“F***,” Ross swore to himself as soon as he’d closed the door to the loo. Another quietly hissed, “F***,” as he wrenched the metal faucet handle open, and a third as he clenched his fingers beneath the flow of water.
Shouldn’t have come what are you doing here you don’t belong Sam‘s right–
And, of a sudden looking up into the mirror above the sink, he saw the reflection of that oddly proper but still charming wave walker, with the blond hair and clear blue eyes, in the dark shirt and silk tie, and stopped.
“No,” he told that man in a whisper. “It’s just one night. You can do this.” He splashed some water on his face, to cool the flush of red behind his eyes, and looked into the mirror again with a determined stare. “Just keep your bloody mouth shut.”
Apologies for the coarse language above, but I wanted to illustrate a technique used quite a bit in fiction: the inner monologue. Or, put more basically, thoughts in a character’s head.
I try not to dwell in a character’s head overmuch. There are times when it’s convenient to make a point, but I’m well aware that the inner monologue can be a crutch, where the danger is I’ll be informing the reader (telling) of a character’s motivations or feelings rather than letting the character’s actions make those motivations and feelings known more organically (showing).
Almost worse than this fallback to telling, though, is when I see some writers use the inner thought convention in a way that is so formal it becomes unnatural, cumbersome, even. Thoughts become like words spoken aloud, as you might see in a comic book thought bubble…
…when I don’t know of anyone who thinks in structured sentences.
Now, I don’t take issue with a simple thought such as “War sucks,” which is basic and visceral: the emotion is broken down pretty much to its core as can be done. What I do roll my eyes at is a chunk of text broken out as a character’s inner thoughts that is structured so much like a proper paragraph that it could just as well be spoken. That it probably should be spoken:
Perhaps I should go to her, standing there in front of her locker, and ask her if she’d like to go to the dance with me. Just go up and ask her. How hard could that be? If she says yes, maybe I could bring her flowers, too, to show her how much I like her. But what kind should I get? She’s said peonies are her favorite, but what if the florist doesn’t have any peonies? What are peonies, anyway? Oh, blast! Why does young love have to be so complicated?
This is overdoing it, of course, but you get the idea. How boring is that, to be told outright – through an inner monologue, no less! – what the character is thinking and feeling? How much more interesting would it be to guess a little:
He shifted on his feet as he watched her giggle among her friends. Even the way she opened the locker door was full of grace, fingers clutching her books like they were delicate flowers.
Didn’t she like flowers? He’d heard her talk once about peonies – whatever they were – in some conversation or other. Maybe, if he came to her with those before he asked her to the dance, she might notice him, for once….
Actually, I’m not sure if that’s better or worse. 😉 I do know it’s more interesting to write, though, so hopefully it’s more interesting to read.
The inner monologue is a perfectly acceptable convention. Just remember that it shouldn’t be your answer to all explanations. Thoughts are in our heads for a reason. Words from our lips just the same.
Do you employ the inner monologue? If so, how? And, which of those examples do you prefer, if either?