I love stories. This likely does not come as a surprise, because I’m a writer. And if you’re here, on a blog called Writer’s Block Party, reading this post about writing, then you’re either tragically bored, or you’re a fellow lover of stories. So let’s take a moment to talk about stories–and, more specifically, how great they can be when we use books to deliver them.
A good story is, of course, a good story. I’ve been captivated by narratives delivered via all sorts of media. That includes books and film, but also podcasts, comics, spoken word, and any other method by which humans can convey ideas to other humans. Even a well-crafted TV ad tells a story. Let’s not sit here and pretend we’ve never gotten emotional from a commercial about sad dogs. Y’all know the one.
When a creator has a story inside them that we want to deliver unto the world, we can choose any number of media to do it. None are inherently better or worse, and many stories translate well to multiple media. But in any situation, I believe that your medium should be chosen deliberately. If you’re going to write a book, embrace its book-ness. Books have stood the test of time for a reason. They have special qualities, so use them.
Just one of the many special qualities of books: their deep interiority. Books have an unsurpassed ability to get us inside a narrator’s head–to truly feel what they feel and see the world as they see it. This is no small thing. To experience someone else’s emotions in real time, to unfold their thoughts alongside them, turning them over in your own head as you go–this is magic. This is windows and mirrors. The character we’re reading about may not be real, but the things they make us feel are. Their impact on us is. That’s the power of books.
Maybe some of the YA authors present are starting to squirm at my apparent love for rambling internal monologue, especially if we write speculative fiction. YA fantasy books are supposed to be “high concept” and “fast-paced.” They’re supposed to “show, not tell.” They’re supposed to be “like movies playing out in the reader’s head.” Spending a lot of time telling us what the main character is thinking and feeling doesn’t seem like it lends itself well to writing “the next big thing” that everyone’s going to love. Everyone’s just going to be bored because you paused all the explosions and stabbing!
Actually, I’m here to argue that interiority is crucial to your story. You can have the tightest plot and the zippiest banter, but if you don’t let us into your narrator’s head, none of it’s going to mean anything to us. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here are my recommendations for four books I think illustrate this principle beautifully. To highlight the variation within one genre, they’re all fantasy, and they all make wonderful use of their narrators’ interiority. All four authors write with confidence–they know you’re not going to get bored, because they know both the explosions and the emotions are important.
Told in third person with two points-of-view, this book is a master class in both pacing and internal narrative. Something is always happening, so the story has momentum. But at the same time, our main characters, Lada and Radu, never miss a chance to tell us how they’re feeling about it. And the dual points-of-view are used to particularly great effect because Lada and Radu are, to say to the least, rather different people. Getting to delve into two wildly contrasting minds at the same time is what reading is all about.
This book, told in third person, is a classical quest story with a heavy emphasis on its narrator’s personal journey. Tess is walking a literal road, but she’s also trying to find out what matters to her and who she wants to be. The author is unafraid to use flashbacks to give us more context about Tess’s life, or to let Tess mentally wrestle with a question that has no easy answers. We get to watch her growth slowly unfold, and at the end, we’re left feeling like we’ve experienced something alongside her.
I mean, who doesn’t want to immerse themselves in the mind of an evil-queen-in-the-making? Also told in third person, this book has a fairy tale’s charm and a rich world, but it keeps us grounded in the emotions of our main character, Xifeng. Xifeng is full of ambition, and she does some things we would never do in the real world (…I hope), but we understand why. We follow her rise from beginning to end, and it all happens so gradually that we’re onboard the whole time. It’s fascinating to be in Xifeng’s head–and maybe a little terrifying.
At first glance, this may not seem like an obvious choice for a post about interior books, because it’s known for being full of twisty explosions. And it is! It’s also such a good story because it lets us get deep into the head of Jude, the narrator who addresses us in first person. Because Jude is very frank with us about her life and her emotions, we understand why all her schemes matter. As with Xifeng, we may not exactly relate to being quite this cutthroat, but we understand what’s at stake. And so we care about what happens.
These books work partly because they’ve leaned into that special quality of books–the ability to take us out of our own head and put us inside someone else’s. Don’t be afraid to write your book like it’s a book. You chose to give us your story in novel format for a reason. The inner experience of your main character matters to you, so make it matter to us, too.
Do you have a favorite novel that excelled at immersing you in the main character’s mind? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!