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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From the Editor’s Desk: Past Participle and Past Tense

One of my all-time favorite publishing houses is the Black Library. They do mostly licensed science fiction and fantasy out of the United Kingdom. I’ve read a great deal of fiction, non-fiction, classics, etc. from across the pond, but only when reading the action-packed militaristic stories from the Library did I finally notice how jarring their differing uses of past participles and tenses for verbs can be. Picture this: A blazing laser gun battle illuminated the sky like a kaleidoscope of fireworks, almost hypnotizing the running soldier. Explosions erupted on all sides, leaving him blind, deaf, and disoriented, as he desperately dived for cover. He heard-

Wait, dived? Why not dove?

Maybe it makes me a bit snobbish, but the first few times I read this it pulled me right out of the fictive dream. The next few pages I just kept thinking why would the author use the archaic form instead of the new one? It passed quickly, but after I put the book down it still nagged at me. And as I read more from the Library, I found more discrepancies: They swinged clubs and cudgels, not swung. They swimmed across the murky swamp, not swam. The tip of the flamethrower was lighted, not lit. There may be more I’m omitting, but the point remains: It was distracting enough to pull me out of the scene, so how can I avoid it in my own writing, or use it to my own advantage.

A little bit of research revealed my original hypothesis as correct: these participial and tense changes are a North American tradition. Strangely, some have lagged behind others in social acceptance. Swimmed sounds silly to even the most untrained ear, but up until ~1960 dived was considered correct, and dove would have been marked wrong on your U.S. English Grammar Exam (or more likely essay).

The typical rule from this arm-chair editor: when in doubt, change it in your prose (unless you’re writing in the UK, then do as you please). For dialogue, it opens up some interesting options, however. Any character from, or who learned English in, North America should always use the adjusted tense. But, if your work features a speaker from (or who learned English in) the UK, having them employ these vernacular affectations could lend a taste of authenticity to the character, particularly if your work is set in a specific time period.

I’ll endeavor to bring you more little eccentricities From The Editor’s Desk; this is only volume one.
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.