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Writing

3 Tips on Using Internal Monologue in Writing

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 3 min read

Literature has the unique power to bring us into the inner experience of its characters, allowing us to think and feel right alongside them. Without having to write dialogue, an author can convey simple, intimate information about a character’s deeply held secrets—like their memories of the first time they fell in love. Such things are possible due to the literary device known as internal monologue.

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What Is an Internal Monologue?

Internal monologue (also known as inner monologue or interior monologue) is a literary device that allows the reader to observe the inner thoughts of characters in a narrative. Inner monologue is often used to reveal the main character’s most private desires, frustrations, or points of view about the other characters or events in the story.

2 Types of Internal Monologue

Internal monologue is a blanket term for when a character’s interior thoughts are voiced to the reader. There are two specific literary terms that are considered subcategories of inner monologue:

  1. Soliloquy: In soliloquy—typically found in plays—a fictional character voices their thoughts out loud for the audience. Soliloquies are commonly found in Shakespeare’s work. Obviously, in real life, people don’t share their innermost thoughts with strangers in a private speech, but in the world of a play, a soliloquy gives the audience access to a character’s inner state.
  2. Stream of Consciousness: In stream of consciousness writing, an entire literary work is told from the perspective of a character’s inner thoughts, usually in the present tense. The novel Ulysses by James Joyce is an example of stream of consciousness narration.
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3 Ways to Use Inner Monologue in Writing

Inner monologue can be used to tell us things about our protagonist and the world that surrounds them that we wouldn’t otherwise know. Here are three ways to use inner monologues in your writing:

1. Give voice to a character’s thoughts. It’s possible to convey the internal voice of your characters if you’re writing in first person or third person limited, but interrupting the constant narrative voice with short bursts of internal speech can be a particularly effective way of adding a spark to your writing. Writing in a character’s inner voice allows the reader to gain insight into a character’s immediate thought processes, and the abruptness of that internal voice can provide quick information and increase the tension in a scene.
2. Describe other characters or events from the protagonist’s point of view. Inner monologue allow us access to our character’s train of thought, and it also allows us to see their internal dialogue about other people. This can provide us with information about other characters that we wouldn’t otherwise know, as well as a taste of our main character’s voice.

Through a character’s thoughts and inner dialogue, we can get a taste of our main character’s subjective attitudes and POV toward other characters, in addition to their physical descriptions.

3. Demonstrate your main character’s internal conflicts. Voicing a character’s own thoughts can be a powerful tool to demonstrate internal conflict and showcase the decision-making process going on inside that character’s head. In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, we are constantly subjected to Rodion Raskolnikov’s self-talk as he grapples with his negative thoughts and paranoia:

This evening, however, on coming out into the street, he became acutely aware of his fears.

"I want to attempt a thing like that and am frightened by these trifles," he thought, with an odd smile. "Hm . . . yes, all is in a man's hands and he lets it all slip from cowardice, that's an axiom. It would be interesting to know what it is men are most afraid of. Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what they fear most. . . . But I am talking too much. It's because I chatter that I do nothing. Or perhaps it is that I chatter because I do nothing. I've learned to chatter this last month, lying for days together in my den thinking . . . of Jack the Giant-killer. Why am I going there now? Am I capable of that? Is that serious? It is not serious at all. It's simply a fantasy to amuse myself; a plaything! Yes, maybe it is a plaything."

Through Rodion’s own voice in his own head, we get a sense of the main character’s scattered, self-doubting internal world, and we pick up on foreshadowing of greater conflicts to come.

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