internal dialogue

Writing Internal Dialogue

Hey Lovelies!

Where the heck has the time gone! I would’ve sworn it was New Year’s Day yesterday. Is anyone else feeling this way?

Any who, welcome to this week’s post on internal dialogue. Now, this is an interesting post for me because I always feel very awkward writing the thoughts in someone else’s head. Fortunately, I’ve learned some tips while doing the research for this week’s blog. (Yay! All the learning!)

Let’s start off with our definition:

Internal Dialogue: is the inner voice of a character. The character will often speak to themselves and reveal their personalities.

There are also, unsurprisingly, different literary techniques that you can use to express a character’s inner dialogue:

Stream of Consciousness: a method of narration that describes happenings in the flow of thoughts in the minds of the characters.

Or in simpler terms: writing down every thought a character has at any given time. It’s a steady stream of thoughts. (Authors who use this form of writing: Virginia Woolfe and William Faulkner)

Internal Monologue: a character externalizes his thoughts, so that the audience can experience those thoughts. This technique is often found in plays, movies and novels.

Internal monologue can be broken further into two categories: direct and indirect.

Direct: an author does not show his presence and directly reveals his character.

Indirect: an author appears as a commentator, guide, presenter or selector.

Lost yet? If so, here’s my summary of the above in plain speak:

An internal dialogue is the inner voice of the character, which can be shown through two literary techniques: stream of consciousness and internal monologue. Stream of consciousness is basically writing what the characters are feeling and thinking as it happens to them (think long sentences that flow into each other).

Internal monologues happen when characters share their thoughts to world either directly or indirectly. If they’re directly revealing them, the writer will not be present in the character’s expression of their thoughts or feelings. For example, talking to yourself aloud when you’re alone.

If you’re indirectly revealing your characters thoughts, you will be present in the expression of their thoughts or feelings. For example: the movie trailer over voice in this scene. (you don’t have to watch after the voice ends. I just couldn’t find a shorter clip.) Cameron Diaz’s character thinks in movie trailers so her inner thoughts are “commented” upon by the movie trailer voice guy.

Now that we’ve that straightened out, let’s talk about why this is essential to your story.

Giving voice to your character’s thoughts and feelings fleshes your character out. It’s more profound than what your character says or does. This is the heart of their being, this is the true character. Now, I’ve gone on and on about creating life-like characters in your writing.

One of the best ways to make them human is to make them think and feel like we do. For example, many of us hide our true thoughts and feelings from others. We do this for many reasons, such as keeping ourselves safe, to not upset a co-worker or loved one when you don’t agree with them, among others.

Your character should be doing this as well and here’s why:

  • It establishes your characters and their unique voices.
  • The difference between the thought and the action/talk can fuel both tragedy and comedy and heighten the emotion in any given scene.

internal dialogue imessage

  • Trace a character’s growth and development or degeneration.
  • Develop and reveal character motivation and opinions.
  • Reveal things below the surface: pain, secrets, hopes, fears …
  • It allows your character to reflect on things in the story, which can help your pacing.

Internal can also help with other story elements as well:

  • It can help you develop your plot.
  • Create suspense. This is especially fun when the reader knows more than the character. (I love/hate it when writer’s do this.)
  • Help you describe your setting and other characters.
  • Adjust the pace of your story. Sometimes you need this pause in the narrative to absorb what happened. This has been successfully used in comic books after the deaths of certain heroes or villains or in romance novels – after a breakup for instance.

While all this is good, it isn’t going to help you write internal dialogue with any finesse. Here are some of the things that you should avoid:

  • There’s such a thing as too much sarcasm. (I know, I know! Unbelievable, right?) This should be used sparingly because it will start to piss off your reader or they’ll start to anticipate what you’re character is going to think.
  • Head hopping. (Now why is this familiar?)
  • “… I thought to myself.” Just please don’t do this.
  • Giving background story via thinking about or remembering it. This is telling not showing. It is boring when done like this. It’s more interesting if you talk about it with another character or if you have the character relive it.
  • No useless information. If it’s important that your protagonist dithers over whether to buy the store brand bleach, fine, but if it’s not relevant, just let him buy bleach and get on with it.
  • Don’t go overboard on the internal dialogue. If you’re stuck in your character’s head the entire story, it’s going to get a little boring and tedious for you and your readers. It’ll also slow the pace of your story down to a crawl. However, if done right, you can have interesting internal dialogue – more on this to come though!

internal dialogue facebook meme

I noticed in my research for today’s post that there’s a bunch of information out there on formatting internal dialogue. However, I’m not going to get into that today, but I will devote a post to it in the near future. In the meantime, if you’re keen to start looking into it on your own, The Editor’s Blog has an interesting article on it.

Now what we’ve all been waiting for: the things that you should do when writing internal dialogue:

  • Keep it consistent with your character’s voice. Look you’ve spent so much time making sure that your character is unique from everyone else in speech, colloquialisms, thoughts, you name it. Their internal dialogue should be no different.
  • Keep your tense consistent. If you’re talking in the first or third person throughout the rest of your story, then your character’s thoughts should also be in that tense.
  • Mix actions and thoughts. People think and do at the same time. Long passages of action feels detached and impersonal. Too much of one or the other doesn’t work well. Blend the two together. (Janice Hardy has a good article on blending these two things, click here to read the article.)
  • Have your character react to the things around them. I will notice if a taxi cab is barreling right at me when I cross the street, whether I’m lost in thought or not. You’re character is going to notice things around them as well.

If this is still not helping at all, then I don’t know what to say. I noticed that a common exercise that many blogs suggest is to just sit down and write your thoughts down as they come. This will help you practice writing internal dialogue. If anyone tries this, I’d love to hear if it was actually useful or not!

Any who, that is all from me for the week! Probably. We’ll see how ambitious I’m feeling tomorrow. You may get a couple more internal dialogue posts in the next couple days/weeks. Regardless, if this doesn’t happen, we’ll be talking about dialogue next! (It’s almost as if I have a theme going…)

Until next week!



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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