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Interior Monologues in Writing

March 1, 2010

The internal/interior monologue is possibly one of the least used points of view these days. An internal monologue is something associated more with the soliloquy of the theatre than a stand alone piece of literature.

“Points of View: an Anthology of Short Stories” is my current read and is published in sections based on point of view.  The editors James Moffet and Kenneth McElheny say an internal monologue is like ‘overhearing someone’s thoughts’. They suggest three different scenarios which facilitate an internal monologue:

  • the narrator is reacting to his immediate surroundings – the monologue tells the story of what is going on.
  • the narrator presents their thoughts as memories – the monologue review past events and connects them with present ones.
  • the narrator’s train of thoughts are neither a record of the present nor a recollection of the past – the monologue is purely a reflection, and in itself, the story.

While few short stories are compromised entirely of a monologue, many writers use this point of view in a limited capacity. At the moment I am reading King’s “The Shining” and the internal monologue of all the characters features prominently – though in tiny snippets, rather than in large slabs and are delineated from the rest of the narrative, through the use of brackets.

He closed his eyes and all the old phrases began to parade through his mnd, it seemed there must be hundreds of them.

(creaking up not playing with a full deck lostya marbles guy just went looney tunes he went up and over the hig side went bananas lost his football went crackers nuts half a seabag)

All meaning the same thing: losing your mind.

“No,” he whimpered, hardly aware that he had been reduced to this, whimpering with his eyes shut like a child. “Oh no, God. Please, God no.”

Monologues also appear in the guise of diary entries and letters, which perhaps are more palatable to a reader for large slabs of introspection.

Two stories in Chinese Whisperings: The Red Book are excellent examples of the use of diary entries as monologue pieces. Paul Servini’s uses the diary entry to good effect in his story “Discovery”, juxtaposing the assured, business-like Elizabeth, with her less secure inner self.

What now?

The last ten years of my life have been spent trying to forge a career in business. Yet, it was more than a career at stake. I was looking for an identity after Robin. I found it. The cost was high but I paid it willingly because it made me into someone. I needed that. So I closed my eyes and went for it. Today, someone opened my eyes and I recoiled.

Is this really what I’ve become? And is there any way out?

Jasmine Gallant’s “Not My Name” is told entirely through diary entries. Her narrator’s deteriorating mental condition is expressed in the confusion of the tenses – his memories are told in the present tense and his every day observations in the past tense. He alternates between observing the mundane now and the terrifying past.

I am so cold—huddled at my little desk, pounding on this keyboard— I feel the breath rush out of my lungs, freezing the air in front of me. A coffee sits beside me, its warmth leaks away. A cigarette smokes lazily in the ashtray. Rings drift to the ceiling like a young girl’s hair. Stray books and clothes have a life of their own and come to rest wherever they find space in our small, cramped living room.

Why do I write these things?

These things of no importance?

While internal monologues give us an unparalleled intimate view into a character’s life, thoughts and feelings, it is a fairly limited approach not to mention a biased one.

Interior monologues can also be tough to articulate authentically. Blair Hurley of The Creative Writing Corner, says the challenge with writing interior monologues is two fold:

  • thinking often does not occur in grammatically correct sentences. We don’t think in big words. Our thoughts are often broken and disjointed. Authentic-sounding interior dialogue needs to capture the essence of this, however…
  • if we are too authentic and accurately capture what thought is really like, we end up with an  incomprehensible quagmire of text.

Hurley says for a monologue to be touching and effective monologue, it needs balance.

While I wasn’t a great fan of Dorothy Parker’s “But the One on the Right” she does strike a working balance between cohesive expression and the sporadic, randomness of thought. It was just a shame I didn’t really care too much about the situation in which her protagonist finds herself (I’m not one for whinging which forms a fair chunk of the monologue.) Having said that, it comes with an excellent ending and a good example of how one might include direct speech into an interior monologue.

We all like a challenge don’t we?

Today’s writing challenge is to spend 10 minutes writing a simple interior monologue. How easy is it to replicate your thoughts or the thoughts of a character in an authentic manner, but also allowing the reader ‘in’? A bit like trying to transpose Shakespeare into text speak?

Jodi Cleghorn used the interior monologue to good effect in English during her final year at high school. She wrote two based on Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”. She’s still intrigued by inner landscapes. Check out Jodi’s Facebook, the new look Chinese Whisperings website or her blog, Writing in Black and White.
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4 Comments
  1. March 1, 2010 3:42 am

    I love internal monologues. It really allows me to get into my characters and for me is the most natural way of telling a story.

    How would you differ internal monologue from First Person?

    I may have to try the challenge.

  2. cascadelily permalink
    March 1, 2010 4:23 am

    Great food for thought. I’m constantly writing internal monologue in my stories and then taking it out, wondering if it’s too much telling, and not enough showing.

    Can the next column be on the difference between a soliloquy and a monologue. Undergrad English was waaaaaay too long ago for me to remember!

  3. March 1, 2010 4:49 am

    Lily: From what I can gather from my esteemed editorial colleagues Moffet and McElheny – there is solliquy (interior/internal monologue) where the narrator basically muses to themselves – the literary equivalent I guess of standing speaking to oneself in the mirror. As they write – it is like overhearing someone thinking (what a scarey thought – huh?)

    Dramatic monologue (which I was intending to write about next week) is the equivalent of getting up and giving a speech I guess- but one that happens off the cuff rather than prepared before hand. It is thoughts meant to be shared with others. I haven’t yet read the dramatic monologues. Part of me thinks a dramatic monologue is a bit like an info dump in dialogue?

    I don’t think that sharing thoughts is necessarily telling – if they are written as thoughts (fragments I guess) … and perhaps it comes down to that balance thing as well – there has to be some amount of tell in there and I’d rather have an insight into a characteres internal world, than being told something about them.

    Ben: Had a long think about this while I was in the bath. I guess the difference is (and you’ll see if you click on the link and read Dorothy Parker’s short story) it is only thoughts, as they bleed in and out of consciousness. And perhaps it has to do with the way it is written also. Rather than saying “There is a green house,” the monologist (is that even a word) might just write “Green house.”

    I have a monologue kicking around in my head after hearing a song today and I know if I get a chance to sit and write it… I won’t mention the name of the song… the lyrics will just fade in and out.

    I think it is a challenge… to write an entire piece of inner monologue and looking forward to reading yours.. and everyone else’s.

  4. March 1, 2010 6:54 am

    It’s fun. I may go that direction in CW. Great article, this is very informative.

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