Unexpected Mindreading in Literature.

The previous blog post ties directly into this one.

I belong to an online writing group (Critique Circle) where amateur and pro writers alike come together and share critique strategy, their work, and whatever they want to talk about.

When I post my writing there, I’m constantly being told that my characters aren’t mind readers, and I should stop letting them know what the other characters are thinking. An example would be something like this: “David saw that Victor didn’t want him running down the stairs.”

In fact, besides passive verb use (I’m terrible at this), I get this every time I post. I’m a fan of flow, and I’m a fan of forward movement in a story, and instead of spending twice as many words writing “David saw the slow frown on Victor’s face when he pointed toward the stairs, and the half-shake of his head as he sullenly closed his eyes,” I opt for the shorter story. In short, David saw Victor’s reaction as negative.

We’re social people, all of us. Maybe it’s the amateurs telling me something false (which is possible), but maybe I’m a freak accident that gets nonverbal communication on a level that most writers don’t. I didn’t write, “David saw Victor remembering when Victor’s father fell down the stairs, breaking his leg: Victor never told anyone about it…” Because, well, that’s mindreading. Giving a motive behind an observed action as fact is mindreading, but observing an action isn’t.

Until I’m published twice (I’m not even published once), I’m an amateur, so I have no place to pass judgment on others’ critiques. It’s why I’m there. But I can’t help but scratch my head over this. I see it all the time in books. In fact, it’s something I use less often than the long, drawn-out version of my POV character observing facial movements. Why? I like people, and I find interactions complex.

Yet, and I’ve had over thirty unique people–writers–telling me this, my characters read minds because they observe the nonverbal. Clearly someone isn’t doing right. Is it me? Time will tell.

~x

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2 thoughts on “Unexpected Mindreading in Literature.

  1. Regardless of my ongoing education (it will never end) regarding characters, plots, general concepts that are ever changing in the literary world I do not find in myself the spirit to critique you. I’ve been writing for over 15 years and regardless of publishing I have still been convicted of this problem. Like you I have also seen it in other authors.

    After reading your blog and reading your comments to mine on occasion I feel it is a safe assumption without furthering education you have a high intellect. The only reason I mention this, is because you see past the mundane parts and cut to the quick of the thought process. (An observation not a critique) Not everyone does this, wants to do this or can do this.

    I’m confident you will find a happy medium in there that will satisfy editors and make publisher’s happy.

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