Describing a character's thoughts

In third person subjective point of view, the narrator has direct access to the character's interior world and can describe their thoughts and feelings.

This kind of interior description starts to sound a lot like first person narration, just with different pronouns:

From behind, he could hear something howl once more and it occurred to him that anything that could terrify the ghoul-folk must itself be even more terrifying than he could imagine, and for a moment he stopped stabbing with the screw—what if he fell from the sack into the jaws of some evil beast? But at least if he died, thought Bod, he would have died as himself, with all his memories, knowing who his parents were, who Silas was, even who Miss Lupescu was.

That was good.

Notice how the narrator is eavesdropping on the character's private thoughts and reporting them back to us.

It almost sounds as if the character is speaking aloud, especially in the last line.

There's a lot of evaluation happening in this snippet:

  • Bod evaluates the howl and determines that anything that could terrify the ghoul-folk must be more terrifying than he can imagine.
  • He evaluates his potential death and realises that because he values his own identity and history, he is happy to die so long as he retains those (as opposed to becoming a ghoul and forgetting himself).
  • Finally, he wraps everything up with a simple, summative evaluation: "that was good", meaning, the way he might die.

You can see a contrast between the first two evaluations, which are quite grammatically complex, and the final one which is simple.

What does Frederik think about Theo van den Hout?

Out the window he could see Theo van den Hout parading in the street wearing a brown felt suit that made him look like an unwashed potato with jewellery. What a dull and clueless man, he thought—what on earth made him think this outfit was impressive? His tailor had to have been a drunk, and his wife perhaps had grown tired enough of him that she was encouraging him towards self-destruction.

Which was perfect.

What does Cody think about the abandoned swimming pool?

In the choked garbage at the bottom of the pool, she saw something move. The moon warbled on the black surface of the water. There couldn’t be anything in there, she thought. What would live in that rank and rotting sludge? A toad? A snake? It couldn't be anything dangerous or evil. Nothing with an intention to slither out and grab her ankle. That was an irrational fear she had, created by the dark and the silence and the eerie sense of isolation.

Really, everything was fine. Completely fine.

For this one, you have to get inside your character almost like you're in first person point of view.

  1. Imagine your character in a situation.
  2. Start by describing a perception—what they see, hear, smell, taste.
  3. Then describe their internal reaction—what do they think or feel? (In third person, you do this by describing their thoughts almost as if they were talking to themselves.)
  4. Have them discuss at length their evaluation of the situation—what do they judge to be happening?
  5. Finally, wrap it up with a summative evaluation: overall, is this good or bad?
Write a snippet in which the narrator reports a character's thoughts and feelings while they evaluate a situation.

At this distance, the narrator describes the character's thoughts in much the same way and that the character might describe themselves.

What happens if the narrator takes a step back, and starts to describe the character in the narrator's words?