QUESTION: What is your take on internal monologue? How frequently should it be used and how should it be formatted? Contrast its usage as opposed to indirect thought exposure where summaries of what goes through a characters head are exposed but not the exact wording.
Donald James Parker
Angels of Interstate 29
ANSWER: Internal monologues -- sometimes thought of as stream of consciousness or internal dialogue -- is different for different types of novels. A literary novel may have pages and pages of stream of consciousness. James Joyce, anyone? But it takes a deft hand to pull that off and not lose the reader in a jumbled mass of disconnected thoughts.
In most contemporary commercial fiction – which encompasses a wide variety of genres – internal monologues should be used sparingly. Readers come to mysteries and romances and westerns and science fiction more for the stories and the actions, not so much for the kind of character development that calls for a lot of internal dialogue.
One thing to keep in mind is whether a particular character would be prone to talking to himself or herself. Don’t just do it because it appeals to you as the author. And does everyone in the story do it, or just the central character?
Also keep in mind that internal dialogue is not the same as having a character think something, although sometimes the lines between the two have been blurred.
This is really creepy, she thought, stumbling in the darkness through the brambles. There was an old barn here somewhere. She’d be okay if she could just find it. Suddenly the barn doors burst open and a tractor bore down on her. Oh, my God, I’m going to die.
The first part of that example contains her thoughts. She’s not really talking to herself until, Oh my God, I’m going to die. Current formatting guidelines from most publishers say put internal dialogue in italics and in first person, present tense.
When writing a character’s thoughts, I have not been able to find a hard and fast rule on whether a writer should include “she thought”, but I personally don’t like using it, so I would prefer the example to start: This is really creepy. Sarah stumbled in the darkness through the brambles….etc. It’s still clear that the thought belongs to her, and the reader gets it, I’m sure.
Whatever you decide on your usage of internal monologues, remember that less can be better than more. Internal dialogue often reflects what a character is unable to say aloud, and sometimes will even contradict what he or she just said. If that technique is over-used it loses effectiveness.
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.