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Internal Dialogue

Saturday, November 17, 2007

There’s quite a discussion going on over on Chip MacGregor’s blog about whether or not to use italics for direct internal thought in narrative. It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s a regular reader here that I’ve blogged about my thoughts on this in the past, so due to the high interest in this topic, I’m reposting my original article (originally posted March 2006):

I’ve run across a couple of people recently who’ve asked about the difference between using italicized direct internal thoughts versus using deep 3rd person POV incorporating the internal thoughts. Because I write in DEEP 3rd, when I read someone’s work (published or unpublished) that tends to use a lot of direct internal dialogue, I begin to feel like the author is patronizing the reader’s grasp of being in the character’s head—or that the author just doesn’t have a good grasp of what deep 3rd is really all about. Here is an example of deep 3rd person point of view incorporating the characters internal dialogue from the opening of my contemporary romance Stand-In Groom:

      Nothing like running late to make a wonderful first impression.

      Anne Hawthorne left a voicemail message for her blind date as to her tardiness, and crossed her office to the gilt-framed mirror that reflected the view of Towne Square from the converted row-house’s front windows. At a buzzing jolt against her waist she flinched, smearing her lipstick.


      The vibrating cellular phone chimed out the wedding march. A client. She reached for a tissue to repair her mouth while flipping the phone open with her left hand. “Happy Endings Inc., this is Anne Hawthorne.”

I’ve highlighted in red text the “direct” thoughts of this character. “Deep 3rd Person POV” is when the author’s presence isn’t noticed . . . it’s all about being inside the point of view character’s head. I try to avoid phrases such as “she thought,” or “she knew” because that would be me as the author pulling back from the character and just narrating what’s going on. By just delving right into what my character knows, thinks, and feels, I as the author disappear and the character takes over telling the story. Therefore, I choose to use 3rd person for direct thoughts . . . except for passages where I need short, jolting bursts, like this from later in the book:

      She grinned. “I’ll bet there’re a lot of differences in what you’re used to hearing and how we talk down here in Louisiana.” To see him like this—relaxed, casual, and chatty—was addictive. She could imagine spending every Sunday afternoon like this with him. He’s engaged to Courtney Landry.

      “No doubt. Just coming to America was more of a culture shock than I had expected. Watching American programs on the telly or American films didn’t prepare me for the differences in casual language.”

      Anne slipped off her shoes and pulled her feet up under her. “For instance?” Get up. Leave now. He’s not available. He’s already spoken for.

      “I overheard two ladies at dinner a few nights ago gossiping about people they both knew. They would say the most terrible things then follow it up with ‘bless her heart.’”

      “Quintessential southern charm.”

      George shook his head. “I’ve always found the idiosyncrasies in language fascinating.”

      “I believe a lot of it has been perpetuated through regionalized literature. Until the last seventy-five years or so, most authors were published regionally. We didn’t start to have numbers of international best sellers until technology made mass producing books more cost effective…” Anne stopped, embarrassed, at the odd expression on George’s face. Why did she become such a geek around him, running on about something that no one she’d ever known—outside of her professors—had ever shown the least interest in?

      “Please continue. Your conclusions are fascinating. It sounds as if you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this.”

      Her pulse did the jitterbug. Was he serious? “I used to. My master’s thesis was on the impact of culture on Southern literature of the early twentieth century.”

      “You’ve a master’s degree in literature?” George set his book aside, shifted to the edge of his seat, and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees.

      She tried to swallow the emotion that threatened to cut off her breath. She’d ventured into treacherous territory; he belonged to someone else. I have to get out of here. I have to put an end to anything but a professional relationship between us. “I was about ten hours from finishing when I had to leave school for financial reasons.”

The reason I used Internal Dialogue in the second excerpt is because I needed the impact of the conflict going on inside Anne. Her “inner voice” is in direct confrontation with what she’s doing/wants to do. I don’t know about you, but I don’t always “talk to myself” as I go about my daily business. Deep 3rd Person POV is more of the stream-of-consciousness we each experience as we go through our day, making decisions, learning new tidbits of information, or just processing external stimuli into our thought-patterns. There are times, however, when I do have “direct conversations” with myself, usually when I’m in conflict over something, which is why I only use that technique when I need to show some major internal thought/conflict happening.

  1. Sunday, November 18, 2007 12:37 pm

    I ALWAYS italicize my internal dialogue. I don’t use ‘tons’ of it thought, so it’s not like there’s italics on every page, and I write for children, and I’ve found the use of italics not to be unpopular. I don’t know…I know some think I shouldn’t others think I should. Does the writing work if I didn’t use italics, yes, but Deep POV is almost a POV shift for me and I can’t stand it when writers go back and forth so much so that you think (as a reader) that the author should have written the darn book in first person 😀


  2. Monday, November 19, 2007 12:26 pm

    Kaye, why didn’t you consider the “Great” comment in the first example a direct thought? Sounded to me as though the character was talking to herself, as much as the other “red” comments did.

    I think this is why it’s confusing. I do tend to talk to myself (silently) so I have to try not to overdo it in my writing.


  3. Monday, November 19, 2007 2:19 pm

    Patricia, it’s showing that when it’s something that could go either way, I tend to not italicize and just make it part of the deep 3rd stream of consciousness.



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