Character: Balancing Inner and Outer Actions

A character who only acts is perceived as shallow. A character who only thinks is a navel-gazer. In a novel, the inner and outer lives of a character must be balanced. How?
Writing Tip for Today: The character’s inner/outer lives are both evident to the reader, which in my opinion, gives fiction an advantage over cinema/theater. Yet the writer must carefully balance these elements. Think of your character, sitting alone on stage. She’s thinking over her awful life. Fair enough. Yet if that same character does little except sit and think, the story feels stagnant. The reader craves movement. Watch for:

  • Beware of scenes with only the viewpoint character present. Right away, this type of scene limits interaction with the surroundings. If your character is shipwrecked, at least give that person a soccer ball “Wilson” to talk to.
  • Avoid writing a lot of scenes with the players sitting around a table talking. Not much movement beyond lifting one’s teacup to one’s lips. Get people doing tasks which require moving around.
  • Beware the passive-aggressive character. In real life we do tend to stew about things and we avoid conflict. In fiction, you must force your character out of the mind and into the world, where he/she will have to do something, have to want something.
  • Avoid the back story trap. Many times a story heavy on inner problems is living in the past. Resist the urge to allow your character to pull the reader into flashback too often.
  • If it helps, look for threes. My good old “rule of three” may help you balance the inner and outer lives of your character. Got 3 sentences of thinking? The next 3 sentences should contain outward movement. And remember, this is a guideline, not a real “rule.”

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Character: Balancing Inner and Outer Actions

  1. Backstory, I honestly believe that’s every writers trap… As for the passvie agressive is a good point, the best part of writing stories is having your character say things things you would never say, it’s true freedom.

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