The Hero’s Debate

One of the great distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, and the one that often gives a novel its most profound resonance, is (or is supposed to be) what I call the “Hero’s Debate,” the musings, questions and answers inside the narrator’s head.  It is hidden from the other characters and revealed to the reader.  If the book is told from a single point of view, only that character can carry on the debate–if the POV’s are multiple, each one is allowed to share his or her thoughts with the reader.

Lucifer’s Promise is a week or two away from going to the publisher.  I’ve stopped looking at the dialogue and pure exposition closely, but every two or three days I examine the debates in the hero’s–Harry Monmouth’s–head.  I did it again this morning and, as usual, found one or two “little” things I wanted to change.

For example, during a critical scene near the end of the book, Harry begins an interior dialogue with “A great weight lifted from my shoulders.”  As it happens, this sentiment–which was included in the manuscript early on–was a placeholder, something I always intended to replace when I came up with a better way to express it.  It’s a blaring cliche, which are to be avoided always unless included in the dialogue of a character prone to cliches. [An aside:   Elmore Leonard says that “all hell broke loose” is an unpardonable abuse (he says the same thing of “suddenly”), but the truth is many real people use it to describe circumstances they encounter.]  For some reason, I couldn’t come up with the right words until I finally realized I didn’t need it at all.  Assuming I had laid the groundwork properly, which I believe I had, the reader would know how relieved Harry was.  It’s another exercise in “showing” and not “telling.”

Which leads to another reason for my close and continual examination of the hero’s thoughts.  I have a legal tic that almost forces me to state a conclusion, followed by the evidence that supports it.  Most people don’t think that way.  Lawyers–intent on convincing judges and juries–do.  It’s a constant battle to eliminate it.  It’s true that Harry’s a lawyer, too, but Lucifer’s Promise is intended for an audience larger than the bar association.

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