Introspection

So, I see a lot of advice from time to time in the form of “show, don’t tell.” And while this is great advice (for the most part) I find it’s a bit tricky when writing characters and their emotions. For instance, let’s look at the same scene through telling, and then showing.

Telling:

Mark backed away in fear as his stepfather cocked a fist.

Showing:

Mark trembled as his back hit the wall, his eyes glued to his stepfather’s cocked fist.

 

Now, the “showing” sentence is better than the “telling” sentence, but in both instances the reaction tells us nothing special about Mark. Of course people would be scared if their stepfather was about to beat them. The reaction is normal–almost mundane.

Introspection is “the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.” It’s the why Mark is feeling afraid that can give the reader insight to the character. Consider the next two passages with introspection added into emotion.

Example #1:

Mark trembled as his back hit the wall, his eyes glued to his stepfather’s cocked fist. Once he had a black eye, he’d been kept home from school, which meant he’d be stuck in his stepfather’s presence for the next few days, unable to escape.

Example #2:

Mark trembled as his back hit the wall, his eyes glued to his stepfather’s cocked fist. He’d seen his mother take the blows, and since her departure for the hospital, Mark knew it would only be a matter of time before he joined her.

 

The extra thoughts that aren’t directly related to the emotions help carry the intensity of the scene. The introspection gives the reader more of Mark’s personality, and more of the surroundings. It’s the perfect tool for writers, but it doesn’t fit nicely into a three word phrase so I figured I would elaborate here.

I hope it helped! Happy writing!

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