Monday, April 18, 2011

Interior Monologue

The next chapter in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is Interior Monologue, which is a form of dialogue where your character is either thinking or talking to themselves without speaking out loud.

Movies and TV may be influencing writers to write more visually, but fiction can always accomplish something visual media will never be able to touch. You may be able SEE a character doing something on the big screen, but you don't know what he or she is thinking. One of the great gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts. We call this Interior Monologue.

It doesn't matter if you are writing in first or third person, you can show the thoughts of your characters. There are a couple different ways to show it - direct thought or indirect thought. It's a matter of preference of either the author or the editor. I typically choose indirect thoughts because I feel it's less jolting.

Here's an example from my manuscript on indirect thoughts. See if you can identify them:

Tzmet paced her balcony. Curses! Why did it always take so long for fairies to wilt? She strode to the wooden rack in the courtyard at the top of the castle tower. Two wingless, earth fairies hung upside down, barely moving in the bright sunlight, their life essence slowly draining away. One opened her eyes and peered up at the sky with a look that begged for mercy.

“Hah, beg. Yes, beg! It moves me not.” Tzmet threw her hands in the air and stalked off. She stopped to look at herself in the mirror and ran a hand over her bald head. Why did she torture herself by keeping a mirror in the tower?

One of the easiest ways to tell indirect thoughts is that we know what the character is thinking, but the sentences are not in italics.

You can guess that direct thoughts are typically in italics. Most of us are used to seeing it written that way, however, today most editors like to stay from as much italics as possible because it's hard to read. So, if you want to use direct thought, keep it to a miminum. Here's an example from another one of my manuscripts:

Garry never knew what to say to girls, but he had to say something now.

“Hey,” he said. Oh, that’s real snappy, Garry.

She looked startled and then relaxed when she saw him. “Oh, hey.”

“How ya doing?” Another bright one, you jerk.

See how I kept it simple but we still know what Garry is thinking and feeling?

That's interior monologue at it's most basic. How about you? What's your preference?


  1. THE POOR FAIRIES D: Tzmet has succeeded in making me quite upset =P

    Anyway, my characters seem to favor a sort of conversational interior monologue--more like Garry's monologue than Tzmet's...probably because that's the way I think :o) I also always write interior monologues in italics--also like Garry's.

  2. In most of my writing I've largely avoided "direct thoughts", but even where I do quote them they're an occasional supplement to "indirect thoughts." I too use italics for "direct thoughts"---but also for other mental as opposed to audible communication (as well as onomatopoeia, non-English phrases, and emphasis), a device I think I originally picked up from Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels but have since seen elsewhere. In each case where I use italics to delimit communication or thought instead of quotation marks, I try to always make what's going on clear: "This is crazy, she thought" rather than merely "This is crazy", and I generally follow the "she thought" with some third-person ("indirect-thought") explanation of why she thought so.

    If editors find italics hard to read, perhaps it's time to revive the convention from the era before PCs became common, that anything that would be italicized when printed was instead underlined in the manuscript. I follow a similar convention in my own files, since I write in plain text rather than a "rich" word-processor format that would support italics directly.

  3. I've just recently started using indirect thoughts with an occasional direct thought for emphasis. It's one of the things writing in 1st-person pov taught me--"hey, I can do indirect thoughts here--I bet I can use them in close 3rd-person too." But I still like 1st-person best.

  4. Jonathan has a good point about adding a dialog tag to the thought. That's another option. Again, it's personal preference.

    Like Jonathan, I use italics for foreign or made up words and dialog that is not spoken. One of my characters communicates telepathically when he is in animal form. I think the point of editors saying people find it hard to read italics is when we have whole paragraphs or several line of italics. I don't have a problem with italics, but it does bug me when a writer adds direct thoughts after most pieces of dialog.

    And something else; I don't usually mix how I do thoughts. I either use all direct thoughts or indirect thoughts throughout the whole story.

    If you're unsure, read your stuff out loud. That always shows you if your writing is smooth or awkward. Even though we don't tend to read novels out loud, if it's hard to read out loud, it will also be hard to read silently.

  5. I'm definitely all about indirect thoughts or maybe it's a mixture. I'm not sure. But I don't think I've ever used italics for thoughts...except maybe when they are reading from a book or letter. Excerpt from my book:
    The crooked trees were becoming monotonous. Emmanuel yawned. Surely it could not be much further to the caves. It had only been two nights journey but nights seemed to last weeks. Emmanuel could barely think of Emeth. He could only think of the stinking mud around him and all the dead things rotting in the woods.

    PS: I now use wordpress for my blog:

  6. I enjoy both. I like the narration to come from the character, but I also use italics when I need to show direct thought or mindspeak.