Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dialogue Part 13 - Writing Inner Dialogue Of A Hero by Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Part 13
Writing Inner Dialogue Of A Hero
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Previous parts of Dialogue series are indexed here:


And depiction posts are indexed here:


Depicting a Character is tricky if the Character's dialogue does not match what you, the writer, assert is true about the Character.

Dialogue is usually considered to be what a Character says aloud to another Character -- but in science fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance, and all our favorite variations, one must consider telepathy as part of Dialogue, even when not worded-thoughts.

Realistic Characterization includes the Character being unaware of his/her own true motivations.  Most silent, inner dialogue -- the things we repeat to ourselves -- are rationalizations for how we feel, justifications for feeling that way, and consequent "reasons" for why we act that way.

Real humans are complicated.

Characters have to be ultra-simplified, at least in the first few novels you write to introduce them.

Hollywood screenwriting insists Major Characters have 3 (and no more than 3) Traits that distinguish them from other Characters.  But in screenwriting, you don't usually get to reveal inner dialogue.  The Actors supply that counterpoint embellishment,and you, the writer, don't get to telll the Actor what the Character is thinking or in what words (telepathy being an exception).

But note how telepathy has been handled in Star Trek -- silence, leaving the audience to guess what Spock learned from the Horta until he interpreted -- and we don't know if he told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Here is a bold and inconvenient truth for Romance writers to ponder.

Readers judge Characters by the Character's inner (silent) dialogue with him/herself.

You can tell the reader this Character is a highly placed, powerful executive whose word is law in an international corporation (the "How To Marry A Billionaire" story needs a Billionaire readers can believe is real) -- but if the Character is not thinking (inside their own mind) like a successful Billionaire, the readers won't believe a word in the entire novel.  In fact they won't finish reading it.

But since writers aren't Billionaires, or action-heros of any sort, how do you learn what your Character (human or Alien) should be thinking in a crisis, where the stakes are saving the Galaxy, where failure is not an option?

We see in the remake of the TV Series, MACGYVER, how the ultimate problem solver thinks when everything he tries fails.  He "innovates."

Usually, in real life, that doesn't work, which is why it is so fascinating to see on TV.

What does work, what allows humans to survive on this fragile world, is team work.  But every team has a point-man, a leader, a person who thinks faster about more things, who sees the big picture and charts the course through the current mess.

A Hero in a 3 piece suit and tie.  Or coveralls and boots.

Every team has a Leader or it isn't a "team." (at least for humans).

However, at any given time, any particular Team may follow any one of the members -- whichever one has the Big Picture and a Plan.

Which team member is the Leader is not a distinguishing Characteristic (among humans).  Any follower might become a Leader in the right circumstances.  Take for example, a ship's crew in battle, and the Captain and First Officer get killed (or beamed off the ship), -- so a Lieutenant steps into the Captain's role and does what they've seen the Captain do.

Leadership is not a property of a given Character.

Leadership is a property of Inner Dialogue.

A lot of the mystique of Leadership is shrouded in Silent Dialogue.


We discussed Culture and physical movement (all humanity has body-movement "codes" alike such as eye-blink-rate and mirroring or matching another's micro-moves), but Cultures differ in what means what.

Robert J. Sawyer has written a solid science fiction (somewhat Romance, too) about a psychiatrist who discovers a way to identify sociopaths by micro-movements of the eye.  We are, in fact, close to being able to do such fine tuned work.  The novel is QUANTUM NIGHT.


The Characters are well depicted scientists (both the man and the woman) with real emotional lives, and a solid grasp of the sciences they are known for.

Now, put this all together, and study this article about how NASA trains mission control folks to avoid panic in an emergency.  It is so much better, more effective, and more realistic than the British WWII "Stay Calm" nonsense.

Telling someone to stay calm just makes them more acutely aware of all the reasons not to.

Read this article:


Note this list of questions -- these will guide you to creating the thoughts.  Your Characters will not be thinking these questions -- but rather listing in their minds all the answers they know, and what specifically they can do to find more answers.  Study, internalize, practice using this list in your own life's panic-situations, until you have polished the performance.

---------quote from NASA Flight Director--------------
Mission control has a strategy for staving off panic
This intense focus is partly how the flight controllers are able deal with potentially catastrophic situations. Instead of "running down the halls with our hair on fire," Hill said the team would focus on a series of questions.

• What was everything they knew — and did not know — about the situation at hand?

• What did the data actually say about the situation at hand?

• What was the worst thing that could happen as a result of the situation?

• Did the team have enough information to know for sure — and how could they get more information?

• What immediate steps could be taken to continue making progress in the mission or keep everyone safe?
--------------END QUOTE-------------

It is vital not to fall into the habit of assuming that things will now go as they always have before.  Old solutions can not be relied on in new situations.

That is the source of the non-Leader Character's paralysis before fear in a crisis.

When time closes in, and a correct action must be chosen and executed perfectly without thinking, Characters who have graven habits will fail.

Characters who avoid letting habit rule them, but who use habit as a tool, subordinate habit to achieving objectives, who go to the trouble to understand all the moving parts, will succeed in an emergency.

It is the same sort of training that is done in Martial Arts.  The objective is to identify an incoming threat and counter it WITHOUT THINKING.

In Martial Arts this is "muscle memory" and reflex -- in Mission Control it is Situational Awareness and a holistic grasp of the Big Picture.

Thus, Billionaires and other successful people generally have a sports hobby -- whatever is most popular in their circles.  Handball or MMA -- whatever uses the body-brain interface, because that same brain circuit provides the instant response to emergencies -- new emergencies never dreamed of before are met with smooth idea processing and solution generation.

Study the new TV Series, MACGYVER.  It is silly, contrived, not nearly as cleverly done as THE A-TEAM or the original MACGYVER -- but well worth studying for the depiction of smooth response to crisis.

The Successful Billiionaire, and the (still alive) Astronaut respond smoothly, and stay in control of the moving parts of a complex Situation gone awry, by drilling constantly (starting as toddlers) in that series of Questions from NASA Mission Control.

The Character who can meet a bizarre - ever seen by humans before - Event, parse it, decide, and act successfully, will not be telling themselves inwardly "don't panic" -- they will not be thinking of all the ways things could go wrong, they will not be picturing their messy deaths, they will not be AFRAID for their Soul Mate.

The Hero Character -- to be convincing -- must be working the problem using that list of bulleted questions.  Not one at a time, but the whole list all at once.

The Leader of the team will be taking what information the team can supply from that list of questions and DEVISING (improvising) ways to acquire more answers.

This process occupies so much of the brain, all at once, that the Hero Character's inner dialogue convinces the Reader that this is a Hero.

More than that, it convinces the reader to practice being like that in their own lives.

Ultimately, this is why we read novels -- to find role models that are not present among those we know personally.  Or perhaps, are present but not recognizable until we start practicing these habitual thought patterns.

Note, processing problems via NASA's list of questions will make sure that this Character is never a victim, never thinking of him/herself as a victim.  But this Character is also never -- ever -- an attacker, a victimizer.

Successful people are not attackers, not victimizers, not bullies.

If you see success and you see a bully -- suspect there is something else going on that you don't yet know about.

Make your Characters realistic by giving them an inner-voice commentary on events that reveals a true understanding of Life, of human psychology, of History, and Reality.  Such Characters are always questioning, always curious, always marveling, always certain they don't know everything -- and their awareness of their ignorance does not make them afraid.

What you don't know can kill you.  So what?  Don't bother me.  I'm busy solving this problem.  Focus.  That's the secret to inner dialogue.  Unfocused, random, wandering, distracted inner dialogue is the sign of a very weak Character who will not succeed.

Depict your Hero Character as able to deal with catastrophe with his hair on fire, and people will believe that Character is heroic (but the character will deny it.)

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

1 comment:

  1. In commenting on the ease of writing THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS (letters from a senior demon), C. S. Lewis pointed out that it's always easier to imagine a character worse than yourself than to conceive a character better than yourself. Most of us don't have first-hand knowledge of how heroes and saints actually think.