You Can Learn Interior Monologue

Everything you write should come from your character’s senses—what he is seeing, tasting, touching, hearing, sensing, or thinking.

The following is not interior monologue. You know what my character is thinking because I use the word wished:

Flanna caught the glowering look Mrs. Haynes shot her son and smothered a smile as she studied the elegant dining table. Wealthy, civic-minded Mrs. Haynes was probably wondering what sort of Southern infidel her son had brought home, and for a moment Flanna wished she were eating out in the kitchen with Charity and the other servants. The opening salvos of a battle had been fired, however gently, and only the Lord knew how far the feisty Mrs. Haynes might carry the conversation.

If you want to keep a scene moving, telling works. The next scene, however, brings a major trauma for Flanna. Now I step out of the way and move into her thoughts through interior monologue. I do not use she thought or italics. They’re unnecessary.

“I’m afraid I don’t know,” Flanna answered, a wave of apprehension sweeping through her. South Carolina couldn’t be an independent country. Roger’s words came back to her on a surge of memory: “We are one country, Flanna, one sacred Union.”

What were these secessionists thinking? And why had they done this crazy thing now, right before Christmas, right before her exams? What if the examining board looked at her file and saw that she was from South Carolina? What if Mrs. Davis warmed to the idea of tossing the secessionist student out of the boarding house? Her dreams would vanish like a pebble in a dark pond…

I narrate through “a wave of apprehension sweeping through her.” After that bridge, we move into Flanna’s thoughts. Couldn’t is italicized only because it is emphasized. I do narrate one more little bit (Roger’s words in her memory), but the next paragraph is completely in Flanna’s thoughts.

Guidelines

  1. Use as little as possible:How much interior monologue do you have? If a lot, is it actually telling? If you have more than a couple of pages, break it up with action or dialogue.
  2. Don’t use thinker attributions: Get rid of the she thoughts unless necessary. Most times avoid them. She wondered if he really loved her becomes Did he really love her?
  3. Crazy characters talk to themselves: When your characters are mumbling under their breaths, use interior monologue instead.

Instead of: “I’m sorry, Scarlett, but you’ll have to leave Atlanta now,” the soldier said.
“Cursed Yankees,” she muttered as soon as the captain’s back was turned.

Try: “I’m sorry, Scarlett, but you’ll have to leave Atlanta now,” the soldier said.
Scarlett turned away. Cursed Yankees.

When interior monologue is done well, the reader is scarcely aware. The writer immerses his narrative voice into the character’s thoughts, using the same words, language, and diction the character would. With interior monologue, third person can be as intimate as first person.

Photo: Angela HuntAngela Hunt is writing what she wants to write and invites you to visit her online.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Angela, Thanks for this helpful post. I have written a first draft of a novel where the protagonist is the only character in scenes and I have given her dialogue (talking to self) and also interior monologue. I would love to have a class or webinar session on this topic as I have struggled with some of the things you point out – as well as what Jerry calls “on the nose” writing. Thanks again for the post. Carmen

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