Thursday, May 21, 2009

Getting Information Across, Part Three: Internal Thoughts

This is part three in a three part series. I haven't thought of anything else--yet. Mwa, ha, ha!

Part one discussed dialog and part two addressed narration.

Anyway, let's move on to internal thoughts. I'm not sure you need a lesson in what these are, but here goes. Internal thoughts are the internal thoughts of the narrating character. They are not spoken out loud and are usually offset by italics.

I'm just going to get this out there. I'm am not the hugest fan of internal thoughts. I think they are appropriate in many situations, but I think sometimes, just sometimes, they are overused. Here are a couple of reasons why:

1. Repeatage. Remember the old mantra of saying something once and moving on? I think many, many times, authors use internal thoughts to say something again. Just to get the point across that hey, this is important. And I don't think that's necessary. It's just a more annoying way to say something you've already said.

The same rule applies here that applied to dialog. Don't have your main character thinking about stuff they've already said out loud. Or have them think it and THEN say it out loud.

2. The herky jerky. Sometimes I think internal thoughts cause a disruption in the flow of narration. You've got a great thing going. Don't interrupt it with internal thinkage. This is especially true while writing in third person, because internal thoughts are in first person. And this constant switch back and forth is a bit jarring if done repeatedly.

I'm also not a proponent of having the character think to themselves, Think, think. You can do this. Um, they are thinking. They're thinking, Think, think. You can do this. Not actually thinking about the problem, so yeah. Not a fan. Also, the reader does not need to know everything the main character is thinking. We don't need a stream of conscious thought spewed out on the page and stalling the forward motion of the writing.

Now internal thoughts are a good way to get an "Eureka!" moment into the writing. Like when your main character realizes something for the first time, but wouldn't say out loud. I also think internal thoughts are great when a character thinks something that surprises them. Most of the time it completely surprises me too, but getting inside their head can really help to flesh out a character. So they have uses--and in the hands of a capable author, internal thoughts don't detract from the story, the writing, the flow. They're like seasonings--they make it better.

Basically, I like to get most of my information across through narration and dialog. Internal thoughts are great for getting closer to a character, but not an effective tool to reveal major plot points or drive the action forward. In many cases, I think it's wise to look at the internal thoughts in your writing and see if they can be eliminated and woven into the narration or dialog surrounding them. Again, that doesn't mean I've never met an internal thought I didn't like, I just think they should be used like red pepper flakes. In moderation.

What say you? Were you as shocked as I was about American Idol's winner? Did you see Glee? Are you ready for a new season of "So You Think You Can Dance?"? Does my hair look like a toupee? What is that on the mirror? Do these capris make me look fat???

Whoa. Was I really thinking all of that? kenyit


Michelle McLean said...

lol another great post :D and very true on the internal dialog and repeating stuff. I catch myself repeating things all the time - I'm workin on that :D

Eric said...

Elana, you are so classic. As to this post, another great one. This is something I struggle with from time to time, but I can see how it can come out bad. Thanks for going through this with us.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

Hmmm... if internal thoughts are red pepper flakes then I must be burning up because I do not use them in moderation at all! I guess my (probably poor) reasoning is that this is the one thing that novels alone can do - as opposed to movies/TV where we see the action and hear the dialogue, but never really hear the characters thoughts (okay fine, if someone uses a lot of voiceovers we do, but usually not.).

Elana Johnson said...

Eric! I've never been called classic. I hope that means something good. ;) Thanks!

Danyelle L. said...

Great thoughts. I use internal thoughts a lot, but try to make it part of the narration rather than a separate entity of itself. :)

Jamie D. said...

Excellent tips - thank you! I often struggle when I get the urge to write a "thought" I really need it? Will it add, or just be more words on the page?

This was a great clarifying post!

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Elana, I've given you a blog award. You can view it here on my blog. Just scroll down to the end of the post to the "Proximity" award for directions and more information about the award.

Thanks for a great blog!

I also love this post/series. I've always struggled with internal "dialogue" or thoughts. Thanks for some awesome info!

Robyn Campbell said...

Elana, I have had trouble leaving my comments with you today. I want to say that I have a problem with wanting to make my word count for the day and so fill it up with internal thoughts. Now in revisions I'm asking myself, "Who wrote that junk?" I must get a handle on it and quit doing the herky jerky. BTW, I love this blog and I love reading your posts. You're right on! :)

Anonymous said...

I really loved this whole series, Elana. Thanks for the reminders. I know, and you do, that I am guilty of the whole repeatage thing...hopefully it's getting a little better though :D

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