Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Internal Dialogue

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

file5771253208042One of the hardest things for me, starting out as a novelist, was internal dialogue.

Mysteries require the sleuth to mull things over. I really struggled over how to make these passages work. I tried putting thoughts in italics. I tried writing in first person. I tried showing thoughts through the character’s actions and dialogue with other characters.

I must have scrapped fifty or more pages of rotten internal dialogue. It all seemed like it would jerk a reader right out of the book.

I think this is one of those areas where the more we write, the more we get comfortable (and maybe different approaches work with different writers.) I thought I’d share what works for me now:

Deep POV: Deep point-of-view puts readers inside the character’s head for an intimate view of his world. While you’re in this character’s head, you can look at the world through his eyes (noting the kinds of things he would find striking or interesting or irritating or disconcerting and remark on them in that character’s voice and using his vocabulary.) In deep POV, you can also get rid of words like thought, wondered, and knew since the reader understands that they’re reading from that character’s perspective. The reader sees, hears, and notices only what that character would. It’s also a great way to show instead of tell (Her heart pounded instead of Judy was frightened, etc.)

I like fantasy writer Juliette Wade’s checklist for Deep POV. And writer Terry Odell has a quick trick for making sure you’re staying in deep POV:

To "test" yourself: Substitute "I" for "he" (or the character's name) in a scene. Is there anyone else sneaking in there?

Sidekicks: Too much straight narrative usually makes me want to skim, so I try to interrupt it with dialogue when I’m writing. One way to know what a character is thinking is by having that character bounce ideas off of another character…a sidekick. In mysteries, this sidekick can be a Dr. Watson or a Captain Hastings type who actually helps with solving the case, but in your genre, this could be a best friend, spouse, parent, child—you get the idea.

How do you handle internal dialogue? Do you use much of it in your books?