Capturing Interior Lives

by Sarah Creech

One of the most difficult filmmaking techniques to execute well, beyond a good sex scene, is the voiceover. I was a teenager when American Beauty was released in theaters. Critics praised the use of voiceover as innovative and powerful. It was as if no filmmakers had ever attempted the technique before. Of course, they had, but I was young and remember feeling like critics wanted to convince me that this use of voiceover was new and bold and poetic.

And yet, to me, it was awkward. And I remember feeling like the novels I loved so much handled access to the interior lives of characters with far more nuance and elegance. As fiction and narrative nonfiction writers, we owe a debt to playwrights and their use of interior monologue and soliloquy. Interiority in the development of the novel and later in nonfiction was first inspired by the dramatic arts, and it continues to develop in contemporary storytelling, film included.

Filmmakers are finding better ways to use narrators and voiceover to capture the interior lives of characters. I love the creative and truly innovative use of these techniques in Mindy Kaling’s hit Netflix show Never Have I Ever, where celebrities like tennis legend John McEnroe and model Gigi Hadid narrate the interior lives of a diverse set of angsty teenage characters.

Still, despite television being in its golden age of innovative storytelling, access to the interior keeps me returning to the page and remains a power that fiction and narrative nonfiction have in book form that visual storytelling lacks.

But how do we access the interior lives of our characters? And when? And how much is too much or too little? These questions confront writers in every draft at every stage of their journey. We care about connection and relatability between characters and readers. Interiority as a craft technique makes that connection possible.

Learn More about Interiority with Sarah

THREE TUESDAYS, MARCH 12, 19 & 26: “Interiority,” 6:00-8:00 p.m., Charlotte Lit, 933 Louise Avenue (@hygge Belmont). Info and registration

This three-part class explores the inner world of characters. We will review the essentials of character interiority and explore techniques to reveal your characters’ perspectives and motivations. We’ll investigate elements of interiority such as thoughts and emotions, worldview, backstory, and desires. Through guided study and writing exercises, you will develop a strong understanding of how interiority supports the integrity of a compelling story. The series concludes with one-on-one feedback conferences between writer and instructor.

About Sarah

Sarah Creech is the author of two novels, Season of the Dragonflies and The Whole Way Home. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in various publications, including The Cortland Review,, Story South, and Literary Mama. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and children and teaches at Queens University of Charlotte.