Breaking the Flow

Breaking the FlowOne of the problems we may have with the internal monologue isn’t only telling too much but telling too much at once. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having long sections of internal monologue, it can become problematic when we depart too far from the story too often. An example might be to break from the action at regular intervals to describe the character’s thoughts which is most notably problematic in action scenes.

The solution to this can be to intersperse the internal monologue and the action because sometimes people forget that an internal monologue doesn’t have to mean long paragraphs. Monologue means one person speaking and essentially the character is speaking to themselves, or to the reader but this usually still comes under internal monologue, if they were speaking a loud their monologue could still be interrupted by events. For instance they may be speaking to themselves and another character is calling for them. They may not reply, and even if they call back ‘in a minute’ people may not consider that a dialogue. So while Character A talks to themselves we still need to mention that Character B is calling them. They may say ‘I wish B would stop shouting’ or we may have some description that says ‘B shouts from somewhere outside the room’. Simply because we mention external events doesn’t mean we’ve completely broken a monologue.

Another example might be the old cliché about action heroes and one liners. Something happens and they respond with their one liner but they aren’t really speaking to anyone else. We may argue they are speaking to the other character in the scene but as they are often dead or unconscious this isn’t a dialogue, unless we include a groan of pain. I include this as an example because, although not what we might consider a traditional monologue, it is action happening and the character’s comment on events. This is one of the functions that an internal monologue can perform. Quite often the internal monologue is associated with characters thinking things over, such as Hamlet’s soliloquies, but it can simply be a comment on events, perhaps even something like ‘Well, this won’t end well’. In this way we can have action interspersed with the character’s thoughts rather than long paragraphs of thought breaking up the action that we may want moving faster.

Another advantage interspersing the monologue and action can have is that it can help us avoid telling too much. If we’re thinking about the speed of the narrative then we may think harder about what we need and when and avoid too much exposition. I will repeat that long paragraphs of internal monologue are not bad thing or something to be inherently avoided, it’s more a matter of thinking about what we need and when. Sometimes the long paragraph will be appropriate and other times it won’t.

As always I’ll remind you that this isn’t important in a first draft. A first draft is about working out the characters and the story everything else is fine tuning that happens in editing. In a first draft worrying too much about how much internal monologue we’re using can bring on a bout of writer’s block. As long as we get the story down we can take away or add as seems necessary.

For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more on character see Finding The Characters.

NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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