Creative Showing in Graceling

Kristin Cashore does a great job of narrating the main character Katsa's thoughts in Graceling.   For lack of a better term, I'm going to call it indirect internal observation.  You could also think of it as creative showing -- conveying the character's state of mind without simply stating it, but also without going to the physical descriptions we often fall back on when we're trying to "show, not tell."

Here's the first example.  Katsa just met Po, a prince who is graced, like her, with combat skills.  They have a fight that ends amiably but leaves them both pretty bruised.  Later, they run into Giddon, a friend of Katsa's, who is furious to see that Po scratched Katsa's face in the fight.  Giddon reaches for his sword and accuses Po of disrespect.

"Lord Giddon."  Po had risen to his feet...."If I've insulted your lady," he said, "you must forgive me. . ."
Giddon didn't take his hand from his sword, but his grimace lessened.
"I'm sorry to have insulted you, as well," Po said.  "I see now I should've taken greater care of her face.  Forgive me.  It was unpardonable."  He reached his hand across the table.
Giddon's angry eyes grew warm again.  He reached out and shook Po's hand.  "You understand my concern." Giddon said.
"Of course."
Katsa looked from one of them to the other, the two of them shaking hands, understanding each other's concern.  She didn't see where Giddon came off feeling insulted.  She didn't see how Giddon had any place in it at all.  Who were they, to take her fight away from her and turn it into some sort of understanding between themselves?  He should've taken more care of her face?  She would knock his nose from his face.  She would thump them both, and she did would apologize to neither.
Po caught her eyes then, and she did nothing to soften the silent fury she sent across the table to him.  "Shall we sit?" someone said.  Po held her eyes as they sat. . . he mouthed two words.  It was as clear as if he'd said them aloud.  "Forgive me."
Giddon was still a horse's ass.

That last line cracks me up every time.  I love how Katsa's personality comes through here, and I love the indirectness of the last line, like she's arguing with herself about whether to be angry or not. The thought that's conveyed is "Well, perhaps Po wasn't all that bad," but it's so much more colorful to say "Well, Giddon was still a horse's ass."

Here's another example from later in the book, when Katsa spends time with an attractive man who has the grace of mind reading.  To save herself from embarrassment, she has to keep herself from thinking about his good looks in his presence.

She glanced up at him, and in that moment he pulled his wet shirt over his head.  She forced her mind blank.  Blank as a new sheet of paper, blank as a starless sky.  He came to the fire and crouched before it.  He rubbed the water from his bare arms and flicked it in the flames.  She stared at the goose and sliced his drumstick carefully and thought of the blankest expression on the blankest face she could possibly imagine.  It was a chilly evening;  she thought about that.  The goose would be delicious, they must eat as much of it as possible, they must not waste it; she thought about that.

It never once explicitly says "Katsa did her best not to be distracted by his rippling muscles," but we get the idea.

What's your favorite non physical description way of showing a character's thoughts?

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  1. Great examples - it's kind of cinematic, isn't it?

    I'm wondering, though, about this section:

    She didn't see where Giddon came off feeling insulted. She didn't see how Giddon had any place in it at all. Who were they, to take her fight away from her and turn it into some sort of understanding between themselves?

    The rest of the text is so tight that adding "she didn't see" is distracting. Katsa doesn't need to explain that she doesn't see something because we're in her head. She doesn't need to frame her thoughts as if they were dialogue, either.

    Cashore is a strong writer; if I had to guess, I'd say she left the phrase in for two reasons:

    1. Cadence - spoken aloud, the lines sound better, and give the text a more aural feel.

    2. Atmosphere/tension - the repetition builds tension, leading into Katsa' frustration with Giddon. It's almost like a refrain.

    Favorite non-physical description - that's hard. I like physical descriptions - tapping fingers, scuffing feet, tearing up paper. Using another character's perceived thoughts works well for me, though.

    And you?

  2. I think you're right about the repetition. It gives a good emphasis. The second repetition is more intense than the first one.

    Favorite non-physical description -- hehe, I have no idea! It's hard, isn't it, to move away from the physical? I like it when the character thinks something, but you know that she's lying to herself or in denial. But I can't think of a good example.

  3. I can give you an example of denial right now!

    I don't want the chocolate. I don't need the chocolate.

    If only I weren't trapped under a snoozy baby...

  4. Ooh, great examples, good lady. We can show, and still maintain our chosen voice. Well. There you go then.

  5. Hello! I've popped over from Edittorent. This is a great post. Now I'm going to buy Graceling! LOL!

  6. Oh its so easy to read great examples, and SOOOO hard to write them! Great post though. Maybe if I soak up enough wisdom, it will spill out onto my page...