From the Editor’s Desk: Internal Monologue

One of the joys of reading frequently and taking a hack-handed, bludgeoning swing at writing myself is seeing different conventions used in different ways. The one I’d like to discuss today is a favorite for the snarky and the serious, the scary and the scurrilous: internal monologue (or if the characters a bit nutty…dialogue). When do we use it? How do we use it? Is there an accepted mechanic for translating it into text?

The only valid answer you could get from anybody, anywhere, is I don’t know. And that’s because there’s no right or wrong way, mechanically speaking, to go about having your character talk with (or to) him (or her) self. As with all writing, you can probably do whatever the hell you want and still have a shot at being canonized (Anyone ever read Joyce?) but for the purposes of cohesive and narrative writing, it boils down to about six possibilities. This broad-strokes explanation is limited to third-person past-tense type writing, of course. If you take the challenge of writing in the first person, the inner monologue should happen organically, since we’re basically juxtaposing first-person sentiment into a third-person piece. Present-tense probably requires a few more identifiers, but can get a bit explanation-heavy if you aren’t careful.

Oh the mechanics are glorious indeed…but mechanics are only half the battle. The way you present the internal monologue can say a lot about the type of character that’s talking. He (or she) might be witty, pensive, bitter, reluctant, wistful, or any combination of those or a host of other emotional states. If you’re going to go the internal monologue route, make sure you give some thought to the presentation. It can make or break your prose, and the character you’re developing, in a manner so subtle you may not notice it at first. And on the flip side, it can make your rakish rogue or haughty heroine into an unforgettable pillar of the written word. You might not think so in a text medium, but presentation, as ever, always counts.

Below I’ll lay out the six options, and what they may communicate to the reader:

1) First Person Present; Italicized; With Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again, he thought. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

– As a rule, I don’t really like identifiers. I feel like they bog down moments in writing that should flow smoothly and quickly. But with internal monologue, it allows you to dictate the pace to your reader, and slow them down. Throwing in a “he thought” or “she mused” can establish your tone, and give the inner monologue an even, controlled calmness, in a moment of thoughtful or wistful reflection for a character.

2) First Person Present; Italicized; No Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

-My personal favorite. Italicizing inner monologue is an effective way of separating inner-most thoughts from regular text, and not breaking it up with an identifier keeps it whole and complete. This approach helps the reader feel connected to the character, and can create sympathy for even the nastiest of anti-heroes. I recommend this for the smarmy, wise-cracking characters who are really good at heart. It helps the reader build rapport through the bitterness and acidity that makes the person so enjoyable.

3) First Person Present; Not Italicized; WIth Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again, he thought. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

-As I mentioned, I’m a proponent of italics for inner monologue, but I’ve seen it work effectively without them. Keeping the identifier helps set an explanatory tone I wouldn’t recommend for main antagonists or protagonists. If you have a side-chapter, or an event explained through a short-lived, very minor character, this is the most effective and efficient way to get through it.

4) First Person Present; Not Italicized; No Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. I’ve done it again. Thank god wishes aren’t fishes. I’d need a bigger pond.

-This approach always feels very literary to me. Very artistic. It also works well in stories with one very central character, and can help solidify the idea that the narrative of this book revolves around a single person. eschewing the identifier and the italics brings the inner thoughts of the protagonist into the prose, like they aren’t separate from the words. Not for the faint of heart, but a fun mechanic to play with and potentially a powerful convention for a story.

5) Third Person Past; Not Italicized; WIth Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. He’d done it again, he thought. Thank god wishes weren’t fishes. He’d need a bigger pond.

-This always feels weird and super-explanatory to me. I always fall on the side of “show me” not “tell me” in writing, and this is telling of the highest degree. It can bring across a simple-mindedness, however, that might be effective in separating important, or high-IQ characters, from characters with less going on between the ears. An excellent way to portray the inner monologue of an obedient flunky or clumsy servant, this approach creates distance between the reader and the character, which may not exactly be a bad thing.

6) Third Person Past; Not Italicized; No Identifier

He watched the coin fall into the water with a gentle splash. He’d done it again. Thank god wishes weren’t fishes. He’d need a bigger pond.

-This is the ultra-narrative style that serves best when speed matters. If you want to get through a scene quickly and efficiently, without too much attachment, this is the way to go.

I’ll endeavor to bring you more little eccentricities From The Editor’s Desk; this is only volume two
In other exciting news, I’m pleased to announce I’m starting up an editing business for books, short stories, dissertations, reports, etc. If it has words, I’ll read it and let you know if it can be better. I’m dipping my toe currently, but I’ve got a few credentials:

-BA English Literature (Cum Laude) from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas
-Freelance Sports Columnist and Public Interest Reporter for The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Henderson Home News, and Boulder City News 2000-2008

I’ve already edited a first draft of a romance novel (attestation forthcoming) and a potential self-help style non-fiction book from an already-published author. If you’re interested, please contact me through this blog or e-mail me at gentlesandman@yahoo.com. I’m currently looking to get experience mostly, so if you think I might have something to offer after reading this post feel free to contact me.

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