I just finished a scifi space opera that could have been very good, but wasn’t. A big part of the reason was the author’s over use of internal monologue. I left a 3 star review, something I haven’t done in years, and a long explanation of why I felt the story only deserved a 3, but it’s still annoying me, hence this post.
For those who don’t know what I mean by ‘internal monologue’ it’s the character, talking to herself, but not out loud, hence ‘monologue’. In books, this internal monologue is usually shown in italics, to distinguish it from spoken dialogue.
When used properly, internal monologue is a powerful tool that betrays the character’s true feelings without the author having to say so. For example, I could say:
Jane smiled sweetly at her boss, but inside she was seething with rage.
Or I could make it more ‘show’ than ‘tell’ by changing it to:
Incompetent fool! Jane thought as she smiled sweetly at her boss.
The internal monologue of the second example provides an inside-outside view of the character that can be very powerful. Unfortunately, like all powerful tools, it should be used sparingly, and only when it actually serves a purpose. The story that earned my 3 star review used internal monologue almost constantly, for the most trivial of reasons. Something like:
Jane walked into the party and surveyed the crowd. Oh my. She was familiar with most of the party goers and did not like them. Then she spotted Tom. Thank god. Someone intelligent to talk to. etc etc etc
In the actual book, sentences like this were not exceptional. They happened with monotonous regularity, even during action scenes when the last thing you want to do is slow things down.
There’s another reason internal monologue should be used sparingly – a character with too many ‘warts’ is rarely likeable. Instead, they come across as whiny and self-obsessed, or arrogant smartarses. This can also happen with First Person POV – i.e. where the character tells the story from her own perspective saying things like “I did this” and “I felt that” etc.
In fairness I have to say that while I don’t generally like First Person POV, some of my favourite stories have been written from that very close perspective. C.J. Cherryh does it with the Foreigner series, and Audrey Driscoll did it with the Herbert West series. It can be done, and it can be done brilliantly, but First Person POV requires a mastery of the tool that far too many new authors do not possess.
The author of that 3 star story did not use First Person POV. Instead, the story is written in what’s called ‘Close Third’ – i.e. “She did this and she felt that”. There is distance between the character and the reader, but we get to see more of the internal workings of the character’s mind.
One of the tools used to create closeness is, of course, internal monologue, but it is not the only tool available to us. Describing a character’s body language can be a far more effective tool because it allows the reader to picture the scene and come to their own conclusions about what the character is doing or feeling. Showing the character from the perspective of another character is also very powerful because they can often see us as we really are instead of as we see ourselves…
And this is the point at which I have to say…’in my not so humble opinion’. I don’t often write process posts because I truly do not believe there is only one ‘correct’ way of writing a story, but sometimes I can’t help myself. This is one of those times.
Does this annoy anyone else, or am I being a ‘difficult woman’ again? lol Would love to know, but feel free to add any of your own pet peeves as well. 🙂