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  • Leah E. Welker

My Favorite Things, Part 4: Introspection


A man sitting on the ground in front of a majestic mountainscape. Photo credit: Anthony Tori on Unsplash.

I can't think of much to write about my fondness for introspection. It seems self-explanatory to me. So this will actually be a shorter post for once. (Oh, the irony.)


Personal introspection

I am a highly introspective person. This blog is a prime example, since it's been almost nothing but introspection so far, but it's only one example of a single facet of my life: reading/writing. Yet I'm always thinking, processing, analyzing my inner world and incorporating my insights into a broader schema of the outer world. I actually live in my inner world more than I do my outer one (one reason I suspect I have a terrible memory of life events and an equally bad sense of direction), and even when I'm experiencing "life," I'm always watching my habits and tweaking my life systems accordingly. I'm always reviewing my experiences and interactions to glean lessons, build my compassion and resilience, and resolve to be the kind of person I want to be.


Then it should come as no surprise when I say that I love reading (and writing) about characters who do the same.


Fictional introspection

"Navel-gazing," as this is sometimes called in fiction, isn't to everyone's taste. Not everyone has an appetite for it, and not every genre is geared toward it. Some people like nonstop action and carry little about inner worlds, thought processes, or even character development, and that's fine. For example, how much navel-gazing does James Bond do? How much does he change from one story to the next? Very little, and that's OK, because that's what's expected—of both him and the genre.


And tolerances vary even for people who have broad genre tastes. I remember listening to an Orson Scott Card book (can't remember which one) on a road trip with my family that had some navel-gazing, and when my dad complained about it, I thought, But this is the good stuff! I was eating it up.


To me, the inner world of a character is the meat, the entrée of the story, the plot is the side, the stakes are the cooking method, and the setting is the seasoning. All are important, all have to be done well for my full enjoyment, but a story without much inner thought, self-discovery, or character development will be as disappointing to me as a steak-and-potato dinner without the steak.


That's one of the biggest reasons I loved Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz series. They are hilarious, true, but the humor alone wouldn't have kept me through the whole series. That was the inner world, commentary, and development of the characters—which took up a surprisingly high ratio of the text, especially considering these are middle-grade books. In fact, you could summarize the plot of each book (the actual events that happened) in a few bullet points. I haven't done a text analysis, but I'd wager that the commentary + navel gazing had a 2-1 ratio with narration, and that was fine by me. The same kind of thing in Tress of the Emerald Sea—although, I'll admit, that ratio was pushing it for even me. (But that was more about the narrator's commentary, and in that case, the narrator wasn't the main character, which perhaps made the commentary feel more intrusive. And yet I have to admit that the excess of narrator commentary was very . . . in character for the narrator, and very much in line with one of Sanderson's purposes in writing the book in the first place.)


Again, Orson Scott Card is another author I've noticed who does inner worlds very well. I love following the thought processes of his characters, and his books always have a lot of psychological depth. So is Stephenie Meyer in her later works: The Host, The Chemist, and Midnight Sun. (Though I liked the Twilight series, one of my gripes about Bella as the narrator is that Bella is, by Meyer's own description, not an introspective character.) Perhaps with Hogwarts Legacy on the brain, J. K. Rowling comes to mind as well. Harry isn't as introspective as, say, Hermoine, but he's certainly better than Ron, and Harry's mentors and friends (Dumbledore, Hermione, Lupin, Sirius, Luna, etc.) provide plenty of insight, and Harry himself still has a lot of depth and complexity.


Introspection in my writing

All that being said, I find writing a POV character that isn't introspective to at least some degree . . . to be a challenge. Because writing is introspection for me. It's the most natural thing in the world, therefore, for a character to also be thinking about what's happening inside them. Because how else am I supposed to know what they're thinking until they tell me?


What, as the author/creator, I'm just supposed to know? Doesn't always work that way for me, sorry. I often need my characters to talk to me (even if, in Kor's case, they often just wink at me and lie).


So yeah . . . just a warning, in the off chance that you are reading this and haven't yet read any of my stuff: brace yourself for some navel-gazing. Because to me, that's not simply a byproduct of the writing process: it's the crème de la crème. *chef's kiss*

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