Inner dialogue. Internal thought. Interior monologue. Internal speech. Whatever you call it, this internal thought process is as important as regular dialogue, character arc, and narrative arc in helping your reader understand your main character at an intimate level. It also serves to move your story forward and keep your readers deeply connected.
What Inner Dialogue Does for Your Story
Unlike the one- or two-dimensional characters you see in movies and on television, when using inner dialogue in your narrative, it helps you present a much more nuanced and three-dimensional character. And since most stories are character driven, you really need to add that inner dialogue in.
It helps you to reveal thoughts, emotions, and beliefs that may be too painful or embarrassing for your main character to speak. Inner dialogue lets us see the darkness inside each of us and allows you to get to the core of your main character, heart and soul. Hopes, dreams, goals. Despair, depression, or resignation. If your main character expresses that all through dialogue, she’s an open book. Let us see how her thoughts and feelings might contradict what she says and does.
Imagine a mother telling her child that everything is going to be all right during a natural disaster or some other fearful occurrence. But her inner thoughts reveal her despair and feelings of helplessness. This helps you show the mother’s deep love and protective nature towards her child.
On the other hand, inner dialogue can make a stolid scene into a cheeky reverie. Your main character may have a blank expression on his face at a serious meeting with co-workers, but inside, he’s making fun of the situation.
Inner dialogue is a tool you should take advantage of to give your reader insight he or she can’t get from a character’s actions or even from dialogue since we don’t always say what we mean.
What Inner Dialogue is Not
Except in few experimental literature, inner dialogue is not a thought dump. If you’ve ever analyzed your inner thoughts, you know how your mind jumps from one topic to another almost randomly with little connection. You don’t want to dump every thought your main character has into your story. Like narrative or dialogue, inner dialogue must have a purpose.
You only want to reveal thoughts that advance your plot, help build your character, or show character growth. And make sure your character’s internal thoughts read like dialogue. We don’t think in complete sentences with precise language. So your inner dialogue should sound as natural as your other dialogue by using your character’s choice of wording, voice, and idiosyncrasies.
Your reader doesn’t need to hear everything. Be particular about what you reveal. You can show random thoughts every now and then to show how your character thinks, but really your reader only wants to hear the good stuff.
Tips for Using Inner Dialogue
Never use quotation marks for inner dialogue. Quotation marks are only for those words your characters utter out loud. You can use italics to set the thoughts apart if you want to emphasize them or reveal a deep thought. You can also use the inner dialogue tag thought to give your reader cues as to what internal and what’s verbal. There are a few different ways you can format inner dialogue depending on your story’s point of view, past or present tense, and the impact you want to portray. Keep your eye out for an upcoming post that looks at this more closely.
The key to using inner dialogue is to be consistent. If you use italics to convey thoughts without using a dialogue tag, use that same method throughout your work. Any time you change how you present something in your novel, you distract your reader.
Alternate between paragraphs focused on your point of view character, showing her thoughts, actions, or spoken words and paragraphs focused elsewhere like the story’s world or others' dialogue and actions. Only Shakespeare can get away with pages of soliloquy.
Finally, stay away from redundant inner dialogue:
- When Ben outlined his solution, Stacy thought Why would I possibly choose that method? “Why would I choose to do it that way?” she asked.
It’s much more revealing when presented this way:
- When Ben outlined his solution, Stacy thought Why would I possibly choose that method? “What an intriguing idea. Tell me more,” she said.
Good luck and happy writing!
If you enjoyed this post about writing a novel, you might also enjoy these articles from our archive:
- How to Construct a 3D Main Character
- Are You Ready to Draft Your Story Arc?
- How to Create Your Story’s World
- How to Create a Compelling Character Arc
- Are You Ready to Draft Your Plot?
- 4 Plot Pitfalls You Need to Avoid
- Map Out Your Character’s Transformation Using the 9 Enneagram “Levels of Development”
- The Four Drafts Your Novel Needs (and Why You Probably Won't Use a Single Word of Your First Draft!)