This is a huge question, parts of which have been answered on this site. However, this is one of the biggest challenges writers face, and so I think the question's relevancy matches the amount of work it requires to answer. Before delving in, I'll define what I mean by inner state: a character's emotions, thoughts, desires, motivations, instincts, sensations, etc. Anything going on inside them really.
There are of course plenty of ways to communicate to the reader what's going on inside characters. What I'm looking for is a run-down of these ways, and what they're uses are.
Dialogue says a lot. The characters' inner states can be communicated through their dialogue. A limitation of this method however, is that there's not always more than one character.
Facial expressions / body language (FEBL) is limited by the format. The method is visceral, and a whenever the inner state is complex, it becomes hard to efficiently, nicely and/or reliably convey it through FEBL. Whenever the inner state is basic and common however, I usually run into problems of not having any non-cliché ways to convey the inner state. For shock and fear for example, all I can think of are "He had wide eyes" or "His chin dropped to the floor", or other similar clichés. Due to its basicness and commonness, it feels like everything's been done a million times to the point it's annoying to read/write it again. Also, since these states are so common, they often occur many times in the book, meaning I often run out of the available clichés, therefore having to repeat the ones I've already used.
Monologues or thoughts (thoughts can be differentiated from other writing through italicization) is a method. Monologues can be out-of-character and thoughts can run the risk of spelling things out.
Actions can be used. Similar to the FEBL method in that such communication is visceral in nature. Examples of this method is that someone may growl, or hit the wall, to show anger. A strength of this method is that it also says something about the character's personality, not just their inner state at the moment. This method runs into a lot of the same problems as the FEBL method, because certain inner states are too complex to be described well by actions, whereas other inner states cause inaction. For example, shock often causes inaction. So, why not just describe their inaction? Well, that inaction can often be misinterpreted. If someone stands completely still after some was shot in the head next to them, this can convey shock, or, it can convey apathy towards the situation / person shot. So, inaction isn't too descriptive. Of course, one can describe the inaction with body language / facial expressions, like "they stood frozen", which definitely conveys shock, but then one is no longer using this method. Also, "frozen" is terribly clichéd in my opinion.
One can explicitly state the character's inner state. An example would be "John was angry.", or, "He thought ill of the cashier." This is telling instead of showing however, which a lot of people say is bad. I've also heard it is especially bad when in the context of inner states.
Similes and metaphors can be used. This is usually paired up with the other methods, like "He growled like a dog", or, "John was angrier than a bull." In these cases it makes more sense to look at it as a literary tool used to enact one of the other methods, instead of combination of methods. However, since it can be used without any other methods, making it a method in it of itself, it deserves a spot on the list. Here's an example of a similie being used as a method on its own: "Parth entered the room like a breeze blowing through". It's hard to use this method on its own however, meaning it's usually is paired up with the others, giving it the limitations of the method it is being used with. On its own however, it is just kind of hard to use in a natural way in my opinion.
So, currently, I've listed six methods of conveying the inner state of a character. I have three questions:
- Are there more methods?
- For what situations are the respective methods best suited for?
- How can one mitigate the methods' respective limitations?