Every good story has a healthy balance of description, dialogue, and internal monologue. For the purpose of this article, we are going to be focusing on internal monologue. First, what is an internal monologue? According to the dictionary it’s: “the result of certain brain mechanisms that cause you to “hear” yourself talk in your head without actually speaking and forming sounds.” For the purposes of writing, these are the characters internal thoughts.
As an author we can always add a character’s thoughts, but the question is, should we? A good rule of thumb for internal monologue is “Does it help the flow of the story, or does it elaborate on an issue the character is facing?” Let’s break each rule down.
- Does it help the flow of the story?
Flow is a very important factor when writing a story. It is similar to pacing (how quickly or slowly the story proceeds), but it is more focused on the cadence of the writing; the timing and rhythm of the words in a story. Unless you’re writing a robot, you don’t want your writing to sound robotic, and even then, you want to give them a little bit of a human feel. For example, say you are writing a high-speed chase after a heist with the robber’s thoughts; what would the cadence be here?
They are trying to get me. They might get me. They are getting close.
- NO. NO. NO. It wasn’t supposed to go like this. In and out– Quick and easy– What went wrong? How did the alarms go off? Can I lose them in the side streets? Should I try to ditch the car and take off on foot? Damnit, what am I supposed to do?!
I’m sure you can feel the difference in the cadence and tones of the above examples. The first one, Option A, seems a bit lack luster. It does explain the characters’ worries and how close the cops are getting, but there’s no true emotion behind the thoughts. In Option B, you can feel how the thoughts are short and full of anxious energy. It draws the reader in and immerses them in the world. The sentences began lengthening as the thoughts became more complex to describe the situation. It also expands on what happened leading up to this point and what might happen next.
The easiest way to determine cadence or flow is to say it aloud. It may feel weird, but it doesn’t have to be in a boisterous stage voice. It just needs to be loud enough for you to hear yourself. Maybe act it out in front of a mirror or ask for a friend’s help. Eventually, cadence will become second nature, but even established authors trip up and need little exercises/tips like this to get back on track. On to my second rule.
- Does it elaborate on an issue the character is facing?
Most writers want to include every detail when writing; and while that’s good for an initial draft, it will need to be pared down in editing. Internal monologues are no exception and often die in editing. To avoid this fate, it’s important to make them relevant to the story and flesh out the situation. Let’s give two examples pertaining to an interrogation, the thoughts once again ‘voiced’ by the criminal.
I’ve gotta be careful what I say. Once wrong move and I’ll be in the slammer for a decade or two. Even if I avoid that fate, there’s no guarantee the crew won’t put me six feet under.
Good cop, bad cop? Which is which? Should I try to sweet talk them? I could start out asking about their likes and dislikes. Kinda like when me and Kyle were becoming friends. Man, I wonder if he remembers me? Does he still like the guitar?
Of these two options, both start out strong, however they start to differ the longer the thoughts go on. In Option A, it continues along the same train of thought; with everything revolving around the recent crime that landed them in this situation and what they think will happen if they talk.
In Option B, they try to make a plan of action, but quickly go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with the main event or possibly even the story. It’s a monologue that would get cut in a heartbeat, while the other one adds another layer of intrigue and would get to stay.
Now that we have given the baseline rules, it’s time to talk about style choices. When using internal monologue, it’s advised to have it different than the main body of text in some way. This helps the reader understand your intent as a writer. However, like all style choices you need to keep in mind how and to whom you will be submitting your work. Some publishers have strict guidelines, and some platforms have limitations when it comes to stylized writing. Due to this let’s start with the safest options; inferred thoughts and tag lines.
Shivering in the cold; I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want to play in white disaster. Snow? More like Jack Frosts Fangs with how harsh it nipped at my fingertips.
In the above example we can tell the character’s thoughts by word choice and cadence. It is inferred it is a thought and no other indicators are given. Many writers will do this, but it can lead to confusion if it’s not executed properly. You don’t want to blur the line too much between descriptions and thoughts.
It’s too cold to play outside today, Mary thought to herself as she sighed heavily.
“It’s so nice and warm inside. I love hot coco on days like these,” Brian thought with a grin as he watched the fireplace flicker light across the dark room.
In these examples we are actively telling the reader it is some form of internal monologue/thought with the character’s name and the word thought being tagged at the end of the sentence. The only difference between the two are the quotation marks. It depends on the writer’s/publisher’s preference which would be used in publishing. Let’s move on to the next versions of thoughts that aren’t as widely used; Font change, Symbols, and Italics/Bolding.
I wish henry would notice me…
I’ll find you. You can’t hide, jimmy boy.
While changing fonts can be visually appealing/stimulating, it can make the words difficult to read and cause issues when publishing due to the font size differences.
🎶Breaking my back, just to know your name. 🎶
Symbols can help when there is a change to how something is said/thought, but you risk the symbol being unknown to the program/browser and it will come up as an x box or not show at all.
I’ve never played an instrument in my life, and they just expect me to learn it in three weeks for a concert? Are they insane?
I’ll get him back for this. He’ll regret the day he messed with me.
Of the unusual thought methods these two are more likely to be compatible with programs/browsers. The trick is to stay consistent when using them and to try not to use them for other things. What I mean is if you use bold for thoughts use a font change or italics if someone is handwriting a note in the same story. Too much overlap could confuse the readers and your editor.
That’s all the advice I have for now. Hopefully, you’ve taken some mental notes and are ready to put this into practice. I look forward to seeing you grow as a fellow writer.
About the Author: Raven Diamond is the author of God of Gears and Full Moon King exclusively on Mythrill. She is also an award nominated Singer/Songwriter (NAMA 2019 Controlled) and has several comic series on top of published shorts, poems, and novels. She can write in almost any genre and loves redefining the lines of Good and Evil in her stories alongside showing the world from unique perspectives. She loves learning new skills and trying new things. When this jack of all trades isn’t tinkering on inventions or assisting her brother with their company, she likes reading, gaming, and spending time with her family. www.ravendiamond.com