Saturday, January 18, 2014


In previous discussions, we learned emotion is a reaction to a motivator. When writing about emotional reaction, we break it into its components. First, there is an involuntary visceral reaction to the stimulant (fight or flight mechanism), followed by thought, then dialogue and/or action. These steps must come in chronological order or the reader feels unsettled. We’ll look at methods for portraying thoughts.

The point of view character (POV) can express his thoughts through the use of Inner Dialogue. With his own voice, he can emote, reflect, and make observations. He can fantasize, reveal hurts, desires. He can discuss things he’d never say aloud or act upon.

In third person, there are two ways of doing this. The first is by expressing the thought in first person. This sets it off from the narration. Used sparingly, it is always placed in italics. The second way is by leaving the words in third person and allowing the context to show they are thought. Italics are never used and tags (he thought, she pondered) are rarely used. It is intimate and when done correctly the line between inner dialogue and description is blurred. This promotes smooth transitions back and forth between description and the POV’s thoughts.

The following is an excerpt from my novel Echoes. The POV character is former linguistics professor Dr. Alejandro de Cordoba de la Rosa, now a foreign agent who is tracking an arms shipment that was sent from his country in South America to California. Working incognito, he has presented himself to a semi-rural community as an immigrant day laborer who has limited English. I’ve underlined his inner dialogue.

A purring engine approached. Tires skidded on the gravel, and a dusty GMC truck crunched to a stop by the barn.

“Hey, Alejandro.” Dr. Crossman jumped from the cab, agile as a man half his eighty-five years.

Alejandro leaned on the axe handle and nodded.

The old man whistled at the woodpile. “A job well done, my friend.” He pulled out his wallet and handed his worker three crisp twenties. His gaze rested on Alejandro’s arm. “That’s quite a scar you got there, son. Looks fairly recent. I got a couple just like it at Normandy.”

Alejandro buried the axe blade in the chopping block and stuffed the bills in a pocket of his baggies. Reaching for the shirt that hung on a fence post, he chided himself. He’d have to be more careful. Keep quiet. Never do anything memorable. Never attract attention in any way. [he’s impatient with himself and reveals he’s hiding who he is]

“I’m heading down for a load of hay,” Crossman said. “If you’re interested in helping out, hop in.”

Alejandro stepped to the passenger door and glanced over his shoulder. A delivery truck had turned into the nursery’s driveway. It could be hauling anything. Plants. Guns. Fertilizer for manufacturing explosives. [shows he’s curious]

He swung onto the passenger seat, and the GMC lurched forward. His head jerked back as the door slammed shut. Heart pumping like a piston, he hunted for the seatbelt. The truck zoomed down the long driveway toward the bridge, turning the light shining through the trees into a high-speed strobe. On the narrow canyon road, the vehicle flew through twists and turns. He gulped. The old man was insane. [shows fear]

“You a praying man, son?” Crossman made eye contact, whizzed past a sign that said speed limit 30 mph, and barreled directly toward a knot of bicyclists.

Alejandro flinched and grabbed his armrest. “No, señor.” But he might become one soon. [fear for his safety is mounting]

“Where ya from?”

“Here, now.”

“Hmm…” Crossman chewed his toothpick. “Most immigrants I know are either running from something or searching for something. My guess is you’re a searcher.”

Alejandro shrugged.

“Or maybe you’re both. Running from something to find something.” Crossman stomped on the brakes, slamming Alejandro against his shoulder restraint. “Gotta watch it along this stretch. Sheriff hides on those rabbit trails, and he’s just plain unreasonable.” He craned his neck and waved at a half-hidden patrol car. Around the bend, he floored the accelerator. “Yep, too bad you’re not a prayer. Makes it a lot easier for a man to determine God’s plans for him.”

Alejandro kept his eyes straight ahead. He didn’t need help—except for surviving this trip. He knew his destiny. It involved putting a bullet in Esteban’s greasy face. [he is determined, fantasizes, and reveals more of his dark mission]

“Ya got a Green Card?”


“How about a driver’s license?”

.” Both courtesy of Vito’s counterfeiters. [He’s thankful to his handlers and reveals more of who he is]

“Haven’t kept the ranch up like I did before the missus took ill. Our daughter’s helping out, but she has a boy at home that’s a handful. I’m impressed by your work. Would you be interested in $500 a week, the use of the cabin, credit at the grocers, Sundays, half Saturdays and holidays off?”

Alejandro grinned. “Sí, señor.” What could be better? A twenty-four-hour-a-day view of the nursery. [he’s delighted at his mission’s progress]

Unlike Dr. Crossman who thinks he has hired an immigrant day laborer, a common occurrence in his community, the reader sees that Alejandro is quite educated and has a dark mission he is keeping secret. Inner dialogue adds depth and intimacy with the POV character.—Quinn


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