    I am left standing there alone next to my bike, contemplating whether I want to follow her, or just walk the bike back to her house. My hopes of having an actual conversation with Grandma are crushed, and my backside is so sore from riding Dad’s old beach bike. “Why can’t she talk to me? Why is she treating me this way? I’m not her tag along servant.”
    As these thoughts race through my head, I am unaware that I have already mounted the bike and I am heading down the road after Grandma. My anger is boiling over, and it’s what gives me the energy to catch up with Grandma.

    Thank you again. Happy writing!

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 8:31 am | Permalink

      oooooh mad at Grandma? Now that’s gutsy…or, would be for me! Love “old beach bike” I have a whole image in my head and know what that backside feels like. A nice pairing with the mood! Are you sure this isn’t Jo’s “all the feels” beach bike/grandma walking away?
      I’d like to know more

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Good morning! Thanks for being the first brave contributor of a passage! I have to say, I LOVE this line: “My anger is boiling over, and it’s what gives me the energy to catch up with Grandma.” The idea of Grandma being so full of energy that she’s way ahead of our hero has that little punch of surprise that makes a reader wake right up!

      • Andy Starowicz
        Posted July 20, 2015 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        Hi, Anne,
        Thank you for the feedback. I actually used your suggestions on my other WIP and posted some on Jo’s Monday morning warm-up. I am learning so much this summer, and I greatly appreciate your lesson, feedback, and time. THANK YOU AGAIN!

  3. Kristen Kravecs
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Good morning, TW and Anne! Thank you for today’s writing prompt and the added examples. It helped to have multiple models as reference as I tweaked each of my approaches to narrating my character’s thinking.

    I’ve done a smaller scale assignment with my sophomores. We practice switching from 1st to 3rd person using John Knowles’ A Separate Peace and focus on the scene where Gene jounces the limb. It’s a good discussion of what characters what us to know and how diction, syntax, and perspective change a reader’s experience.

    1. Quoted Monologue:

    He slammed the mailbox closed. “Why even bother with a mailman?” Peter’s familiar question echoed in his head for the third time that afternoon. “Punctuality used to mean something. I could set my watch by Jerry’s route, and he was on foot!” he mused while turning his walker back towards the house. “At this rate,” lift. clunk. “I could walk,” lift. clunk. “to the post office,” lift. clunk. “and pick up,” lift. clunk. “my own letters.” He paused for a breath and squeezed the rubber grips with his hands. “And I’d be on time for that matter!”

    2. Psycho-Narration:

    For the third time that afternoon, Peter opened, then slammed the mailbox closed. Frustration fueled him to lift and turn his walker and begin the slow shuffle back to his apartment. Lift. Clunk. Lift Clunk. His thoughts took on the rhythm of the mechanical clinking as he wondered at the change he’d witnessed in his neighborhood over the last forty years. Jerry, his first mailman and friend on Tower Drive was always on time.

    The way Peter wanted it to be, composed of memories and “shoulds” played at a louder volume than reality and acceptance. It was this thinking that convinced the 87 year old with a walker that he’d probably be able to walk to the post office faster than the mail truck could deliver his stack of bills and flyers. While his memories won the first round, his frail body won the next, stopping him in the driveway, gasping for air.

    3. Narrated Monologue:

    He slammed the mailbox closed. Why did the post office even bother hiring mailmen anymore? Peter had dragged himself, weighed down by his walker, up to the mailbox three times already. Empty again! Punctuality used to mean something in the years he first lived in his apartment on Tower Drive. He could set his watch by Jerry’s route, and he would often meet his favorite mailman and eventual best friend at the corner and they’d walk back to his mailbox together.

    At this rate, lift. clunk. he could probably walk, lift. clunk. to the post office, lift. clunk. and pick up, lift. clunk. his own letters. And he’d be on time for that matter! The rhythm of his mechanical menace paused to allow a full thought as he stopped for a breath and a better grip.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      Wow! It’s neat seeing the difference in each of those passages. Very nice. The passage that got me the most was the third….but I wonder if that’s because I had read the other two already? And, I wonder what that means for me as a reader? I am very driven by relationships in a story….others, MS boys for example, by the action. I think it will be good for me to find texts that appeal to different readers based on these kinds of writing. I already see the sketch of a lesson in my head.
      Do you all know the website: A book and a hug? It’s got a reader personality 10 question quiz (go to the very tippy top of the website ribbon to find “what’s your reading super power–something similar) that helps kids determine what kind of stories they like best. I’ll bet method of showing what the character is thinking match reader personality.

    • Andrea Payan
      Posted July 20, 2015 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I love the three different passages. I particularly like the third passage and the way you interrupted the sentence with the lift clunk of his walker. I am definitely picturing this old man and his frustration at the mail not being there.

    • Dean Chart
      Posted July 20, 2015 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      It was fun reading all three examples. I feel like the the narrated monologue felt most natural. Also, I liked the “mechanical menace” alliteration.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Wow, Kristen–these passages are great! That “lift.clunk.” of the walker really gets me, I have to say, in an almost “UP”-ish way. (Since I’m doing line edits now, I also can’t help but wonder how a copy editor would have you punctuate that “lift.clunk.”!) I especially like the way the shift from your second version to your third example takes us so smoothly into Peter’s mind. Thank you!

    • Andrea Lorenz
      Posted July 20, 2015 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

      Loved that, “lift. clunk.” Brilliant!

  4. Posted July 20, 2015 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    I love this morning’s lesson! I’m on re-write # who knows how many of my WIP and I’ve thought a ton about how my character talks to herself, or how the narration does it for me, but never unpacked it in this way. No examples, just a thank you. Back to revisions today, with a clearer understanding ( and thrilled to report that I use Narrated Monologue a fair amount). Thanks so much, Anne!

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      I’m glad this was useful, Valerie, and I’m tickled to hear you were already a fan of Narrated Monologue! Now I bet you’ll start seeing it wherever you look….

  5. Dean Chart
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    Had a character and potential story pop into my head this morning, so that’s what I’ve been playing around with. My 1st and 3rd were very similar so I’ve just posted my 2nd and 3rd.

    Psycho-Narration: Tenylen watched a slideshow in his mind, memory after memory of past Cerah-lah challengers facing their fears. He saw those who fell, and those who triumphed, their quiet sobs and exultant smiles. Try as he might though, he could not shake the feeling that he could never match what they did. Every member who had ever gone before him had flesh as fair as the snow, and he was so dark, so different, so out of place. He scrunched up his eyes and curled his body into a ball, trying to expel his doubts and fears, but in his mind over and over he heard his own voice telling him they would never pass him, never, never, not him.

    Narrated Monologue: Tenylen was looking back through his memories of every Cerah-lah he had ever witnessed. In his mind he saw every motion, every triumph and failure of those who had tested themselves before him. Yet all this mental rehearsing brought no comfort, and Tenylsen thought that no matter what he did, no matter how closely he followed his predecessors, he could not match them. He could not make his skin as pale as the clouds, nor his eyes as blue as the river. He would look different, even if he did everything right. In the very core of his heart, he knew they would not accept him, that he could perform perfectly, but when he turned to the Priestess she would lower her eyes and shake her head sadly. And that would be it.

    • Carrie
      Posted July 20, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Great imagery throughout both passages. The self doubt is apparent in every phrase.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      First of all, let me just say how intriguing this scene is–you truly make us cringe with poor Tenylen, as “he scrunched up his eyes and curled his body into a ball….”! It’s interesting to me that in this case, I’m more viscerally moved (made to cringe!) by the version using Psycho-Narration. Different strategies fit the bill at different moments, right? But here I also suspect the “Narrated Monologue” example isn’t quite as close to Tenylen’s own language as it might be (so it would actually be interesting to see your “Quoted Monologue” version, even though you say it came out very like #3). If I try to “translate” the start of your #3 into Quoted Monologue, here’s what I get (I’m going to go sentence by sentence here, and all in a very friendly spirit!!):
      1. Tenylen was looking back through his memories of every Cerah-lah he had ever witnessed. [This is psycho-narration, I think, and not yet his inner monologue, so we won’t translate it]
      2. In his mind he saw every motion, every triumph and failure of those who had tested themselves before him. [ditto. Not yet in his own words, I’m pretty sure.]
      3. Yet all this mental rehearsing brought no comfort, and Tenylen thought that no matter what he did, no matter how closely he followed his predecessors, he could not match them. [“Yet all this mental rehearsing…” would be Psycho-Narration, so here’s what my Magic Translation Machine comes up with: “Yet all this mental rehearsing brought no comfort, Tenylen noticed. ‘No matter what I do, no matter how closely I follow my predecessors, I’ll never match them.'” Do you notice the place the Magic Translation Machine choked? On the word “predecessors”! To me, at least, that doesn’t sound like Tenylen’s own word. (Of course, I can’t be sure, since I only just met him. 🙂 )
      4. He could not make his skin as pale as the clouds, nor his eyes as blue as the river. Pushing the Quoted Monologue button, we get, “I can’t make my skin as pale as the clouds, nor my eyes as blue as the river.” Possible–but is that how T talks?
      5. He would look different, even if he did everything right. “I’ll look different, even if I do everything right.” That is certainly what T’s thinking, but it’s possible that he might use more colloquial words to phrase the idea….
      (I do this kind of “translating” all the time, because it helps me see when I’m using the narrator’s language and when my character’s voice is finally breaking through!)

      • Dean Chart
        Posted July 20, 2015 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        That is very helpful. I definitely need to spend more time with this new character and figure out what he sounds like. That translating you did really makes clunky/ill fitting words stand out. Thank you for taking the time to do this!

  6. Carrie
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the exercise. I found it very helpful. Here is my attempt at Strategy 3. Zoe’s penetrating stare was not going to let Phoebe off the hook so easily. She’d heard that excuse too many times before from other generations of Silvers. But, underneath the words and the frowns, and the avoidance, Zoe was certain that she saw something different in Phoebe’s green eyes, something familiar that she had seen years ago, something that would finally bring her back to her Marian. She trembled slightly as she allowed herself to hope in a way she hadn’t dared to hope for years.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Carrie! My secret suspicion is that this passage is a GREAT example of Strategy #2, rather than #3. You are doing a terrific job here of telling us what’s going on in Zoe’s head–but not by using Zoe’s own words, exactly. Let’s take that first sentence: “Zoe’s penetrating stare was not going to let Phoebe off the hook so easily.” Zoe herself would probably not use the term “penetrating stare,” right? She’d be too busy DOING that thing: staring at Phoebe penetratingly! So what words might be going through her head as she stares? Quoted Monologue: “I’m not letting that shifty Phoebe off the hook so easily!” Pop that into the Magic Translation Machine, and we get . . . . “She wasn’t letting that shifty Phoebe off the hook so easily!” (And I hope Zoe finds her Marian someday!)

  7. Brianne O'Sullivan
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Here is my attempt at trying all three in the same passage.

    “I can’t believe Lucy actually came! What girls are into catching frogs? And she didn’t even scream when I put him in her hands!” thought Evan as he looked from the frog resting in Lucy’s palm up into her face. He could tell by the gleam in her eyes and her wide smile that she would not have chosen to be anywhere else in this moment. Evan wondered how he even could have doubted that she would say yes. He can be such a doofus sometimes! Good thing he didn’t chicken out!

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      You just packed a whole lot of strategies into an impressively small package! And you pull it off with pizzazz! Just one tiny thing: the tense has to change when we shift from Quoted Monologue to Narrated Monologue: “He COULD be such a doofus sometimes! Good thing he didn’t chicken out!” And I love the idea of friendships based on a shared appreciation of frogs. 🙂

  8. Posted July 20, 2015 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for a great lesson today, Anne. I liked how it really forced me to deal with my character’s feelings. It helped clarify some direction for me. Here is my stab at a narrated monologue:
    Cordelia couldn’t believe they were fighting about putting Grammy in a nursing home. None of them bothered to even ask Grammy what she wanted. They argued about what Grammy should eat, what she should wear, where she should live, and whether or not she should take the medicine that didn’t work. They talked about her like she wasn’t even there. Cordelia remembered a time when she was in the bathroom stall at school and she overheard Anastasia, the most popular girl in school, talking about how annoying she was. Her stomach felt the same way now, tangled up in quivery knots. She couldn’t stand the way Grandpa just gave orders about Grammy’s life. Yet, she also hated the way Mom badgered him. If Mom just left him alone, he wouldn’t be so angry all the time and maybe things could get back to normal. She got so caught up eavesdropping that she didn’t realize Grammy had wandered out of the house. Panicked, she ran to the front door and opened it. She felt relieved to see Grandpa sitting with his arm around Grammy in the old wooden swing.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for diving in, Stephani! Is it just my imagination, or are grandparents on all of our minds this morning? Your passage does a good job of tying its reader’s stomach into “quivery knots” (sigh), and it uses a nice mix of those narrative strategies. Let’s zoom in on a few sentences:
      “She couldn’t stand the way Grandpa just gave orders about Grammy’s life. Yet, she also hated the way Mom badgered him. If Mom just left him alone, he wouldn’t be so angry all the time and maybe things could get back to normal.” The last sentence is the most like “Narrated Monologue” of the three, right? In first person (Quoted Monologue), it would actually be almost identical: “If Mom would just leave him alone, he wouldn’t be so angry all the time….” How about the previous two sentences? (They work JUST FINE as they are! I’m just experimenting here……)
      For example: “She couldn’t stand the way Grandpa just gave orders about Grammy’s life.” This could certainly be Cordelia’s own language (translated into Quoted Monologue, “I can’t stand the way Grandpa just gives orders about Grammy’s life”), but it’s also possible that Cordelia might use more colloquial words to say the same thing: “Who made Grandpa the boss in charge of Grammy’s life?” (a phrase that’s exactly the same in Quoted Monologue and Narrated Monologue, I just realized!) or (Quoted Monologue)”Grandpa thinks he can control everything! What about Grammy? What about what SHE wants?” Translated into Narrated Monologue: “Grandpa thought he could control everything! What about Grammy? What about what SHE wanted?”
      It can be fun to experiment…..

      • Posted July 20, 2015 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Thank you for such concrete feedback and playing with it! I can’t tell you how that helps me feel more free to play with it too! I love your suggestions and how they help illuminate Cordelia’s character more. I’m going back in to try it!

  9. Andrea Lorenz
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Anne! Thanks for this, it was cool! I think I mixed up strategies 2 and 3, but here’s what I ultimately came up with:

    Quoted Monologue: “Sam peered hesitantly into the classroom. She spied Becky sitting in the front row with a notebook and pencil case already out, eager for the first day of class. “Why am I stuck in English class with Becky Carver again? Don’t the guidance counselors have some way of mixing up the class lists so this doesn’t happen? All she does is talk, talk, talk. As if her words are the most important in the room.’ Sam walked to the only empty desk left in the back row. ‘Why do I bother trying to sit in the back with the slackers? I know the first thing Mrs. James will do is welcome the class to sit closer to the front, and when she finally gets around to checking her email she’ll find out that I have to sit in the front anyway to ‘be free from all distractions.’ I hate high school; I hate these labels my mother and father have allowed the school to put on me. I don’t feel hyperactive and my level of distraction seems no different than any other fifteen year old’s. Except for Becky Carver’s that is. What a suck up.”

    Psycho-Narration: “Sam was not a happy camper today. It was only the first day of junior year and already she was getting the sense that this would be another ten months of disappointment, letdowns and setbacks. The first setback, Becky Carver. Sam hates how Becky gets under her skin. Becky and the entire Carver family have managed to slither in and destroy Sam’s life ever since her father’s affair. Everyone else has managed to get over it, but Sam just can’t. Sam can’t seem to get over anything these days, it’s as if no one hears her crying out for help. Her parents can’t see she is just a teenager in pain, they want to find what’s “wrong” with her and fix it, just like they are trying to fix their marriage, and failing at it miserably.”

    Narrated Monologue: “Sam hates the way Becky makes her feel. She’s always dressed perfectly, acting proper, ready for anything that comes her way. Can’t Becky see that life sucks? Sam can certainly see it. Life hasn’t been the same since Sam caught on to the texting and emails between Mrs. Carver and her dad. Life will never be the same. Why can’t Becky see that? Why is she always perky and happy and why the heck is she sitting in the front row, on the first day of school with a notebook? Who does that? Sam is starting to feel like an alien in the town she’s been living in all her life. Life keeps moving on as if nothing’s happened, and Sam feels like the only one left who remembers the past.”

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Andrea! Thanks so much for playing our “getting into characters’ heads” game today. You say you think you mixed up Strategy #2 (Psycho-Narration) and Strategy #3 (Narrated Monologue), but when I read your vivid passages (oh, my heart hurts for Sam), I think I see something else going on. It’s the verb tense that wobbles a little. Your second example really reads to me like Psycho-Narration, just as advertised, but you shift from the past tense in the first couple of lines into the present tense farther along (“Sam can’t seem to get over anything these days….”). The present tense tends to sound more immediate, so I understand both why you slipped into it and why the result makes you feel like maybe you slipped into Narrated Monologue–or at any rate, deeper into Sam’s mind. But even in present tense, the language isn’t Sam’s, is it? SHE wouldn’t say, “It’s as if no one hears her crying out for help” or “Her parents can’t see she is just a teenager in pain”; that’s how we can identify this passage confidently as Psycho-Narration. (But probably it would be best to do it all in past or all in present tense, for consistency.)
      Likewise, in your third version–the Narrated Monologue–you use present tense. This time you use it all the way through, so that’s a perfectly fine choice, but often Narrated Monologue appears in books written in the past tense, in which case this passage would look like so: “Sam hated the way Becky made her feel. She was always dressed perfectly, acting so proper, ready for anything that came her way. Couldn’t Becky see that life sucked?” (etcetera) Great job!

  10. Sheila Mustard
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Anne – Thank you for the great examples of all 3 strategies. My question is regarding using quotations, do quoted monologue and narrated monologue both use quotations whereas psycho-narration does not, correct? Also, reading your lesson it was amazing to me how it overlaps with Jo Knowles’s lesson. As a result, I am re-posting my scene here and would love your feedback.
    Except for the flashing railroad crossing sign, Harold’s small town seems to be tucked away quietly in a black envelope for the night. As he slows to a stop, waiting for the train to pass, Harold rolls down his window to enjoy the sweet, cool, summer night air. He embraces a long deep breath; Wham, struck, straight in the face with the stench of summer carnival smells hanging in the air.

    The memory comes flooding back with a loud roar. Back when he was nine, waiting for his cousin to complete the transaction at the concession stand. Harold’s stomach gives a lurch when he remembers his first taste of the pure, raw, obnoxious blue spun sugar on a stick. His mouth begins to water with the overwhelming feeling of gritty, desert sand, melting on his tongue. Unconsciously he begins rubbing his fingertips together trying to rid himself of the feeling that they have been coated in Elmer’s glue. Now, looking down at his fingers he still imagines they are dyed a hideous blue color.

    As the train passes, Herold is jolted back to reality. He quickly reaches into his glove compartment, smears on a glob of antibacterial gel, and continues his journey into the night.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      This is lovely, Sheila! I’d have to answer your question about whether Quoted Monologue and Narrated Monologue both use quotations by saying . . . depends on what you mean by “quotations.” Both of those strategies do use bits of actual language the character herself might use–but only Quoted Monologue sets off that language by means of quotation MARKS.
      Now as I reread your passage–so evocative, mmmmm!–it seems to me what I’m seeing is a mixture of ordinary narration (the narrator telling us a story, telling us what happens) and Psycho-Narration. We are learning a lot of interesting, intimate stuff about Harold, but it’s not necessarily in his own language–it sounds to me more like the narrator’s voice. And I like it a lot, just that way! If you WANTED to sneak in more of Harold’s own voice, a natural spot to do it might be the end of the first paragraph, where you have “wham, struck, straight in the face with the stench of summer carnival smells hanging in the air.”
      How would Harold think this thought in his own words? Let me mess around a little (definitely not improving anything–just playing with the point of view a little). Maybe “Wham, struck, straight in the face. Wait, he knew this smell–what was it again? Oh, man, the sweet summertime stink of the carnival. –And memory rose up and drowned him.” (The last line switches away from Narrated Monologue again.)
      And I’m so glad to hear from other people, even if fictional, who have a bit of a cotton candy phobia. 🙂

      • sheila mustard
        Posted July 20, 2015 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

        Anne-Thank you so much for you answer to my question and your wonderful input and insight!

  11. Gloria
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Anne. Thank you other writers who have shared today. I am sharing the quoted and narrated monologue. The narrated one is begging for help.
    Quoted Monologue
    As the bus driver shifted gears as he traveled up the hilly route, Jody’s bubbly joy from getting a job was shifting to an anxious knot in her stomach. “I wonder if Uncle John and Aunt Lucille are embarrassed by the way I look. Aunt Lucille was very nice to buy a red lipstick.” Jody bit her lips with her top teeth. “Of course, she only thought I was going to practice using it. She didn’t know that I would be using it to convince the Woolworth’s manager that I was 16.” Jody exited the bus just as big fat raindrops hit her nose. What Aunt Lucille thought was still nagging at her. “And then again, maybe she did know. She knew I wanted a job, and she knows I am only 14.”
    Narrated Monologue
    Jody’s joy at getting a job was shifting down as the bus driver was shifting up the steep hill that signaled her stop was coming soon. She wondered if Uncle John and Aunt Lucille are embarrassed by the way she looks. If somebody buys me red lipstick should I worry that they think I’m ugly. Jody did not want consider that Aunt Lucille knew she was going lie about her age in order to get a job.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Welcome to the getting-inside-characters’-heads thread, Gloria! As you know, writing is not an absolute science, but let’s pretend for a second it sort of is. If I put Jody’s worried Quoted Monologue into my Magic Translation Machine, here’s what comes out as Narrated Monologue: “She wondered whether Uncle John and Aunt Lucille were embarrassed by the way she looked. Aunt L was very nice to buy that red lipstick–but of course she only thought Jody was going to practice using it. She didn’t know Jody would be using it to convince the Woolworth’s manager she was sixteen. But then again, maybe she did know. After all, she had known Jody wanted a job, and she knew she was only fourteen.”
      I don’t know about you, but when I read what the Machine just spat out here (or “spit out,” if you prefer), I am not completely satisfied. PERHAPS that’s because I’m hungry for more of Jody’s own language and speech habits, so that the passage would be more obviously Narrated Monologue! Something to consider, anyway. For instance, I’m not sure how often fourteen-year-olds use “then again”! What would Jody really say? “But hey, maybe she did know, anyway”? Or something even juicier in place of that “hey”? 🙂

  12. Jennifer Choate
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Hello Anne and all, I was writing my memoir but became inspired to create a YA novel by Teacher’s Write and this prompt. I don’t really read YA since I teach younger students. Please let me know if this idea seems original. Thanks for the prompt and the inspiration! – Jennifer Choate
    Cali found the answer to her first cowgirl summer around the corner at the horse training ranch. She just had to convince her mom that volunteering at a horse training ranch was different than actually having a job. Mom always says, “You’re too young to tie yourself down with a summer job. It’s our first summer in the Four Corners. We need to jump in and explore our new home surroundings before school begins and things really get crazy. Let’s ride, instead.” They had already ridden a few mountain trails and seen many places people come from all over the world to visit- the real Four Corners monument, Mesa Verde, and the annual Ute Mountain Rodeo. That’s a lot of time to spend with your mom. Cali and her mom were close- it had always been just the two of them. But when Cali saw the horse training ranch- she knew her adventure was calling. She planned to ask her mom and stress that it was a volunteer job that would teach her to take better care of their new horses. She wouldn’t have to volunteer every day and would still have plenty of time for their shared cowgirl adventures.

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

      Hi, Jennifer! It certainly sounds like you’ve got a lot of great material for a memoir OR a novel. I know absolutely nothing about horses or rodeos or being a cowgirl, but all of those things make me think of adventure….. It might make sense to write up some vivid scenes from your life as memoir–full of as many details as possible–and then try tweaking them into fiction. I would also suggest you read lots and lots and lots of YA novels, if you think that’s what you want to write! Reading is training for writing. It’s the secret ingredient. And, of course, it’s so fun it doesn’t feel like the serious work it really, truly is.
      This passage you’ve given us here is mostly ordinary narration, seems to me–telling us what happens to Cali. Could you try putting some of the story into Cali’s own words? You could even brainstorm lists of things Cali likes to say. (And other lists: what she’s most afraid of, what she secretly wants, what she admires, what she hates about herself, and what makes her happy.) Then you can decide what you want to write as Quoted Monologue and what might work best as Narrated Monologue…. Good luck!

      • Jennifer Choate
        Posted July 20, 2015 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        Thank you so much for your encouragement and I’d like to share the thanks with everyone involved with Teachers Write. Now that I actually have a novel idea I can apply the prompts to enrich the story instead of trying to fit the prompts to my memoir. I’ve already been stealing from my memoir for this adventure story! I changed the names of the people- but the horse names are real!

  13. Gloria
    Posted July 20, 2015 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much!

  14. Posted July 20, 2015 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful exercise! This really made me think about what I am trying to get out of my character, who she is. Thank you for sharing this technique with us. Here are my three (I hope I did them well enough to tell which is which!):

    “I don’t even know what to say. I’m not her first? I think I’m going to throw up. Who is then? How could this be happening? How can parents always tell so many lies? Do they think we’re that stupid? They can just keep lying day in and day out?”

    In Auroras slumped shoulders you could see her defeat. She was thinking about all the times her mother had lied to her. More times than she obviously knew. She always wondered when the last lie would come. And as she sat there she pondered if this was the moment, if this way the biggest, and last lie she would ever be told.

    Aurora sat there. Saying nothing. But she was deep in disbelief. Her mother’s words hit her like a ton of bricks. Now I know why people use that worn out phrase. But as the words turned over in her mind she finally knew exactly what they meant. And in the moment she thought about what liars her parents were. Would they ever stop lying to her?

    • Posted July 20, 2015 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Hello, Dawn! Thanks for jumping in with your exercises. That first example really works beautifully as Quoted Monologue–great start, there. And the second one is a fine example of Psycho-Narration (and you seem very comfortable writing about Aurora’s thoughts from the narrator’s perspective). In the third example, you use a number of different approaches, but the general impression I have is of more Psycho-Narration, rather than Narrated Monologue. Let’s look at some of those sentences:
      1. & 2. “Aurora sat there. Saying nothing.” Ordinary narration. Telling us what’s going on. The short sentences do a great job of conveying the shock she’s feeling, however!
      3. “But she was deep in disbelief.” That’s a kind of Psycho-Narration: you’re telling us what she’s feeling.
      4. “Her mother’s words hit her like a ton of bricks.” ALSO Psycho-Narration, and nicely vivid. But she would not be THINKING, “These words are hitting me like a ton of bricks,” would she? Not at that moment. Later on she might use “ton of bricks” when she describes this conversation to a friend, but they aren’t the sort of words that necessarily come to mind at the time the ton of bricks actually hits us. What would she be thinking instead? I guess if you want to stick with the ton of bricks, you could break up the rhythm of it, just to show us poor Aurora is in a state of surprise and shock: “Bricks. Bricks. There was something people said about bricks. Her head was hurting so bad. Lies really could be like bricks–how about that? And those bricks left bruises all up and down your skull.” (Narrated Monologue) We can feed that into the Magic Translation Machine to see what it might look like as Quoted Monologue: “Bricks. Bricks. There’s something people say about bricks. My head’s hurting so bad. Lies really are like bricks–how about that? And those bricks–they leave bruises all up and down your skull.”
      5. “Now I know why people use that worn out phrase.” That is Quoted Monologue! Even has the “I” and the present tense!
      6. and 7. “But as the words turned over in her mind she finally knew exactly what they meant. And in the moment she thought about what liars her parents were.” These sentences are both Psycho-Narration, telling us what she’s thinking.
      8. “Would they ever stop lying to her?” This sentence is a perfect example of Narrated Monologue! If we translate it into Quoted Monologue, we get “Will they ever stop lying to me?”–sounds like Aurora’s own words.
      And now I want to know more about these lies Aurora’s mother is telling her!

      • Posted July 21, 2015 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Wow! Thank you so much. It did feel murky to me as I was writing. THANK YOU for your time in clearing that up for me! Very valuable.

  15. Posted July 21, 2015 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Anne!

    I don’t know how I turned out like I did. I mean, with my background, (and we all know “my background” refers to when my dad left), you’d think I’d be a nervous wreck, or the type that’s always getting his feelings hurt, or maybe I’d be hiding up in my room starring at the four lousy, paint-peeling walls. But I’m not like that at all. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with how I turned out. If I met me, I’d think I was pretty amazing, now that I think of it. The part I like so much is how I’m full of common sense. In this world, that’s really sort of special. I mean, compared to practically everyone I know–actually, compared to EVERYONE I know, I can see through bs like I have X-ray eyes. I feel pretty good about myself, no lie.

    Anthony turned out to be a true, no-nonsense kid. It probably all stemmed from when his dad left. He summed up the situation pretty quickly–his mom was not going be much help at all, that was obvious. He discovered how resourceful and creative he could become once he was basically on his own.

    Anthony was amazed at his own common sense. It surprised him, given the trauma of his dad leaving. Looking back, he thought for sure he would have ended up as a nervous wreck, or overly sensitive, or holed up in his room for hours on end. He really felt good about himself now that he thought about it.

  16. Posted July 22, 2015 at 12:59 am | Permalink

    Hi, Diane–I didn’t see your post until just now. Sorry about the wait! I love the confident first-person voice in that first version. We could call it \”Quoted Monologue,\” or, because you dispense with the quotation marks and keep the whole paragraph in the first person, we could think of it as a \”monologue,\” pure and simple. Your second example tells us about Anthony in the narrator\’s voice, so that\’s mostly psycho-narration (I say \”mostly\” only because the paragraph isn\’t only about what Anthony is thinking). The one bit I stumbled over a little, reading the second paragraph, was \”summed up.\” Usually I hear that phrase as a version of \”summarized,\” but here you seem to be using it as something like \”sussed out,\” right? In which case, yes, it\’s a way of describing what goes on in Anthony\’s head . . . .
    The third paragraph, to my eye, looks like another experiment with psycho-narration, rather than narrated monologue. The narrator is helping us understand what\’s going on in Anthony\’s mind, isn\’t he? And the language seems more like what the narrator might say than what Anthony would say (\”It surprised him, given the trauma of his dad leaving\”–that\’s quite formal, seems to me, and if we \”translate\” it into quoted monologue, it still sounds more formal than you may intend: \”It surprises me, given the trauma of my Dad leaving…).
    So I\’m intrigued by this character you\’ve created, by his bluster and his confidence. I can\’t help wonder what you have in store for him in your story!!

    • Posted July 22, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Thank you so much, Anne! Just got back from vacation on Monday, and your assignment intrigued me.

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