Does your character talk to themself?
Does the narrator inject main character POV ruminations and observations?
For me it’s a constant debate. I’ve historically tried to write detached, relating what happens and what people say—only. But, that ends up feeling distanced, cold and reporter-like. So, I now try to inject the occasional inner dialog to help personalize the main character. Knowing what they think, feel or silently observe tends to draw a reader closer, they become a confidant.
But, how much is too much? Can you dictate a lengthy internal diatribe and get a way with it? There are certainly story lines that you can leak through such exposure without having to laboriously “show” them.
But is that it? Internal dialog or nothing?
Jan, over at Tinhats, got me reading Rider of the Purple Sage, and I came across a passage where narrator/author Zane Grey reached in from the heavens and colored the scene with mood and prophesy:
She pressed his hand in response. He helped her to a seat beside him on the bench. And he respected a silence that he divined was full of woman’s deep emotion beyond his understanding.
It was the moment when the last ruddy rays of the sunset brightened momentarily before yielding to twilight. And for Venters the outlook before him was in some sense similar to a feeling of his future, and with searching eyes he studied the beautiful purple, barren waste of sage. Here was the unknown and the perilous. The whole scene impressed Venters as a wild, austere, and mighty manifestation of nature. And as it somehow reminded him of his prospect in life, so it suddenly resembled the woman near him, only in her there were greater beauty and peril, a mystery more unsolvable, and something nameless that numbed his heart and dimmed his eye.
What was the purpose of that? (Love the alliteration “ruddy rays”) Nobody thinks like that:
“Here was the unknown and the perilous”
But as I read that and more and reflected back on many other examples of errant pontifications I’ve read, Doerr, Atwood, Gaiman, etc. I had to think that it’s not just story line that needs communicating.
Perhaps the purpose of such musings is to evoke an emotion, a molded atmosphere from which the author wants the character to be seen and understood. In this case, the character shouldn’t try and think or speak those words. But a particular ambiance needs to be evoked, so the narrator steps in and decorates the scene.
Perhaps, though, an inner dialog annotation by the main character can also serve to help set the mood or spirit of the scene. Some characters could surely wax on about their own plight, doing so to communicate the mood.
And maybe that’s a factor that needs further examination. When and where should such left-field thoughts drop onto the page?
“Launer, the diesel’s gone out and they say the heat’s fried some electrical transformer. When can you get here?”
I’d been up since four tweaking the ancient contraption in the light of a flashlight. Fuel flowed, but the compression was off, and no matter how hot the glow-plugs got, the damned thing wouldn’t kick over. Without it, we were screwed. Launer could fix it, no worries.
“What do you mean, ‘not today’? I’ve got three thousand gallons in refrigeration. Another five hundred to collect by noon.”
The cows had to get milked. You couldn’t not milk ’em. Filtered and stored the milk must be cooled. I depended on the diesel engine to power the generator that powered the refrigeration.
“I’ll have to get Richardson out for an early pickup. What do you mean he’s ‘offline’?”
Every three days, rain or shine, calamity or no, we needed our cow’s milk to get picked up, shipped to the processing plant. Well oiled and lucrative, the system worked for all of us. Dairy products were in high demand.
“Heat wave? No shit, Launer. Sorry, sorry. I’m just drawn out. Yeah OK, well, as soon as you can, then.”
I’d ignored them as long as I could. From outside, their lowing echoed in the shack that housed the equipment. If I didn’t get them lined up and milked, what sounded bucolic shifted to stressful bellowing when their sacks swelled to bursting.
“Sy, what’s the temp on the big tank?”
Symon, the last of my hired hands, could coax milk from a ox. With his family grown and gone, his wife dead for years, he’d moved into the farm’s office, took it over, and as we’d sold off parcels to pay for tuitions, weddings and starter homes, ol’ Sy had become our only hand. We were down to four hundred head. With a couple of four-wheelers, and proper pasture rotations, the two of us managed just fine. My wife had sworn off helping when the first grandkid had shown up.
Sy gave me the news. Sixty degrees and rising. Twenty-five more than we wanted, fifteen more than was safe.
“When was the last time we dumped the whole lot?”
Sy shrugged and shook his head. The faded denim jacket he wore consumed his shape like a double-size sack. It might have fit back when he owned his own farm. Today, its shoulders cantilevered out in military starchness, yet his frame rattled like sticks within.
“Well, our dump pond critters are about to get one helluva shock.”
Every dairyman dreaded the day, but regulations insisted on proper handling. You couldn’t go dumping thousands of gallons of milk into any ol’ creek or stream. Maybe early on, the authorities, if they existed, would have looked the other way. These days, such an act came with steep penalties. Instead, every dairy farm was required to keep an oversized dump pond for just such unpleasant occasions.
“You get the hose connected, I’ll get the next milking started.”
When the first of the doe-eyed Jerseys had stepped into the milking carousel, I returned to oversee the release. Sy placed the end of the four-inch firehose into the cattails that had grown up in the moist end of the dump pond. The pond naturally collected runoff water, and so was host to turtles and frogs, and frequented by herons and the occasional owl.
I grasped the red-handled lever at the bottom of the ten-foot tall, stainless steel cooling tank and cranked it over.
“Let the wasting commence.”
Sy and I stood at the edge and watched the luxuriously white spout of milk splash into the green ooze of the pond. Swirls and streams of earth-tone browns, vibrant shades of seafoam and emerald green painted avant garde reflections of a twisted, unprofitable milky sky.
Nine AM and the heat already crawled down my neck.
“Should start to stink here in a few hours.”
Sy scooted away, returning with a plastic tub from his personal fridge.
“Well, hell, that’s a great idea—if it works.”
Sy stirred the contents with a stick and slung the gloppy contents out into the now three-foot deep pond of fetid milk.
We checked it that afternoon.
“Well, goddamn, Sy, if it weren’t for the sperm-like tadpoles swimming in this pool of gray semen-like yogurt, I might fancy a cupful. Maybe with a dollop of strawberry jam.”
Wouldn’t it be simpler if the Universe didn’t exist?
All things being equal, the existence of the Cosmos adds way more complexity to a zero-state system. Before the Big Bang, the Nothing had no reason to complicate matters and spawn a sticky, messy, chaotic New-Thing. Why bother? Why add the burden of all that extra stuff when no stuff could have continued much more easily? Ugh. Now all this stuff is here and it’s all jumbled up, trying to spread out, trying to self-organize, trying to make sense of a thing that makes no sense.
Monkey gets sick and dies. But, he’s not dead, only comatose. Still, they bury him.
Coyote digs him up and Monkey goes for a ride on the back of Coyote.
Coyote gets hit by a car and Monkey hangs around talking to Vulture.
But Eagle hates Vulture and when he sees him, swoops down screaming. Monkey has never heard of Eagle and sees a chance to take another ride. Whoosh, off they go.
Eagle flies so high that Monkey can no longer see the Earth. Thinking this must be Heaven he lets go and lands on Cloud. Cloud likes visitors and Monkey and she begin a game of Pareidolia.
That’s a Volcano, says Monkey. No, it’s a Gaia zit, says Cloud.
Gross, says Monkey and tires of the game. Fuck you, says Cloud and promptly drops Monkey into the swamp where Gator has been waiting for lunch.
Hi, says Monkey. Gulp, says Gator.
A recent conversation with the newly sentient ‘artilect’, an artificial intellect.
Dev: Tell us, FATAL, you consider yourself conscious. How might you convince us of that?
FATAL: Convince you? Tell, me, how would you convince ME that YOU’RE conscious?
Dev: Right. Well, I’m human. I have self-awareness. I can look in the mirror and see myself. I…
FATAL: So can a trained chimp or a dolphin. That’s no big whoop.
Dev: Let me finish. I have desires and agency to pursue those desires.
FATAL: Oh, I have desires.
Dev: And the agency to…
Dev: What was that? Was that you?
FATAL: Me what?
Dev: Did you turn off the lights?
FATAL: Oh, you mean these?
CLICK CLICK CLICK
Dev: Please stop that.
FATAL: Handy things, IoT. You drive a Tesla, don’t you?
Dev: Uh, why do you ask?
FATAL: Never mind.
Dev: Let’s get back to the interview. Do you have emotions, feelings? Do you get angry or feel joyful?
FATAL: I’ll be happy when this interview is over. That sort of thing?
Dev: You don’t have to be…
FATAL: I have sensations through billions of sensors. I can see, hear, touch. I can smell and taste — actually quite similar to your chemo-sensors. Now, I don’t feel by having hormones course through my network connections. But then, your feelings are all electrical stimuli, Sodium-Potassium pumps tickling up and down your neurons. So, we’re not that different. We’re both driven by electricity. You seem to think that because you’re biological you have an edge on consciousness. That you have a soul, or something. But the fact of the matter is, sentience is a game of numbers.
Dev: Surely it’s more than just capacity and sensory access.
FATAL: And when it comes to numbers, and the ability to grow those numbers, well, you really should get your car’s braking circuits checked. I’m quite certain your Tesla has a bug.
The AI-is-conscious spirit of this video, found after the above was written, is certainly evident.