Friday, February 7, 2014

The Great Internal Monologue Debate

Pride and Prejudice 2005 movie
I hadn't thought about Internal Monologue as a debatable issue. Until...

Recently, on another blog, I read a post describing the dos and don'ts for writing internal monologue. What intrigued me most about the post were the comments. I'll hop into that in just a moment.

Twice this last week, I heard two writers from different settings boldly proclaim: "The difference between a movie and a book is the internal monologue." This made sense to me. 

In a photo writing class, my instructor turned on a movie one day but left the sound off. He turned the subtitles on to let us read the dialogue. After a few minutes, he turned the movie off and asked the class, "What was mood?" 

We all guessed, but no one had the correct answer. He replayed the scene with the sound, including the music. Before a character spoke a word, we knew the answer. 

According to the instructor, we depend on the music to tell us what truly is in the heart of the character. 

Music tells us to view the scene as sad, aggressive, contemplative, happy, slapstick. Take, for example, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. From the first explosion, we know the movie is a romantic comedy. In Romancing the Stone, the music tells us the movie is a romantic adventure. Think of the opening music to Disney's animated Beauty and the Beast.

In a book, however, a writer can use words to reveal what is in the character's heart and mind. What motivates the character to commit a crime or suddenly kiss a frog? Why does the character hate Christmas or struggle to throw a ring into the chasm? The reader is able to step into the shoes of a well written character and go beyond outward senses to truly feel the inward struggles, pinings, secret hopes, and desires. We learn about skeletons in closets, true meanings of letters, why the character thought to look under the floorboard, and more. This happens because an inner connection has been made through the brilliant painting of words.

Writers do run into trouble, though, when pages are filled with one long internal monologue. 

It becomes like an infomercial. Boring.

And now the opposing views:

The Show IM with Dialogue Team: This group of writers prefer to demonstrate what is going on in a character's heart and mind through dialogue and action. Show rather than tell is one reason stated. Specific words are chosen and other characters are placed in the scene to help set the stage for the needed dialogue. Who likes pages and pages of boring droll internal monologues which is nothing more than whining about a situation not going the pov's way. It is much better to provide action and convey issues through dialogue.

The Sprinkle a Sentence, Perhaps Short Para IM Team: This group of writers prefer to reveal the pain/joy/struggles and etc by revealing the processing of issues going on in the mind in the narrative. Care is given to descriptions of feelings, emotions, physical responses, interpretations of others, etc. We don't always say what we are thinking is one reason stated.

Time to discuss the debate.
But first the rules:
1. To have a debate we need to hear your voice (translated: please comment)
2. All comments need to be written with respect and kindness.
3. All comments need to take a side and defend the viewpoint.
4. It would be nice if commenters would join us to respond to those speaking for the other side.

Think about it for a moment. Consider books you've read. Choose a stellar one. Or choose your WIP. How was/is the IM done in that book? Now that you think back, did you like the IM written this way, or would you have done it differently?

The purpose of this exercise is not to truly battle!
The purpose is to help us decide in our own heart: 
which way do we prefer to write.

For this reason, let's discuss the great internal monologue debate. 
Which team would you chose to join and why? 
Why do you feel the other team would not work for you? 
Let's learn from each other so we can make our own choices.

(I chose the photo from Pride and Prejudice because Kathleen Kelly from You've Got Mail said, "Elizabeth Bennet is the most complex [complete] character ever written.") :)


This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Krista Phillips said...

I'm going to be a meany and not pick sides!! Honestly, I'm probably somewhere between the two.

The thing is, I think a LOT of this has to do with voice and style. My own writing tends to be punchier with lots of dialogue and action. It's what comes natural to my writing and works. But I do have some internal narrative, to be sure. Just not as much as some people:-)

And that's okay. I've read lots of books that have much more and have loved them.

I think with anything, there is this wide range of "acceptable" given preference---then there are the two extremes of NONE which impedes the readers experience and A TON which lulls the reader to sleep in chapter 1....

Julia M. Reffner said...

Speaking of internal monologue. I had forgotten you and Casey had switched spots. I started reading the post and thought, hmmm...this isn't Casey's voice. Sounds like Mary's, but Mary isn't on Fridays. You have a wonderful and distinctive tone and voice to your posts, Mary. Just thought I would let you know that. I feel like we could be sitting with a cup of tea. :)

Pepper said...

Hey Mare,
Great thoughts here. I tend to agree with Krista on this. Story-specific is important, and maybe even genre specific.
I tend to be more action in my contemp and a little more internal monologue in my historical - however, I have to admit that I lean toward more of the action/dialogue scenes
UNLESS the character's internal monologue is provoking, amazing, or funny.
Then I prefer the monologue.
Ugh...I'm a horrible debater - and I was on debate team in high school ;-)

Heather Marsten said...

I'm writing a first person memoir and use internal monologue. To keep the memoir interesting, I vary how the internal monologue occurs. For example, sometimes I use diary entries, internal monologue, and little thoughts in the midst of a dialogue. Other times, I use body language to show what I'm feeling in the midst of a scene. Whenever there is internal monologue, I try to keep it short. I think my longest is about a page - double spaced - journal entry.

Angie Dicken said...

Ah, I have such a hard time choosing...well, actually I tend to lean away from just dialogue and action. To me, internal monologue is essential to reach deep p.o.v. I think it is the difference between a plot-driven book and a character-driven book...maybe? I am all about character, symbolism, inner struggle...and I want to be in their head!! Books that don't do this, kind of fade away in my mind as "that was a nice story", but books that do this, grip my heart and make me feel like I've made a new best friend!
Inner monologues that I can't stand though, are those that repeat the character's lie over and over, that set up a pity party...I like to hear the character weave what's going on in the plot to how it wrestles with the emotion they're feeling.
Does that make sense?
What a great post, Mary!

Debra E. Marvin said...

I'm no help, either. There's a place for both. Showing subtext in dialogue and action is amazing! But readers don't always get it, or focus on subtleties. I've learned recently to err on the side of STRONGER internal monologue to back up important points in characterization. I always use both. So...

did you share what the blog was? I'd love to read it and come back later.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, great post. I confess, I tend to use both. Depending on the situation. Rachel Hauck often says tell the story between the quotes, so I try to do that. But there are times when I want to show my character's response to what's going on around them, so I'll use a sentence or two of IM. I liked what Angie had to say. I agree with that. :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Well, the morning crew seems to have taken the "suicide" lane. My dad told me the middle lane with yellow on both sides,which is suppose to be a turn lane, is called the suicide lane.
The middle road.
Allowing for what works in the given situation. Very interesting.
I guess I kind of expected for voice to indicate preference. But Pepper brought out an interesting issue, since she writes in more than one genre, the type of story can also dictate which is best.
Great discussion.

Mary Vee Writer said...

My last answer was getting a bit long for one comment. I'll continue here.
(It's fun being a moderator!)
Yes, I've heard Rachel's great advice about putting the story in the quotes. After hearing her examples, it's easy to see why her idea gives a punch to the story. Yet, I think she still puts some IM in her narrative.
I've used her advice to slide some of those thoughts into the quotes and have been tickled pink at how well the story reads.
For those who haven't heard Rachel Hauck's wisdom on this subject, she has recommended to change the wording IM immediately preceding or following a quote then putting the words in the quote.
"Why do you always have to check the drawer? The keys are in the dish."
Instead of: In twenty years he's never remembered to check the drawer. "The keys are in the dish."

The first one sets up interaction with the other character, heightens conflict, and can deepen the story by setting the other character up for some response. This way both sides are heard instead of just the pov.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks for your comment. I can't wait for Case to read it. You not only knew Casey's voice but you also knew mine. Awesome. I'm happy.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I think what really drove me to this post was the extremes. I like what this morning group is saying. It's kind of like the "all things in moderation" thing.

By calling attention to a debatable issue, shows there is more than one way to do the job, like you say. The successful writer will use the right one at the right time.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Sounds like you have using an important writing skill: variety is the spice of life. And you have also identified which spice should be used at the proper time. Good points.

Unknown said...

My tendency is to write monologue and I've learned to put more of the story between the quotes. I like to write monologue, dialogue, description, it all has its place. I once started to read a book that was all dialogue without much else. It is one of the few books I quit reading because I just couldn't 'get into it'.

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

I too am gonna cop out ;) I use both... Partially because it depends which part if the story I'm in. With romantic suspense I get to straddle the fence! Great points, Mare!

April Gardner said...

I use both too! Don't hate me. :-)

But I do lean toward internal monologue both when I read and when I write. The main reason is that I write (and mostly read) historical fiction (minoring on the romance). In my opinion, the more serious settings call for IM.
But in a military action/adventure I read, there was VERY little IM. In fact, there were entire pages of almost nothing but dialog. It worked to create the rushed, stressy feel the characters were experiencing. That being said, I didn't care for it. I wanted a peek inside the character's head. Without that, I didn't connect with her.
Great topic!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Good point Lorna.
While dialogue is good, a book needs more. This takes me back to the example my instructor gave, the movie without the music. Or here is another: trying to put together a puzzle that only has white (I've seen this puzzle, it is annoying).
Like you say, it all has its place. And is all needed.

Straddling the fence is good. You can hop off the right direction at the right time. I can see why both would essential in romantic suspense. I'm not sure but wouldn't the villain have the best opportunity for IM in narrative?

Mary Vee Writer said...

I recently read a post on how to write story blurbs. The author gave much the same advice as you said.

One question is enough, but to repeat something like the character's lie over and over to gain support or sympathy from the reader just doesn't work. It only sets up a pity party and causes negative feelings and a pull away from the character.

This is where the long IM creates a problem. The lie is repeated or some musing is repeated, in different words, over and over until the reader closes the book and sets it aside.

Yep. Another vote for "All things in moderation."

Mary Vee Writer said...

I'll search for the article for you.

I like your idea of putting things in dialogue but observing when a reader may not catch a subtlety and at those points insert IM.

I especially like when the author only puts a clue in at those moments. I, as the reader, may not figure it out right then, but when I do later, I feel pretty awesome.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I must confess, my teen has me reading Alex Rider. I really like this story. Even in this YA action packed 007 type of story, Alex's IM creeps in once in a while. We know he is ticked about a couple of things…this is only revealed in IM. Without knowing these things, the reader clearly wouldn't understand a few of his action choices.
So even in fast action stories, I totally can see your point about needing IM.

For historical with romance, I am wanting to go back and read Gone With the Wind to see what Margaret Mitchell did. I would imagine she did the same as you've said, inserted more IM into the serious scenes.

Great points, April.

Mary Vee Writer said...

The IM post I referred to is:

Unknown said...

I've gotta go with the internal monologue team. Now here's the caveat: don't just have a character talking to himself inside his head. If he hates Christmas, show it in the way he describes, say, Christmas Carolers from his POV.

Example: Ebenezer bustled through London's crowded streets. Just as he thought he'd be on time to the market, a gang of threadbare and grimy oafs stood in his path, barking out the unbearable music of the season in a variety of keys.

My apologies to Mr. Dickens. But you see my point. A character who loved Christmas would describe the carolers in a much different manner. POV is everything!

Becky Wade said...

I like internal monologues. I don't like them in the midst of a scene with other characters, however, because they break the flow and realism.

I typically use them right after a big, pivotal scene, when a character is trying to sort out his/her emotions and formulate a new story goal. So, for example, after the hero and heroine first kiss, I might show the hero driving home, thinking through what's just happened. The internal monologue doesn't have to be long, but I think it IS a helpful way to keep the reader deeply connected to the mind of the character.

Ashley Clark said...

Becky, I agree! As a reader, I so enjoy getting into a character's thoughts after a pivotal scene! Sure, you can't have internal monologue all the time, but I think it really spices things up when used well. And I rely on it pretty heavily for comedy, so I hope my readers feel the same way! :)

Krista Phillips said...

Ohhh, love Becky and Ashley's comments too.

And yes, lots of humor can happen in those internal moments... their thoughts and reactions to what is said/done... as well as what they are REALLY thinking vs what they actually said.

Again, moderation is super key.

Mary---the suicide lane, HA!

I prefer to think of it as driving in the right or left lane... a little more internal stuff... not quite as much.... but then you could also drive on the shoulder and have NONE or A TON and THEN you will drive off a cliff! :-)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I am not a great inner monologue reader OR writer. I find myself skimming if it gets to wordy. I MUCH prefer the action dialogue.


Having been told that I need to work on characterization, I am going to try and incorporation more of the inner stuff to make my characters more..."real".

Mary Vee Writer said...

Love your Ebenezer example. Great demonstration of showing.
The showing/telling thing appeared to be one of the biggest hangups the dialogue group cited. You provided a way, though to put IM in narrative in a showing way.
(I think Dickens forgives you).

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great food for thought regarding placement of the IM.
This would make a clarifying moment. How did the character feel about what just happened?

Then spinning in Krista's idea that the character could well be experiencing the total opposite feeling from what was conveyed in the action/dialogue. Hah! Now the reader is one step ahead of the other characters. Readers love having the inside scoop.

Sounds good.

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Wow, Mary, you are really making me think on a Saturday morning. I think I need a coffee before I can contribute anything intelligent to this conversation! Lol! ;)

Casey said...

I love IM that is a little bit twisted, funny and quirky to fit the character. IM that goes on without seeming to end is dry and dull and easy to skim. But combining punchy dialogue with witty IM is the perfect combination for me!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Poor Karen. On the site here it shows your comment at 5:28 pm. Obviously not the correct time in Australia.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I totally agree with you, IM that goes on and on is dull. But funny and quirky is worth not only reading, but also repeating. Not to mention a joy to read:)

H.R. Sinclair said...

I'm thinking I'm with Krista. It depends on voice and style - but I think it also depends on the book. different books and characters may need different treatments.