Friday, June 6, 2014

Interiority - Part 1

Interiority refers to a character's inner life: his thoughts, feelings, and view of the world.

In order to show interiority, you have to reveal to the reader your character's internal struggle and self-talk. What he says to himself affects what he does and says to others.

Does internal monologue constitute telling? It shouldn't. 

Sometimes action and dialogue are not enough. We want to see inside Jane's head.

Interiority gives us insight into the character's thought processes, decision-making, internal struggle to do the right (or wrong) thing, his moral compass, and value judgments. It reveals how he perceives other characters, the overall story problem, and his internal dilemma.

Interiority is related via interior or internal thoughts, aka interior or internal monologue, aka internal narration. If the character argues with himself or talks to himself, it is interior or internal dialogue.

Using interiority well is a skill worth mastering.

Characters don't normally think in full sentences, use big words, or use proper grammar.

They say, "Crap, that hurt!" instead of, "Oh dear, my shin bumping into that chair was truly painful." 

Thoughts dart and are incomplete. However, rules that apply to dialogue also apply to internal dialogue and narration. Cut out the boring parts, give it something to do, and make it readable. It is important to use this device for effect and not to take up space.

You can show a character struggling with what to do at a critical point. We don't need to read every single thought he has from minute to minute. He doesn’t have to express a thought after every word spoken or action taken.

Interior monologue, or narration, is related in first person or close third person, unless you are using omniscient point of view.

Dick would not think: Jane had only agreed to humor him. She had no intention of ever going through with it.

Dick would think: Jane is humoring me. She has no intention of going through with it.

Dick would not think of himself in third person: He couldn't go on. It was not possible.

Dick would think: I can't go on. It isn't possible.

A character thinks in present tense, not past tense.  

This is a rule that begs to be broken. It flows better if internal narration remains the tense in which you are writing, which is usually past tense. You are trolling along entire paragraphs in third person past tense. All of a sudden you throw in this wrench:

Present tense: Sally is lying. Dick senses it.

Past tense: Sally was lying. Dick sensed it.

Which flows better for you?

Next Friday we'll explore more tips on revising interiority. 

In the meantime, here are a few more articles on the topic:

Expressing Thought-Reactions in Fiction
Internal Dialogue: First Person or Not?
Ask the Editor: Internal Monologue

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. Oh, oh, Diana ... you open Pandora's box on the tense issue. I thinks this is a very scary subject.

    1. It is. One every writer struggles with I think. I'm open to dialogue. :)

  2. Excellent information, Diana. What fun this is! I’m looking forward to Part 2.

  3. Good post, Diana! Thoughts, and how to portray them, can be confusing to the beginning writer especially. When I first started writing, I was all over the place, using quotes, italics, present and past tense.


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