“Expunging Interior Dialogue: I’m No Mind-Reader, But …”
I just finished a wonderful book. Self-published, from what I can tell (the evidence is inconclusive), but a complex, satisfying read.
The only problem is, from page one, the author of said book positively spewed interior dialogue onto its pages. It was like he couldn’t help himself, and I know the feeling.
At first, I sympathetically read each character’s thoughts, concerns, caveats, musings, observations, irrelevant memories, repetitive temptations, and so forth. But then I came to my senses. I decided that, as someone who has often committed the same mistake, it would be far more merciful to skip such segments in honor of what ought to have been the final draft.
This may sound harsh, but I can back up my claim. Consider these simple reasons why interior dialogue (a.k.a. inner monologues) is of little use to a reader:
1) The action and (spoken) dialogue, together with thoughtful (and sparse) description should tell us all we need to know.
2) Even if a character’s motivation is unclear, it is far more fun for the reader to wonder why the heck he did something until the action/dialogue reveals what it was.
3) Readers are brainy creatures, and they find satisfaction in piecing information together on their own, rather than stumbling upon passive-aggressive post-it notes throughout a given chapter. If you’ve ever watched a show that repeatedly slapped you in the face with a political agenda, you know what I’m talking about.
It is worth mentioning that all writers writing in the third person limited (the story is seen through a particular character’s point of view, but written in third person) are tempted to use interior dialogue as a convenient means of laying out backstory. This is rarely handled well.
If you intend to brave this route, be sure that, while revealing backstory through the thoughts of your narrating character, other errands are likewise getting accomplished. For example, a character could be shopping for groceries in preparation for a dinner party that evening, and she must put in her cart items that are detestable to her but preferred by the guest of honor – a new brother in law who has heartlessly stolen away her only sister. Yes? The character is not frozen in time, nor musing on a bench, but performing some action that furthers the plot.
CAUTION! Even then, the interior dialogue can quickly get tedious. There are only so many kinds of vegetables to buy before your reader would like to take his kitchen knife and julienne your book.
I’m still new at this, but personally I have to write interior dialogue – at least for the first draft. It’s a crutch I use to understand my character, to learn which choices are most authentic to his personality and to his history. But I’m quickly learning that, once the interior dialogue has done its job and my characters are definitively chiseled, it’s time to pull down the scaffolding.
Editor Adair, Husband Hill and I have taken great satisfaction in the extirpation of Tess’s mental ramblings. And if this novel ever gets into your hands, I’m sure you’ll thank us.