As we’ve already mentioned when we’re using internal monologue we don’t have to be entirely truthful, this can be the gap between truth and interpretation, a selective truth or even an outright lie. Internal monologue may be assumed to be the truth on the basis that it is the character’s thoughts, but if internal monologue is the character’s thoughts then surely we can argue that first-person (subjective narration) is internal monologue and we know that the subjective narrator is also considered the unreliable narrator. Therefore can’t internal monologue be unreliable?

The gap appears because we assume an authorial voice is telling us the whole truth, so we might assume that internal monologue in a third-person narrative is reliable because the author would tell us all the character’s thoughts and would have no reason to lie. I always think this argument misses the fact that a narrator with no reason to lie doesn’t automatically have a reason to tell the truth either. This would probably complicate interpreting third-person narration but there’s no reason we writers can’t use such a complication to our advantage.

For example, we may use a character’s internal monologue to reveal that they don’t like another character but this doesn’t mean we have to reveal the why immediately. We haven’t lied, there is animosity there, but we haven’t entirely told the truth either. We may assume that the character who reveals a dislike is the wronged party, but they might not be, nor does that mean that there is any wrong involved it could simply be an automatic dislike. We don’t have to tell the reader this immediately we can leave it for them to figure out as the story progresses and reveal the truth later on.

We may also have a character outright lie. This can be a little harder to pull off because if a character lies in their internal monologue and the reader discovers the lie later on they can feel cheated because they didn’t have a chance to work out the answer due to the lie. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it only means it has to be carefully done. There have to be hints that the character has lied that the reader has a chance to pick up on so they have a chance to either work it out before the reveal or after the reveal be able to see the clues. It might help as well to establish the character as having a tendency towards fabrication to hint that what they are telling the reader might not be the truth.

In writing simply because the ‘rules’ say that an omniscient narrator is reliable and the subjective narrator isn’t doesn’t mean we have to stick to them. In such cases when these ‘rules’ create assumptions and we can use these assumptions to create twists. We could have a completely unreliable internal monologue in a third-person story and a completely reliable internal monologue in a subjective narration.


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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