Friday, February 09, 2007


Portrait of John Philip Kemble as Hamlet.
By Eastman Johnson, 1845.

Just finished a reasonably competent vampire novel by a reasonably well-known writer.
When one reads as a writer, with an eye toward technique, one notices things.
Or, more correctly, one notices things in a different fashion.
In this novel, the writer uses a form of soliloquy to inform the reader of pertinent facts; and, secondarily, to break up - by monologue - scenes that might otherwise be considered somewhat static.
That's right - the main character talks out loud to herself a lot.
I'm not sure that this device truly works, at least in this instance.
My opinion may just be subjective and based on the fact that I personally am not inclined to talk out loud to myself - other than an occassional Oh dear! or Well, shit! or Sonofabitch!
And I never articulate to the toaster or any empty room my reasoning or analysis of a situation.
Nevertheless, a character in a novel should not be required to conform to some standard of behaviour, since one of the reasons we may write a story around them is because they are not in the common way.
I thought it was an interesting way to move the plot and wondered what you thought of it.

New words: Found a couple more new words in my reading.
coffle: a train of slaves or animals. From the Arabic qafilah - caravan.
ictus: a recurring stress or beat in a rhythmic or metrical series of sounds.


anna said...

Arabic qafilah - caravan.
love this one!

I find it so different reading as a writer to just reading.. reading as a writer I become snarkish and overly critical. I don't usually read in this fashion unless the writing isn't up to par.

BTW couldn't comment yesterday on chapter length. Blogger again!
Just finished a Norwegian book by Jo Nessbo. excellent! Some of his chapters are 1 pg long others quite longish. It didn't take away from the plot, in fact added to it.
Chapters are as long as they have to be imo.

Bernita said...

Blogger was difficult again yesterday.
I find I analyze the causes for the effects more, Anna.

Erik Ivan James said...

In a new WIP, I have my hero carry on a few "one way" conversations with his animals. I get bored in my writing with, "he said to himself" or "he thought" or "he wondered".

In real life, I do that all the time with Bug---talk to him. Of course, he never answers. And worse yet, he doesn't listen.

Bernita said...

Talking to an animal - a living thing, even if they don't answer back - isn't quite the same thing, Erik.
Seems more natural.

December Quinn said...

Wait, so the MC has a bunch of 'As you know, Bob' talks with him/herself? Bleh.

James Goodman said...

the fact that I personally am not inclined to talk out loud to myself

lol, I talk aloud way more than I should. You should hear some of the arguments I have with my computer and don't even get me started on blogger... :D

Bernita said...

Hmmm, never thought of it as an "As you know, Bob," December, but I suppose it's the equivalent.

Still, James, I would imagine those are mostly in the nature of extended expletives such as "you rotten piece of shit" - not a detailed list of procedures to solve a crime.

James Goodman said...

lol, yeah...that's true.

Scott said...

It sounds it bit silly to me, but I would have to read it first before I would condemn it. I would never do it though.

Bernita said...

Don't think she quite pulled it off, Scott, or I wouldn't have tried to figure out why - from a writer's perspective - she had the character doing this.
Most people when they are considering their options write them down, don't they?
Rather than hearing themselves think?

Ric said...

This illustrates one of the problems with POV. Seems as if you're crossing the viewpoint - what would seem natural in first person comes across as WTF in third.

Short bits don't bother me. "Now, that doesn't make sense." when confronted with evidence he's on the wrong track. Anything beyond that fits under 'show, don't tell'.

Is this what we're discussing here? I'm not sure my coffee is strong enough and it's Friday and we're not talking about sex....

EA Monroe said...

Bernita, talking out loud! I talk out loud in my sleep! I've awaken myself enough times.

Bailey Stewart said...

I also find myself reading critically now that I'm writing and I wish I didn't. I would love to go back to just enjoying a book. I do this with books I like too. With those, I think I'm looking for the "why does this work" key.

I'm with Scott, can't really comment about it without reading it. What works for one reader might not work for another. But if it leaps out at you, then it isn't working.

And I talk to my cats all of the time. I need to watch it, I may turn in to one of those old lady who talks to her cats. LOL

Bernita said...

Not sure it would be entirely effective in first either, Ric.
I agree. Short bits are fine.
Perhaps the idiocyncracy was not established early enough nor clear enough for me to swallow it as anything other than a plot device.

Sorry about that. I have to feel sexy amd confident to write about it, and I don't right now.

Many people mumble in dreams, Elizabeth. This character was wide awake and with it.

archer said...

Margaret Atwood is very good at this stuff, even though I don't like reading her. Her characters think aloud, write letters, write diaries, do stagey stuff with telephones. Faulkner--what little of him can stand to read--does the same stuff with letters and diaries. I.B. Singer is very good at the soliloquy, narrating several characters' thoughts seriatim, for instance, as they sit around a room. Someday someone will figure out how to let us experience four or five characters' thoughts at once without confusing us, a feat so far accomplished only by Mozart.

Bernita said...

I find the extra eye enhances my reading and does not diminish my pleasure, Bailey.
The thing now is that I can attach a name to what works or doesn't.
In fact, I sometimes feel guilty when I do lose myself in the story.

Doesn't everyone talk to their pets?

Bernita said...

But Archer, those examples - letters, diaries, internal monologue - are quite different, I think, from what I'm describing here.

Daisy Dexter Dobbs said...

And I never articulate to the toaster or any empty room my reasoning or analysis of a situation.

I’m afraid I must admit to engaging in frequent one-sided conversations with inanimate objects and empty air space, especially while I’m writing, Bernita. I could pretend it’s solely because, with my husband at work, I’m home alone in my office writing all day and don’t have anyone else to talk to. But, nope, that’s not it. I’ve just always been a bit off the beam, I guess. :-D

At least I have the presence of mind not to engage in my soliloquies when other people are around. And, thankfully, I’m well enough aware of how curious and eccentric the habit is that I make sure to keep the frequency of such monologues to a minimum in my stories. Unless, of course, the character finds herself in the midst of contemplating a diet-busting chocolate binge, in which case soliloquies abound. LOL

As a reader, I’m not a fan of the overuse of this device in books. It smacks a bit too much of lazy writer syndrome to me.

Bernita said...

Darling Daisy, with you that could be nothing but a charming eccentricity.

raine said...

I'm also one of those folks who talk to myself. Not sure how I'd like it as a plot device though, unless used sparingly.
Does make me wonder why the author didn't simply present the info as thoughts in deep pov, or something like that. Maybe they were simply trying to be 'different'.

I love 'ictus'! I'm sure I'll be using it. :-)

Bernita said...

The same thought occurred to me, Raine.
Just why she chose to do it that way.
Those words showed up in a couple of novels recently.I like to improve my vocab one or two words at a time.
I'm more apt to remember them!

Bonnie Calhoun said... the new words!

Today I get to be 'evil twin'...i talke to anything that will listen...ROFLOL! The toaster, the dryer, my me and my laptop have a thing goin'...i rant to it on a regular basis...LOL!

Og...Oswego...nine feet of snow and counting....a bunch more on the way!

MissWrite said...

Yeah see that's why I don't 'buy' soliloquy type revelations. I mean I don't talk to myself either. When I do talk out loud at no one, it might be to curse out the computer, or a program, or even a page of writing, but I don't go around saying, well this is happening because that didn't work right and now this will happen... I think there is a term for people who do that...

oh yeah...


Bernita said...

Hmm, Bonnie, you always were better telling them how to get off than I was.

That quantity of snow makes me worry about Spring melt.


Gabriele C. said...

I admit, I do talk to myself and discuss plot points with my hibiscus plant in the window.

And sometimes I ramble on my blog. :)

My characters don't do it because I don't have lengthy internal monologues. One or two sentences of reflection tucked into the narrative, no more. Maybe it's because I don't think male characters won't think things over and over except their names is Rodian Raskolnikov or Hans Castorp, and my females have to follow that pattern.

writtenwyrdd said...

Since I yammer away when alone (home, driving, walking about) I probably need meds, lol, but it wouldn't really bug me that much to see a book with monologues included. I think it is a matter of how gracefully they are done.

In first person, it seems easier to get away with having characters talk out loud, too. More often than not it calls attention to itself (or to me) while I read, though. But again it seems that if anything works it works.

In a similar vein, I admire Robin McKinley's writing and I pick up Sunshine to reread the beginning every so often to remind myself that you can indeed begin a great book with fifteen pages of background and make it work.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, it also occurs to me that when you have the character say these thoughts aloud you omit the need to describe how they feel. I get told that, in my first person WIP, the lead character sounds whiney. It's just because she's thinking about what's going on, but it sounds whiney to the reader.

I started using dialog (the interactive sort) to have her express stuff. I think I mightjust consider some talking to herself now, lol.

Robyn said...

I guess it depends on the character. My husband does it all the time- but he talks to himself in front of us, too.

Bernita said...

They say talking to plants helps them grow, Gabriele.

That's interesting, Written.
I'm not sure out loud would change a person's tone. I wonder if it might make it worse.

But he does it when he knows he has an audience, Robyn.

Rudi said...

I talk out loud to myself with no audience at times.

It comes in two flavors but both are
to slow down and not make mistakes.

One is problem solving: reading a checklist out loud so that I don't
skip over anything. The other is to
read email out load before I send it
to make sure it sounds right.

Bernita said...

Don't think reading aloud counts as unusual, Rudi.