Articles / On Writing

Do you have a gifted character that knows what everyone around her thinks or feels? Is she making the other characters in your book uncomfortable with her uncanny insights? If so, you just might have a mind reader on your hands, and I’m not talking about the sparkly vampire variety, either.

I mean, think about it… How creepy would it be to be around a mind reader? It’s an invasion of my privacy, really. It would be like inviting your friends to come into the bathroom while you… er… use the facilities. Personally, I’d probably avoid any mind reader at all costs. Either that or totally mess with them just for kicks. đŸ™‚

But I digress. We’re not here to talk about my insecurities or twisted amusements. We’re here to talk about characters who are mind readers.

mind readersMind reading characters can happen in any point of view one chooses to write in, but it’s most common when the perspective is limited to one character at a time and not omniscient. As an author it can be hard to separate yourself from your POV character. That’s because you know the inner workings of all your characters. Sometimes it’s easier to tell what’s happening by giving your POV character too much insight into everyone else. Unfortunately this results in several things.

What happens when your characters are mind readers.

  1. Mind reading
  2. Jumps in logic
  3. Mary Sue / Marty Stu characters
  4. Lots of tell and little showing

How to avoid characters that are mind readers.

  • Avoid the use of mind reading words: could tell, knew, seemed to, appeared to, etc.
  • Remember to show instead of tell every time you feel the itch to give insight that shouldn’t be there.
  • Ask yourself how your character came about that insight. If it can’t be explained logically, you just might be mind reading.
  • Avoid determining what someone is thinking and feeling because of the look on their face or other cues like body language and tone of voice.

The best course of action is to show what the other characters are doing or saying and not doing or saying from the POV characters perspective and leave it at that. Resist the urge to define it and allow your readers to come to their own conclusions.

Writing Exercise

Change things up a bit with a writing exercise to familiarize yourself with those triggers that cause your to lapse into mind reading when you write. Practice writing a character who “reads minds” without any supernatural abilities. This character always jumps to the wrong conclusions because they assume they know what everyone is thinking or feeling, when in fact that are merely projecting their own wishful thinking on everyone else. Use the mind reading as a character flaw and then show the awkward situations your character ends up in because they assumed they knew everything.

What tricks do you use to avoid mind readers in your stories? Have you ever purposefully written a “mind reader” who actually doesn’t read minds in a story? Share, please!

Now… go write something.


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