Yesterday, I got to talking with one of my writer friends about a problem we’re both having- how much internal monologue is too much?
The easy and lazy answer is, ‘it depends.’ But just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Different genres allow for more- or less- introspection by the characters, and if you’re writing a short story, there’s not as much room for the character to climb up inside his own head as there is in a novel.
The friend in question writes mil-SF, so there’s not a lot of time or space for the characters to ponder the meaning of the universe. One or two sentences at a time, interspersed with the action. But he’s also working on a coming-of-age series, in which a strong internal monologue is practically required. The whole point of the story is to get to know a character, where they started off, how they ended up, and how they got there, in their actions and their thoughts.
As for me… well, everything I write turns into romance. It’s the weirdest thing, because I’m not a romantic person in real life. But it gives me a place to explore characters’ emotions and thoughts, and I enjoy that. That exploration is often done silently, in the character’s head.
But how to decide when enough is enough? I’m having this problem with the WIP, because the main character’s problems are mostly subjective and she can’t talk to anyone about them. So I can’t make her play off other characters- dialogue is always good for moving a story along if you think it’s lagging. It gets better later in the story, because she starts interacting with other characters, including the other POV character, which leads to some interesting conversations when they try to figure out what the other is thinking- and hiding!- and get it wrong.
I pondered the problem and came up with some basic questions for writers who are deciding whether to include a character’s thought process in the story:
1- Will depicting the decision process slow down the story? If yes, does that slow-down happen at a point in the story when you want a slow-down?
2- If you don’t want the story to slow down, is there a place in the story after the decision is made, where you can reasonably have the character go through the memory of the process?
3- Does the process convey any emotional impact that the decision itself doesn’t convey?
Those questions are specifically for when a character is faced with a problem and must quickly decide yes or no, because that was the nature of the discussion. But they can be easily adapted for other varieties of contemplation. The important thing is, don’t bore your readers. This is often genre-dependent, as I said above, but as long as you don’t pull a bait and switch on your readers, abruptly stopping your rip-roaring adventure for pages of pure thought from the characters, you’re probably okay. And even if you do, some fans enjoy the change of pace. A very subjective issue, internal monologues.
Your turn! How do you handle moments when your character must ponder abstract problems? Do you enjoy reading those bits? What do you do when your character wants to discuss an issue out loud, only there are no other characters to talk to?