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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Self Editing for Fiction Writers, Chapter 3, Point of View by B.Y. Rogers

I called Dave King a ‘Bitch’ in an email this last week. I do hope he knows I was jesting. I had emailed him (as well as Renni Browne) that I was blogging on their book. I wanted to do so out of courtesy and both Dave and a Ross Browne were kind enough to thank me. I do believe in good manners. (Then why did I call Dave a ‘Bitch?” Because he knows what he is doing. I wish I did. Think of man talk in Gran Torino.)

Finished the second draft of “The Thrashing of Charley Little”, my next short story, last night. Todd got my cover to me this week as well. Again, I am very impressed with Todd’s graphic talent. Now it is time to put on the editing hat and give my story a life of its own. In a way, it already as its own life, as it is a back story to The Sin of Certainty.

In the meantime, here is the next chapter of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”. IF you haven’t by now (what is wrong with you?), and you are or want to be a writer, you really should get this book. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS!

Chapter 3  Point of View

The first person point of view has a number of advantages, the main one being that it gives your readers a great deal of intimacy with your viewpoint character.

What you gain in intimacy with the first person, you lose in perspective.

On the other end of the spectrum from the first person is the omniscient point of view. Instead of being written from inside the head of one of your characters, a scene in the omniscient point of view is not written from inside anyone’s head.

Note that with the omniscient voice what you gain in perspective you lose in intimacy.

If the first person invites intimacy and the omniscient narrator allows for perspective, the third person strikes balance between the two. (There is quite a bit of additional information on this topic in the book.)

Another factor that controls your narrative distance is how much you allow your viewpoint character’s emotion to color your description. (I am still trying to get my Pooh sized brain wrapped around ‘narrative distance’.)

So how much narrative distance is right for you? Broadly speaking the more intimate the point of view, the better.

The emotions have to go someplace and the language of your descriptions is a good place for them.

You want to engage your readers, not drive them to distraction.

Readers need time to settle into a given emotional state, so when you move quickly from one passion-charged head to another, you’re likely leave them behind. They’ll know what our various characters are feeling, but the won’t have time to feel like any of the characters.

When you make the point of view clear at the beginning of a scene, you get your readers involved right away and let them get used to inhabiting your viewpoint character’s head.

Linespaces prepare readers for a shift (in time, place or point of view), so the change in point of view won’t catch them by surprise. (I recently attempted to read a book where this skill was totally missing. It was a struggle to follow the story. The story seemed disconnected and halted almost on every page. I gave up and did not finish it.)

Point of view is a powerful tool. Master it.

(Amen)