Story Is About What We Don't Say

Pop quiz: Your best friend, who’s always on a diet that never seems to work, plaintively asks, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” It does. Do you answer: A.    Fat as compared to what?

B.    Look, out the window, it’s Halley’s comet! C.    I don’t think it’s the outfit, actually. D.    No.

Yep, it’s a rhetorical question. The real question is: how often do we ever say what we’re really thinking? Rarely. Lest we get slapped, sued, ostracized or worse, spur others to tell us that they’re really thinking.

Let’s face it, what we’re thinking is often far more interesting, raw, intriguing and revealing than what we say. Why do we keep mum? Because we don’t want to hurt anyone, least of all ourselves. So in real life we work hard to project a public persona that suggests we really do know what we’re doing. What’s that old saw? Never let ‘em see you sweat.

But inside? Who amongst us isn’t a raging mess?

Am I suggesting that we let it all out, and actually say what we’re really thinking? Hell no! I say, preserve the illusion as long as you can.  But in the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do category: Make sure that your characters’ most closely guarded thoughts and fears are revealed to your readers.

Because that’s where the real story lies: in the internal conflict between what a character says, and what she's really thinking.

Speaking of which, here’s a scary thought: by forcing our characters to bare their innermost thoughts on the page, could it be they’re really revealing our deepest desires and darkest fears?

As P.D. James said, “. . . every autobiography is a work of fiction and every work of fiction an autobiography.”

What about your characters? What do they say about how you see the world?