Recently an editor at a small publishing house wanted me to rewrite all internal dialogue in be first person, present tense. My novel is written in third person, past tense. She said first person is standard for internal dialogue, and she also urged me in several places to change the text to internal dialogue. I didn’t do it.
As a reader, if I’m reading a third-person, past-tense story and suddenly the author switches to first person, present for internal dialogue, I find it jarring.
So I don’t write internal thoughts that way. I try to keep the internal dialogue to a minimum, because the formatting requires italics, and so many readers hate italics. (“Distracting, annoying, and hard to read,” they say.) So my internal dialogue is often quite brief, a word or phrase. Even when it’s longer, it stays in third person.
Examples: The first example is how I wrote it. The second example is how the editor wanted to change it.
Conner hit the floor and did forty push-ups, muscles responding as they were trained to. The effort calmed him enough to sit down and continue his search of the paperwork. He willed himself to be cool and logical. First, find the address, then go get Bodehammer.
Conner hit the floor and did forty push-ups, muscles responding as they were trained to. The effort calmed him enough to sit down and continue his search of the paperwork. He willed himself to be cool and logical. First, I’ll find the address. Next I’ll go get Bodehammer.
The style and level of internal dialogue may vary between genres, but in the crime stories I read, I couldn’t find any examples of first person internal dialogue in third person narratives. In fact, there was hardly any internal dialogue or italics at all.
What do you think? Is there an industry standard? How do you write internal dialogue?
L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist, editor, novelist, and occasional standup comic based in Eugene, Oregon. She is the author of the highly praised mystery/suspense novel, The Sex Club, and has a second Detective Jackson story, Secrets to Die For, coming out in September. Her third Jackson story, Thrilled to Death, has just been completed, and she's writing a fourth. When not plotting murders, Sellers enjoys cycling, hanging out with her family, and editing fiction manuscripts. Contact her at: Write First, Clean Later.