Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 7, Interior Monologue by B.Y. Rogers

One of the greatest gifts of literature is that it allows for the expression of unexpressed thoughts: interior monologue…allowing your readers to see what your character is thinking is a powerful, intimate way to establish that character’s personality.

Constant interruptions are just as annoying on the page as they are in life, and this writer (from an example in the book, which you need to purchase anyway) has interrupted her dialogue with interior monologue over and over again.

So how do you know you’ve gone too far with interior monologue? (See answer on page 118)

It is also possible to have too little interior monologue.

(A one page example of dialogue, between a husband and wife, without any interior dialogue, then:) But her (the character in the example) exhaustion and intimidation need to be present in the scene as well as in the context. She doesn’t stop feeling these things while she is on the phone with him. Because she’s too intimidated to confront him, the writer can’t show her feelings in dialogue. It would be difficult to work Nia’s specific feelings into emotionally weighted descriptions without breaking up the rhythm of the dialogue.

So what’s the right amount of interior monologue? (See answer on page 122)

(Throughout the book, there are several cartoons to emphasis a point. In this chapter, there is one that I found especially humorous. In the single panel, we see two women, sitting at a table, in a very sparse room. The caption reads exactly as follows: “So far all her dreams have not come true but she wants high romance and a baby while her husband want to be, and is, a very successful broker, who takes graduate courses at night and wants no baby and at the same time she has more or less recovered from being in love with the well-digger who dug her well, which is good since he is married with three children and is a drug addict and an alcoholic and he claims he’s dying, although there are no signs of this and she says once she finds an outlet for her unrequited love she will lose eighty-five pounds. I enjoyed that sentence.” (Get it?)

(Oh, here is a great one:) It’s rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath.

How to handle your interior monologue depends almost entirely on your narrative distance. (I am still trying to wrap my mind around ‘narrative distance’. I will work on it more the second time I go through this book.)

Thinker attributions. Whenever you’re writing from a single point of view-as you will be ninety percent of the time-you can simply jettison thinker attributions.

Another technique for setting off interior monologue sharply is to write in the first person (often with italics) when you narrative is in third…Effective as this technique can be in letting readers into your character’s head, be careful not to use it too often=

Interior dialogue can easily become a gimmick, and if overused it can make your characters seem as if they have multiple-personality disorder.

Generations of hacks have used italics to punch up otherwise weak dialogue…frequent italics have come to signal weak writing. (In other words, don’t use italics.)

How do you set off your interior dialogue when you’re writing with narrative intimacy? (See answer on page 128)

(I failed to mention that this book is the 2nd Edition. I needed to clarify this so you understand the final paragraph.)

We have noticed since the first edition of this book came out that a lot of writers have taken our advice about showing and telling too much to heart. The result has sometimes been sterile writing, consisting mostly of bare-bones descriptions and skeletal dialogue. Yet fiction allow for marvelous richness and depth, and nowhere more so than through interior monologue. You have to be careful not to go overboard, but interior monologue gives you opportunity to invite your readers into your characters minds, sometimes with stunning effect.

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