Interior Dialogue—The Bad
As covered in the previous post, the use of interior dialogue is a useful device in a writer’s toolbox. But it can be a double-edged weapon to wield. Let’s discuss its downsides.
Tell dressed up in sheep’s clothing
Let’s assume you are coming to a critical point in your plot which you express as:
Aidan thought, “I’ve got to do something. I’m too impatient to let this just happen. Just because Peggy told me yesterday that we were through doesn’t mean I have to buy it.”
You want to establish Aidan’s impatience and his breakup with Peggy as key points in your story. But actually, you haven’t. Or at least not well. Using interior dialogue this way is a kind of a cheat TELL. This is the most common misuse of interior dialogue.
When an event/characteristic is important to your plot, you’ve got to slow down and give it the space it deserves. You need to show the impatience. Aidan jumps up, paces the room, and/or writes an ill-advised text to Peggy. You need to let the reader be a fly on the wall when Peggy and Adrian have their final blow-up. What she said, then what he said, she said, he said, etc.
There are some pragmatic reasons for expanding on important plot points. First, if you don’t, the reader is unlikely to remember this almost off –the-cuff treatment and may be confused about the protagonist’s motivation farther into the narrative. Secondly, even if she remembers, she won’t be convinced emotionally of its veracity because she hasn’t seen it for herself, so to speak.
However, it is possible that this is not an important plot point (although sort of hard to see how it wouldn’t be). If it isn’t, you might be able to get away with it. But it’s still TELL in quotes.
In action/high tension sequences
What if you are writing a high tension scene? You want your reader on the edge of her chair. Would this work?
Brad’s head jerked up. Something was happening in the cabin. A whiff of smoke was coming out of the chimney. Oak probably, although it might be pine. Brad started to creep forward.
Well, it’s not a chargeable offense but Brad is presumably keyed up and as tense as you hope your reader is. In this situation, I think that this bit of internal dialogue is not only unnecessary but distracting. In an emergency situation, do you notice how pretty the accident victim’s dress is? Or remark on the fluffy blue clouds as you are tumbling down the mountain to your death? These are not good places for internal dialogue.
If the type of wood is significant to the plot (although I am blanking as to how), you can have Brad think about it after the high tension situation is concluded.
Yes, Hamlet can spend the whole play agonizing about his choices and let’s face it, we buy it. He thinks his way through and delays action in pretty much the whole play but it works. But because of the particular genius of Shakespeare. There is another set of rules for the rest of us.
And the rule is: Shit or get off the pot.
Audiences, particularly modern ones, just don’t have a lot of tolerance for vacillating protagonists. A certain amount of interior dialogue is okay as the character is deciding what to do but sooner rather than later, he must act. If he continues his indecision too long he’ll likely be seen as weak, dithering, and even morally bankrupt.
So, by all means use interior dialogue (only one POV, please) but be aware of when and how to use it.