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Behind the Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Michael G'Francisco



Fiction writers have the freedom of giving their characters thoughts. Yes, a writer can give the reader an experience into the thoughts of a story’s character, and what could be more intimate, than to see into a person’s mind?

Now, I’m not saying that other literary art forms never let a person experience the inner workings of a character’s mind. It’s done in some cases by soliloquies, which is a way of a person speaking to him or herself. An example of this can be found in some of Shakespeare’s works, e.g. “Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” This is taken from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. Juliet is actually talking to herself, she doesn’t know that Romeo is eavesdropping. In stage plays the emphasis is more on dialogue and what the audience is experiencing is a conversation.

The best way is in the printed page. But, this isn’t as easy as it sounds (a little pun there on words).Anyone who writes fiction wrestles with the problem of how to convey inner thought dialogue without distracting from the flow of the story.

Should a writer use quotation marks or possibly italics to designate a character’s thoughts? The answer to that question is possible use of tags e.g. “He thought” or “She wondered.” Actually all three can be used, but sparingly.

In the case of using a tag, one is not necessary when a character is alone. The use of quotation marks tends to make the reader believe the character is speaking the words aloud.

Inner dialogue is simply the speech of a character to him or herself. They hear it and the reader hears it, but other characters, in the same story scene, have no idea of what’s going on in their head.

A positive side to inner dialogue is it can be continued for many pages to unfold a story, a scene or until another character appears. Inner thought dialogue can reveal a character’s emotions, love or despair. Each of these can bring a reader to focus on various story situations.

There are also several key benefits in mastering the use of inner thought dialogue. One is it can create a powerful story protagonist or an antagonist. Another is not only letting the reader visualize a character in an action scene, but allow the reader to know what the character is thinking of might happen to them. And, of course, it can reveal or develop a story’s character’s personality.

Now, let’s look at a few ways on how to format Inner Dialogue.

Writing in the First Person is probably the easiest way to express a character’s thinking. In this case a writer can reveal a character’s thoughts in a story with the opening paragraph. It can be an alarming thought situation or a visual thought describing a morbid scene or even a conflict. Example:
Staring down into the raft at her naked body my thoughts drifted back…

In the Third Person, the use of italics allows the writer to use present tense thoughts while writing in the past tense without distracting the reader. Just remember to be consistent throughout the story and, wherever possible, set the thoughts in their own paragraph. Example:

Entering the drug store Johnny saw Joan coming toward him on her way out and flashed her a smile. “I’ve still got to get even with her.” Joan seeing Johnny returned his smile. “That rat, I’m not through with him, yet.”

Let’s step out of the box and look at a writer using a narrator in a story to reveal a character’s inner thoughts. When a writer uses a narrator he or she usually wants to gain distance in some part of the story.

A narrator can tell the inner thoughts of a character by explaining or summarizing a coming event of the story. For instance: A story is opened by the main character telling what has happened to have him or her in their present predicament. In a First Person narration, the story is revealed through the main character by directly conveying the story like a Third Person, but is also the focal character. Example:

This type of inner character narration thoughts is best showed in the Robert Montgomery movie, Lady in the Lake (1947). The film is shot from the viewpoint of the central character, Phillip Marlowe. The audience sees only what he does.

In closing the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing recommends the use of italics to convey thoughts in step # 11 of his 16 –step program (Evan Marshall 2001).


Now, go softly into the night. mgf

Comments always welcome

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