Chances are, you’ve already written one but probably don’t know how to write an interior monologue in a purposeful way. Many authors overuse these internal musings (also referred to as “naval gazing”), thinking it’s providing adequate character development when in reality, they’re simply telling the reader all of what the reader wants to be shown.
If you want to have substantial characterization while giving the reader a peek inside the character’s motivations, goals, and emotions, learning how to write interior monologues is important.
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What is an interior monologue?
Simply put, an interior monologue is a snapshot of in-depth narrative about the thoughts and feelings of the character where they’re thinking about their life, contemplating circumstances, and is done inside the characters’ mind.
Unlike a monologue in a movie or TV show, an interior monologue is exactly as described: internal. It takes place in the mind of the character, and only sometimes is accompanied by the thoughts of the narrator, depending on the narration style of the story.
How to Write an Interior Monologue That’s Not Boring
You never want readers to put your book down at all, but especially not when they’re reading about the inner workings of a character. Learning how to write an interior monologue that’s good and purposeful requires many steps, and are the parts your editor will recommend rewrites for most often.
These are vital tips to remember and use when writing yours.
1. Understand Your Character
Before diving into writing an interior monologue, it is crucial to have a deep understanding of your character. Consider their background, experiences, personality traits, and motivations.
The interior monologue should reflect the character’s unique voice, thoughts, and emotional landscape. Think about their language, syntax, and vocabulary choices. By immersing yourself in your character’s psyche, you will be better equipped to create an authentic and believable interior monologue.
But that’s not all. The interior monologue serve to show your reader how your character thinks and operates.
Do they justify their bad decisions through multiple layers of thinking?
How do they determine a good idea from a bad one?
What’s their overall thought process and what do they consider when deep in thought?
These details all stem from early character development in the first place. Each character that gets a viewpoint will have a different “sound” to their interior monologues and this is what develops a character.
2. Create a Distinctive Voice
Every character has a distinctive voice, and the interior monologue provides an excellent opportunity to showcase it. Pay attention to the character’s speech patterns, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. Are they formal or informal? Are they prone to rambling or concise in their thoughts?
Use these elements to shape the character’s interior monologue and make it identifiable and consistent. A strong voice will engage readers and bring the character to life. But remember that a whiney, overly sad tone will be hard for a reader to sit through for long amounts of time.
You have to have a level of balance. The more you use an interior monologue, the more you’ll have to include actionable, faster paced scenes to keep up. A great example of this is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. While a lengthy book, it’s a character driven story that includes many examples of this balance, and is a great study if you want to learn how to write an interior monologue well.
3. Embrace Realism
Interior monologues aim to capture the authenticity of human thought processes. Embrace the ebb and flow of thoughts, the interruptions, and the tangents that occur naturally in our minds. It is not a perfectly structured narrative but a representation of raw and unfiltered thinking.
Allow the monologue to meander, jump between ideas, and incorporate snippets of dialogue or memories—if it’s consistent with your characterization. Realistic interior monologues mirror the natural chaos of the human mind.
Here are a few things to think about for this realism:
- Choose if your character is logical or emotional in their thinking (do they use logic or emotions to structure their thoughts?)
- Pinpoint emotions that make them spiral and capture that the best you can
- Think about thoughts they tend to avoid even thinking about, as what they don’t think about can come up later when they go through their character arc
4. Use Vivid Imagery and Sensory Details
Engage the reader’s senses by incorporating vivid imagery and sensory details into the interior monologue. Utilize descriptive language to paint a vivid picture of the character’s surroundings and experiences.
Show, rather than tell, the character’s emotions and reactions through sensory stimuli. By appealing to the reader’s senses, you immerse them in the character’s world and create a more evocative and engaging interior monologue. This is key for learning how to write an interior monologue that doesn’t feel overly boring.
When you ground your reader, they have more tolerance for internal musings.
5. Show Character Development
Interior monologues can be an excellent tool to showcase character development and growth. As the story progresses, the character’s thoughts and reflections should evolve. Use the interior monologue to reveal their changing perspectives, doubts, and self-discoveries. Allow the character to grapple with internal conflicts, make decisions, and experience epiphanies.
This adds depth and complexity to the narrative, making the character’s journey more compelling. Plus, it’s a great way to visit new thoughts and feelings your character avoided earlier on, further showing their growth.
Whenever you have moments of big impact, like if you’re writing a hero and crafting your grand moments, you’ll need to accompany those with interior monologues. Most often, the best interior monologues take place as the character is about to take action and make a big change in their lives.
That interior monologue serves as them choosing it in the first place.
6. Balance Interior Monologue with Action and Dialogue
While the interior monologue is a powerful tool, it should be balanced with action and dialogue to maintain a dynamic pace, as mentioned above. Too much introspection can slow down the narrative and disrupt the flow. Integrate the interior monologue with external events, interactions, and dialogue to create a well-rounded narrative.
By finding the right balance, you provide readers with a multi-dimensional experience that combines internal and external perspectives.
A great rule for knowing how to write an interior monologue is to take a look at your paragraph lengths. If you have pages of big paragraphs with very little dialogue, you’re probably doing too much with it. At the same time, if you want to slow the pacing down and have a lot of action or dialogue, allowing your character to pause by adding an interior monologue is a strong way to do that.
Overall, every novel will have some naval gazing. Learning how to write an internal monologue is key for writers to compose strong, well-paced books that don’t deter readers for being boring.