As we previously discussed the internal monologue is our characters’ thoughts and feelings. A question we might face is how to get those on the page and the easiest way to work this out is to think about our own internal monologues, we don’t have to replicate that exactly because fiction is inherently artificial and trying to match real life exactly can make a reader more aware of this and, often, real life can be quite dull.

The place to start might be when our characters are talking to each other. Perhaps we’re in the mind of one and the second character asks their opinion of something. It’s rare a person will immediately give their opinion without a moment of thought, even if that thought is simply them forming their opinion. Alternatively the character might pause and think ‘I don’t like that bag but I can’t tell them I don’t like that bag. What do I say?’ This would be their internal monologue debating the answer to the question. Unless we’re deliberately building in a long pause we don’t have to have a long internal debate. We could have them think ‘I don’t like it’ then have them say ‘it’s lovely’. This being a familiar circumstance we don’t need to explain to the reader why they would lie, unless there is something significant.

For example, we may have a character think about why they are lying about liking the bag if they are the sort of person who would normally say ‘I don’t like it’. Perhaps they are developing a relationship with the second character that makes they want to be nice and we can show this through their internal monologue and a short debate about ‘I don’t want to tell them I hate it, even though I hate it’. Maybe the second character would be able to tell they’re lying but the fact they made the effort not to say they hate it means something to the second character.

Alternatively we may have a character who freezes up and has a panicky internal debate about their answer that creates an extended pause that prompts the other character to say ‘you hate it, don’t you?’ Not only have we shown the character’s inner awkwardness but we’ve also explained, without explaining, why the second character would cut in before they answer.

Another thing that we can do is have them debate internally why another character is acting the way they are. From the owner of the bag’s perspective a pause might be noted and inside they’re thinking ‘oh no, they hate it’ or a lie might be noted and they wonder why the other character is lying or even think that they know their friend is lying but it was nice of them to pretend.

These interpretations don’t have to be correct because it is one character interpreting another character’s behaviour so we can use this to trick our reader and make them perceive a character one way only have them turn out to be something different. Or, if we’re not restricted to the point of view of one character, we can play the perspectives off each other and have a character interpreting another character’s actions one way while the reader is thinking ‘oh no, you’ve got it all wrong’.

This is why I would say that when we’re developing an internal monologue an important question is how do we want (or the characters want) them(selves) to be perceived. This question informs how much and what we tell the reader through internal monologue, but more of that in the next article.


For more writing advice see my Advice Page. For more on internal monologue see Finding the Characters.

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

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