Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Inner Dialogue

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A few days ago I was in the kitchen preparing dinner and I caught myself saying to myself, "If I were you."

Then I thought, "Wait a minute, I am me."

That was one of the many silly moments in my life. Also, it's an example of inner dialogue. I don't have actual proof, but I suspect we all carry on conversations in our heads, sometimes about trivialities, other times to come to terms with or figure out serious matters.

When writing a novel, don't leave out inner dialogue. It's a great way to explain a character's actions or beliefs, also a way to heighten suspense. There are all sorts of reasons to include inner dialogue.

A reader might know what's in one character's mind, but the other character doesn't know. How and when will that knowledge be revealed?

Small bits of inner dialogue can be smattered in a novel like breadcrumbs for birds so the reader will follow the trail to the conclusion.

Or, maybe the reader doesn't know what's in the mind of a character who has a defining role in the novel. That makes it vital for the reader to read on to find out the answer.

Inner dialogue is an effective tool if used wisely, but be careful not to overdo it. Be sure to balance it with spoken dialogue, narrativ,e and action for a good mix.

You can get away with using more inner dialogue in a romance novel, but in many other genres you'd have to be a quite skillful writer to carry off such an overload.

How about you? Do you talk to yourself? What do you think of inner dialogue in novels?

Do you enjoy reading it or writing it?


Morgan Mandel

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  1. Inner dialog (often displayed in italics) can be a serious problem and a sign of weak writing if it's employed too often in a novel. The writer is using an easy way to provide information to the reader, rather than write crisp dialog and meaningful action that imparts the same information in a stronger way. Inner dialog can be used more than the dreaded exclamation point... or the ellipsis, but not much more!

    On Twitter @blogbooktours

  2. Everyone in my family talks to themselves out loud, me included. I use inner dialogue in my novels, but only for short thoughts that typically contradict what the character is saying out loud.

  3. I LOVE writing inner dialogue! I also enjoy reading it! ID does more to develop a character than most anything else--along with actions! Thanks for helping me thing about it more!

  4. This is such a timely topic for me because I just got my edited ms. back from my editor and there are several places where she's written "We need a good IC (internal comment) here so we know what the narrator is thinking." This is, by the way, one of the best things about having an editor read and edit a story. Sometimes, we don't know when less is meeded or more is needed.


    Karen H.

  5. And sometimes people read inner dialog as author/narrator intrusion. Go figure.

  6. Yes,it can be tempting to spill the beans early by using a lot of internal dialogue, but then how can the rest of the pages be filled up? Where't the suspense?

    Better to dribble out clues here and there about what the character is thinking and then expand bit by bit as you go along.
    Morgan Mandel

  7. I use inner dialogue very occasionally. Very often I don't want to tip the reader to what my villain or even my hero is thinking. On the other hand I have a few characters that demand a lot of inner dialogue and often it's humorous.

  8. Great post. Always good to be reminded about these basic rules to our writing.

  9. I had to stop by because of your oh-so interesting title!
    Inner dialogue. It's not something I've really put into my writing, but I definitely talk to myself. Nice post. :-)

  10. Excellent post. Inner dialogue can be very helpful when employed correctly.

    What I hate to see, and I have seen more than once, is a writer who provides inner dialogue in italics and then preceeds or follows it with "he thought".


  11. I'm glad people enjoyed my post. It really happened by accident. I actually did say to myself, "If I were you."

    It was such a stitch I couldn't help writing about it.

    Morgan Mandel

  12. Excellent post and comments on this topic. Very helpful. I agree that internal dialogue should be kept to a bare minimum. In my own writing I only use it as a strong internal reaction to something that happened and the character does not want to reveal that reaction to the others in the scene. Like when my central character in One Small Victory thinks the drug dealers are taking her off to kill her. She thinks.... I'm going to #^#%# die.

    And I so agree with Cheryl about not adding "she thought" after the internal dialogue. I see that so often, even from big name authors and I just want to scream.

  13. I know I use a smattering of inner dialogue throughout the book. There are probably instances that I'll need to edit some out--along with a huge chunk of editing and getting rid of the ellipsis I used WAY too often during NaNo.

    I also talk to myself. Often times out loud. :P Especially if I'm alone or in the car.

  14. Awesome post, Mary. Inner dialogue is a great way to get another character's POV and let the reader in on any conflict within that character.

    Great tip.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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