Over the past couple of days, I've asked questions about writing female characters with agency, and writing female characters as a male writer. Both have sparked some interesting, and for me informative conversations. After some consideration, I realize that, while what I learned from reading the responses was informative and useful, I've been asking the wrong questions.
I'm coming to realize that my writing, at least where my characters are concerned, is very flat. One person asked if my character, for whom I offered up a small sample of "interior monologue" (having seen the responses, I hesitate to lean to heavily on that term), was a psychopath. That shocked me a bit, but the poster backed up their question with evidence, and I couldn't argue (though I admit to being stung).
I have two characters, Celeste and Marko. The opening setting is 23rd Century Croatia. At the start of the story, the two have been courting for a few months when, on an adventure date, they find themselves thrown back in time to the 14th Century, entirely unprepared. Now they're stuck with each other in unfamiliar territory, so I have the opportunity for both external adventure (action) and internal adventure (how they respond to events). The trouble is, I don't seem to be able to write emotional reactions very well.
Celeste is smart, brash, and sharp-tongued. She admits to herself that she doesn't always think before she acts. I started out my queries (above) trying to understand how to write Celeste's interior monologue in a way that sounded like what a woman would think like, not wanting to presume that I, as a man, would be able to intuit that well (my wife insists that I usually don't get how women think).
Marko is a bit of a stoic, outwardly quiet, and internally boxes things up so he doesn't have to think too much about them. He plans almost everything, and feels confident that he has the toolkit to take on whatever is thrown at him. This adventure will test that.
Apologies for the length, but here's another snip, from Celeste's POV, as they start to realize what has happened to them. In the previous scene, they both threw up in the cave where they were swept back to the 14th Century.
“I have no idea where we are or how we got here,” said Marko.
Celeste looked at him blankly. “I clearly don’t know either. This is beyond anything I have the toolkit for understanding.” She turned, looking around the area, trying to find something… anything familiar. She saw an olive grove in the distance, but didn’t remember it. Had it been there before? She didn’t know. “Fuck!” she said.
Marko looked at her as if she were a stranger. “We may not know where we are, but between the two of us we should be able to solve the problem. We need to focus on what’s in front of us.”.
She considered him and what he said. While she took a certain joy she didn’t want to admit in teasing him about being young -- younger than her by a whole four months -- he displayed a strength of character that she hadn’t seen in others. And he was brilliant at problem solving, which she saw in the way he played chess and go with his father. Whatever this situation they were in, she felt safe with him. But what situation were they in? She had no idea. She felt sick to her stomach. “I don’t even know how to describe what’s in front of us, metaphorically speaking. Clearly… well, okay, it seems that we’re on the island we were on earlier today. Or yesterday. Or… I don’t know. The island. It looks like the same one.”
“I agree. And this villa: it looks not-as-old as it did… earlier. It’s like everything new is gone; like we’ve been thrown back in time.”
Time travel. Could she believe in it? Was it possible? She thought back to her science professor talking about quantum physics, about how scientists and mathematicians still only knew enough about it to know we didn’t know enough, and he had been fairly certain nothing would change. And there ended her learning about quantum physics and science in general. At some point you had to realize that there were limits to what you could understand, draw a line, and move on. And subjects like business, economics, and politics were more to her interest than unknowable science. Everyone, she told herself, had their limits. Her stomach growled. “One thing I can say for sure, I’m hungry. I left my lunch in that cave, and that run down the hill really took it out of me.”
So, to my question: how can I improve the emotional or just general interior perspective description for my characters? This is really going to become important when Marko falls into a deep depression, but along the way I need Celeste to go through some challenges, which will give her a toolkit to help him when he most needs it.
For anyone interested, I've shared the Google Doc that is my working document, with public comment capability turned on. All I ask is that, if you choose to comment, please be constructive.