Saturday, 19 September 2015

Can Internal Dialogue Make Your Novel Better?




Firstly, what do we mean by internal dialogue?
Internal dialogue is the name we give to the technique used when writers show their character’s thoughts, as opposed to actual dialogue denoted by quotation marks. It’s also known as internal thought or inner dialogue.
With inner dialogue, the reader is privy to your character’s thoughts, but of course, the other characters will not know what your character is thinking. This makes for a really interesting perspective within any story.
Why is it used?
Internal thoughts are a great way of revealing character. It lets the reader become part of the character’s personal and intimate thoughts and therefore they learn what your character is really like, what they truly think and feel, but it also gives the reader their true motivations.
These thoughts give the reader some insight into the character that wouldn’t normally be revealed in the narrative. Often they can reveal the real character – deep personality traits emerge, inner emotions are revealed and a different side to your characters can be shown.
We also use inner dialogue to raise the emotional level of the narrative, all from a personal viewpoint. For example, when we see the terrible effects of war through the eyes of a character at the gates of Auschwitz, we hear his thoughts, we feel his pain and loss and his fear. As readers, we get to understand the character from a different and personal perspective.
More importantly, internal thoughts create immediacy. If you want to make a connection with your reader, then internal thoughts will do just that.
Another thing it does is allow the reader to see any conflict the character might have – since conflict is the fuel of every novel – whether that conflict is between the main character and others, with outside forces or whether the conflict is simply with him or herself. That conflict can be revealed within their thoughts.
Writing Inner Dialogue
There is a lot of conflicting advice regarding how internal dialogue should be written, but there is no hard and fast rule on this, other than to always be consistent.
There are plenty of ways internal thoughts can be shown to the reader, however, they should never be enclosed by quotations marks, simply because the use of quotation marks denotes vocalised speech.
Also, beginners tend to make the mistake of writing dialogue tags even after telling the reader who is doing the thinking. For example, you need only write ‘he thought’ rather than ‘he thought to himself’ or ‘she wondered to herself’.  Adding the tag ‘to himself’ or ‘herself’ is unnecessary because the reader will know the character is thinking to him/herself.  He thought or She wondered are adequate.
The most common way of presenting internal thoughts is by using italics, which differentiates between Arial or Times New Roman font used for narrative and dialogue seen in most books. This acts as a visual marker to the reader. Once it is clear who the viewpoint belongs to, the reader will know who is doing the thinking by the use of italics, for example:
He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
Here, the character is fearful about what is happening and sharing his thoughts with the reader. This gives a personal viewpoint and it lends perspective, depth and emotion to the story. You will also notice that the thoughts are presented as present tense. The character is presently thinking – it’s an action not consigned to a past action, therefore it must be shown as present tense.
If the character was recounting what had happened to someone, i.e. something that was in the past, then the thoughts would be presented as past tense:
He had stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What was happening…where were they taking the women?
The example shows that it’s a past recollection by using ‘He had’ at the beginning, which tells the reader it’s something that occurred in past. The rest occurs in past tense to keep it consistent.
The same general inner dialogue guidelines also apply if you are using first person, for example:
I stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
You will notice that italics were not necessary in this example – you don’t have to use italics if you’re using first-person narration, simply because the reader will already know who is doing the thinking – it can only be the main character whose viewpoint is the basis of your novel.
Another way to show thoughts to not use italics at all, but to simply use a thought tag to denote who is doing the thinking, for example:
He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile, and saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings.
No! he thought. Where are they taking the women?
The only thing to look out for if you use this method is that it’s wise not to pepper your narrative too much with ‘he thought’ or ‘she thought’, but instead use them sparingly, especially if you have multiple POVs and you have to differentiate between a number of characters for your reader.
How They’re Presented
The examples used here show the internal thoughts on a new line, like speech. Many books do this as a standard way of presenting thoughts. This simply makes it easier for the reader; however that’s not to say it can’t be included within narrative, because it can, as long as it’s set out properly and you identify who is doing the thinking, for example:
God, it’s so cold, he thought, as he stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile. He saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings. No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
Or this example:
God, it’s so cold. He stood huddled with the rest of the men, fearful, fragile. He saw the guards moving a line of bedraggled people towards a line of buildings. No! What’s happening…where are they taking the women?
These examples show how thoughts can be included within the narrative. They work just as well as thoughts that are set out on new lines. Whichever method you choose, the key is always to remain consistent throughout the story.
There are, of course, some things that writers should be aware of, so that errors don’t occur.
Don’t head hop. You don’t have to write the thoughts of every character in your novel. Just stick to the most important main characters, the ones the reader is truly interested in.
The reader doesn’t need to know every unimportant thought from your characters. The reader only needs to know the thoughts that move the story forward and advance the plot.
Always be consistent.
So, can internal thoughts make your novel better? They are a versatile tool for the author, they add depth, emotion, they reveal character, they create immediacy and they make it personal to the reader.
Internal thoughts add that extra dimension to your writing, so don’t forget to make full use of them!

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