Justifying Character Decisions

EternalSunset0

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Here's a thing that I've been trying to learn, and maybe some can help me out. I think it happens a lot in my work and ends up inflating the word count, but how much "mental justification" is optimal for you for a decision made?

Say, a character makes a decision or does something. Afterwards, I often have same character walk/run alone and start monologuing to himself about why he did that, or have narration do the job (which can sound infodumpy), but I feel that those moments end up padding out the chapter. However, if I don't do that, I don't think I can convey the emotions or mindset of a character properly or at least "defend" his actions from his perspective. So readers would think "what an asshole" or "damn, but it kinda makes sense" instead of "wait, he wasn't supposed to act that way" because they felt he's OOC.

This is especially common when someone does something stupid or hypocritical, and I'd always have a mental or narrative explanation of why that happened a couple of paragraphs later, when I shift to said character's perspective.

I'd like to know how you guys go about this dilemma or what I can do, so I can take note of those for my future volumes and a possible polishing run on the series as a whole.
 

AnnonBee

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Here's a thing that I've been trying to learn, and maybe some can help me out. I think it happens a lot in my work and ends up inflating the word count, but how much "mental justification" is optimal for you for a decision made?

Say, a character makes a decision or does something. Afterwards, I often have same character walk/run alone and start monologuing to himself about why he did that, or have narration do the job (which can sound infodumpy), but I feel that those moments end up padding out the chapter. However, if I don't do that, I don't think I can convey the emotions or mindset of a character properly or at least "defend" his actions from his perspective. So readers would think "what an asshole" or "damn, but it kinda makes sense" instead of "wait, he wasn't supposed to act that way" because they felt he's OOC.

This is especially common when someone does something stupid or hypocritical, and I'd always have a mental or narrative explanation of why that happened a couple of paragraphs later, when I shift to said character's perspective.

I'd like to know how you guys go about this dilemma or what I can do, so I can take note of those for my future volumes and a possible polishing run on the series as a whole.
Do you know about the five-person trope? in those things, an argument with the lancer (a character who is the rival of the hero, like Vegeta) is a very good way to explain the situation without making a boring. It also shows the difference in their character. It can be done with the partner of the MC, or a survivor whom MC rescued from the situation, even a talk with a strong character (Like MC's teacher or a trade partner). Having a dialogue is better than monologue or narration.

There is another complex but most effective way of doing it. Let's say mc is going to a bandit village and going to slaughter everyone in the village. All you need to do is show that bandit is bad. It couldn't be done with dialogue, it should be shown with gore and rape and killing innocent. So the reader would want mc to kill them and you won't need to justify MC's action. Things are similar to face slapping. However, it might not be easy to do in every situation. Make readers hate those who are against the MC.

But the simplest way is to make an anti-hero MC. Or an MC with a dual personality. In that case, you won't be needing to explain anything.

One piece of advice, whatever you do, It's better to explain the motive before the shit happens. Because the readers are impatient. Even if you say that they need to wait for the next chapter, some will still drop some shit comment and rating. So explain first do later, unless you are doing a plot twist.
 

K5Rakitan

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I just write in third person omniscient and call it a day.
 

Temple

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Whatever way you do it, my advice is to make it like you're not explaining it to a reader. It's one thing for the character to introspect about his plan, but there's a tendency that it will read like the author is justifying it to the reader - this is the mistake I oftentimes commit when dealing with this thing and the best advice I've gotten in connection to it so I pass it to you.
 

tridetect

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Hypocritical actions should never be explicitly told. Don't assume the reader cannot figure things out himself. If your character does something that they know is completely out of character for them, for instance, a tsundere doing something kind for the protagonist, then you can have them monologue to themselves about why they did that since it's completely in their personality to do so. If you want to info dump a motivation (for one please for the love of god don't make it a cafe talk scene.) have said character explaining it to someone who doesn't know or understand and wants to know.
 
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Here's a thing that I've been trying to learn, and maybe some can help me out. I think it happens a lot in my work and ends up inflating the word count, but how much "mental justification" is optimal for you for a decision made?

Say, a character makes a decision or does something. Afterwards, I often have same character walk/run alone and start monologuing to himself about why he did that, or have narration do the job (which can sound infodumpy), but I feel that those moments end up padding out the chapter. However, if I don't do that, I don't think I can convey the emotions or mindset of a character properly or at least "defend" his actions from his perspective. So readers would think "what an asshole" or "damn, but it kinda makes sense" instead of "wait, he wasn't supposed to act that way" because they felt he's OOC.

This is especially common when someone does something stupid or hypocritical, and I'd always have a mental or narrative explanation of why that happened a couple of paragraphs later, when I shift to said character's perspective.

I'd like to know how you guys go about this dilemma or what I can do, so I can take note of those for my future volumes and a possible polishing run on the series as a whole.
You should never explicitly explain a character's actions. It takes every bit of fun out of reading. Readers enjoy solving the puzzle. A character doing something out of their established habits is normal; that's what humans do. The why should always come through dialogue/actions. It would be best if you could provide an example as this is very broad and there are more than 1 way of solving it.
 

LostLibrarian

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It's a fine line. For "traditional novels" it's mostly frowned upon because as said above it takes away from the experience. It's a common problem for many new writers (myself included) where you show something, only to tell the same thing again.

"Drops ran down the window, the street was wet, grey clouds obscured the sun. [...] It was raining."
You say the same things twice when one is enough. To explain character actions, use earlier or later character actions and decisions. As said above, unclear decisions can also be a great "new conflict" through a quarrel between characters. Such things.


That said, webnovels often need a bit more direct telling because a lot of readers have giant backlogs and skim through chapters. For those, reasons or motivations should be reintroduced/reinforced when "decision" and "fallout" are multiple chapters apart. So sometimes an additional "XY was Z" can actually help.

That said, long monologues about decisions are rather tedious. Especially if they don't introduce new information about the world or characters. Therefore I try to mix those two with some action. Use an action to explain the world, and afterward the MC can have 2,3 lines of monologue "Now that X work, I can try Y." or something like that. With that, you already have the justification for later...
 

EternalSunset0

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You should never explicitly explain a character's actions. It takes every bit of fun out of reading. Readers enjoy solving the puzzle. A character doing something out of their established habits is normal; that's what humans do. The why should always come through dialogue/actions. It would be best if you could provide an example as this is very broad and there are more than 1 way of solving it.
I'll try to find a more concrete example later, but it's probably more of what @LostLibrarian said that I already showed something, but I always feel that I need to then tell it so the readers visualize or interpret it the way I do.

Thinking of something new off the top though, it's often something like:
"Really? He's offering how much?!" shouted Sunset.

He scratched his head at the price that the spectacled man dangled in front of him. He had never heard of anything like that before, and one successful rescue could solve his financial woes for life.

The man solemnly nodded.

"Well you better count me in."

Part of him felt like this was a trap, a way to lure suckers into going on a dangerous expedition into Hell. But the money's too good to pass up.

He also felt bad jumping into the deal after telling his partner not to fall for obvious scams. Still, he just had to do it. How hard can going into a dungeon and rescuing a princess get anyway? Especially at his level.

There. I felt that there are at least one or two lines of "unnecessary" telling or narrating there, but I can't get myself to remove any of them because they all show who the character is or how he felt. Candidates for removal would probably be the last two primarly, but it shows the guy's haughty and arrogant attitude, which I think is important.

But the result is that in just a two-line sequence of dialogue/events, I already had at least 6 paragraphs while freezing the action.
 
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He also felt bad jumping into the deal after telling his partner not to fall for obvious scams. Still, he just had to do it. How hard can going into a dungeon and rescuing a princess get anyway? Especially at his level.
This felt a bit extra, but otherwise everything else seems fine to me. And he didn't seem arrogant to me, maybe a bit too confident.

"Really? He's offering how much?!" shouted Sunset.

He scratched his head at the price that the spectacled man dangled in front of him. He had never heard of anything like that before, and one successful rescue could solve his financial woes for life.

The man solemnly nodded. "Well you better count me in."

Part of him felt like this was a trap, a way to lure suckers into going on a dangerous expedition into Hell. But the money's too good to pass up. How hard can going into a dungeon and rescuing a princess get anyway? Especially at his level.
That's about it I think. Slight rearrangement and removing the bit about his partner. Does this seem excessive still? It would be better if you provide a more fleshed out example.
 

EternalSunset0

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That's about it I think. Slight rearrangement and removing the bit about his partner. Does this seem excessive still? It would be better if you provide a more fleshed out example.
Oh, so it's more or less fine for you? That's good then. I'll take note of that, then.

It's just that I'm trying to copy the light novel style even more (4 volumes in, I know lol) with the faster moving sequences, easily digestible writing, etc. and I find myself having bloated chapters due to stuff like the one I used as an example. I often find the need to do it right after dialogues and such, which makes the chapters denser, but I can't get myself to drop them because they explain or build personality/rationale/worldviews, and such for the character in question.
 

Kilolo

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"Really? He's offering how much?!" shouted Sunset.

He scratched his head at the price that the spectacled man dangled in front of him. He had never heard of anything like that before, and one successful rescue could solve his financial woes for life.

The man solemnly nodded.

"Well you better count me in."

Part of him felt like this was a trap, a way to lure suckers into going on a dangerous expedition into Hell. But the money's too good to pass up.

He also felt bad jumping into the deal after telling his partner not to fall for obvious scams. Still, he just had to do it. How hard can going into a dungeon and rescuing a princess get anyway? Especially at his level.

But the result is that in just a two-line sequence of dialogue/events, I already had at least 6 paragraphs while freezing the action.
i think this is good enough tho? i am a lazy reader and oftenly skim a paragraph if they just repeating the same thing with same subtext.
2 paragraph or more would be indeed overbearing, but 2 lines like this should be fine. at least for me.
 
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Oh, so it's more or less fine for you? That's good then. I'll take note of that, then.

It's just that I'm trying to copy the light novel style even more (4 volumes in, I know lol) with the faster moving sequences, easily digestible writing, etc. and I find myself having bloated chapters due to stuff like the one I used as an example. I often find the need to do it right after dialogues and such, which makes the chapters denser, but I can't get myself to drop them because they explain or build personality/rationale/worldviews, and such for the character in question.

Are you looking for something like this?
"Really? He's offering how much?!" shouted Sunset. The payout was enough to solve his financial woes for life. Part of him felt like this was a trap, but the money's too good to pass up.

He smirked. "Well you better count me in."

How hard can going into a dungeon and rescuing a princess get anyway? Especially at his level.

Edit: It also helps if you have a complete scene. This paragraph is good on its own, but it might redundant if the information was mentioned before.
 

LostLibrarian

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It's just that I'm trying to copy the light novel style even more (4 volumes in, I know lol) with the faster moving sequences, easily digestible writing, etc. and I find myself having bloated chapters due to stuff like the one I used as an example.
The "generic light novel style" moves so fast, because everything besides the girls gets only a handful of lines of description. You have action, action, dialogue, action. But rarely any deeper worlbuilding or descriptions. Furthermore, most light novels follow the formula which means "girl a" will do what every other "girl a" does.

You have the usual "hair color" = "girl type", e.g. the blue haired kuudere. So if you have a blue haired girl, you can just let her talk a sentence every few pages and that's it. Readers will know through such things that she is a kuudere and fill in the blanks. You also have a lot more obvious "set up"-"pay off" (looks at death flags). So you don't have to explain every character action because the reader already knows what will happen. The character takes the action not because of his past or whatever but because scene 17 needs to happen.

Generic light novels also use dialogue a lot more "by the number". Rarely any action between sentences, tags are often not needed thanks to different speech-styles (which is really hard to emulate in English), and emotion are mostly told instead of shown.

So it's mostly a mix of a rather simple story and also really simple writing that cuts everything that isn't needed away.
It's not really bad writing but it can be really hard to get both the pacing of light novels and more description/show...
Though the interesting thing is that - thanks to more western influences - we also get a lot more light novels who slow their pacing down for description and worlbuilding. Though that's a rarity for the "generic harem mc light novel" you probably want to emulate...
 

EternalSunset0

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Are you looking for something like this?
Yeah that's more like it. It feels a lot livelier.

But it's missing information like the other guy reacting... so I guess it's just my mindset when writing scenes and setting things up.
 

LostLibrarian

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But it's missing information like the other guy reacting...
Which is the reason it is so fast. It's either... or...
It's exactly this additional information that will slow your pacing down.

Speaking more broadly... it's a trade-off between "western information density" and "eastern fast pacing".
 
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But it's missing information like the other guy reacting
Which is the reason it is so fast. It's either... or...
It's exactly this additional information that will slow your pacing down.

Oh that's my bad. I uhh... thought he was the one nodding. But you could add the other guy, and it wouldn't make much of a difference.

Like this:

"Really? He's offering how much?!" shouted Sunset. The payout was enough to solve his financial woes for life. Part of him felt like this was a trap, but the money's too good to pass up.

The man solemnly nodded. "Yes, I couldn't believe it either."

Eyes gleaming, Sunset smirked. "Well you better count me in." It was just one job - head into a dungeon and rescue a princess. How hard could it get? Especially at his level.
I guess you're looking for a minimalistic approach? The least amount of words to describe something. There's probably some formula to do it, but I haven't read that much light novels to figure it out completely. I think the first one was fine . It has more potential, but I can see the appeal of this one. You're sacrificing details for faster flow.

Edit: added dialouge for the second guy.
 

joeblow12

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"Really? He's offering how much?!" shouted Sunset.

He scratched his head at the price that the spectacled man dangled in front of him. He had never heard of anything like that before, and one successful rescue could solve his financial woes for life.

The man solemnly nodded.

"Well you better count me in."

Part of him felt like this was a trap, a way to lure suckers into going on a dangerous expedition into Hell. But the money's too good to pass up.

He also felt bad jumping into the deal after telling his partner not to fall for obvious scams. Still, he just had to do it. How hard can going into a dungeon and rescuing a princess get anyway? Especially at his level.
Well if you want to shorten it than you might try, "Really? He's offering that much?!" shouted Sunset.
Now skip the thoughts, Then if it's actually a trap have him say something like " I knew this was too good to be true", during the battle. You can also have his partner berate him, for being a hypocrite.
 
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Monologuing gets very boring very fast. I have dropped many a novel (web and print) because the author insisted on sharing a character's monologue, and I didn't give a crap. Do not write monologues. If you really, must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, feel the need to justify a characters actions, use dialogue. Otherwise, you end up with boring shit like "Crime and Punishment" or "Wheel of Time."
 

SakeVision

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Monologuing gets very boring very fast. I have dropped many a novel (web and print) because the author insisted on sharing a character's monologue, and I didn't give a crap. Do not write monologues. If you really, must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, feel the need to justify a characters actions, use dialogue. Otherwise, you end up with boring shit like "Crime and Punishment" or "Wheel of Time."

Yet this boring shit is insanely popular.
Now with crime and punishment, you can argue it's because it's a so-called classic. But Wheel of Time is fairly recent, and still, many people read it for the first time out of their own will(and not because teacher told them), and like it.
 
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Yet this boring shit is insanely popular.
Now with crime and punishment, you can argue it's because it's a so-called classic. But Wheel of Time is fairly recent, and still, many people read it for the first time out of their own will(and not because teacher told them), and like it.
I know. But I couldn't take any more of the mc fainting when he sees a cop, then waking up back in his flat and having a cup of tea. And I dropped WoT at Winter's Heart because I just didn't give a damn any more about Egwene's headache.
 
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