Tag Archives: internal dialogue

Stream of Consciousness – Part III: How to Punctuate

In the first blog post of this three-part series on Stream of Consciousness, we looked at how this writing technique has progressed through the years. In Part II, we took a look at the practical uses for stream of consciousness (also known as inner dialogue).

Now that we have that information under our belts, let’s dig a little deeper. What’s the clearest, most effective way to set up stream of consciousness on the page? How should it be punctuated, if you will.

Be A NovelistExample from Tulsa Turning

The following is an excerpt from the second book in my Tulsa Series, Tulsa Turning. The main character, Clarette Fortier, heiress to her family’s fortunes created from the silk trade, has turned her back on all the wealth. Gutsy and determined, she wants to make it as a newspaper reporter – in the man’s-world of a New York City newspaper.

At this point in the story her editor has assigned her to travel from NYC to Tulsa, OK, to cover what he calls a ”negro uprising.” Clarette’s apartment roommate, first generation immigrant Herta, is bewildered by all of Clarette’s antics.

As Clarette packs to head out west, here are her thoughts:

Herta was dumbfounded to learn that Clarette was going on such a long trip. Clarette didn’t have the heart to tell her that she’d been to Paris twice and to London several times. But going to Europe and Great Britain was certainly different than this. She wasn’t sure what to take. She’d seen Will Rogers in the Follies, dressed in his boots, chaps, cowboy hat, swinging a lariat. Did everyone in Oklahoma dress like a cowboy?

In this example, the inner dialogue maintains the flow of the book – that is, third person, past tense. This is probably the least intrusive way to present inner thoughts. But it’s not the only way.

Use of Italics

It could have been written partly in first person using italics to set off the thoughts:

Poor Herta was dumbfounded when she realized I was going on such a long trip. I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that I’d been to Paris twice and to London several times. But going to Europe and Great Britain was certainly different than this. Rummaging in her closet, Clarette sucked in a deep breath. I have no idea what to pack. They say Will Rogers hails from Oklahoma. When I saw him onstage at the Follies he was decked out in boots, chaps, cowboy hat, and was swinging a lariat. Gosh. Does everyone in Oklahoma dress like a cowboy?

Add Tag Lines

Another technique would be adding tag lines within the inner thoughts like so:

Rummaging in her closet, Clarette sucked in a deep breath. What in the world shall I pack? she wondered. They say Will Rogers hails from Oklahoma. When I saw him onstage at the Follies he was decked out in boots, chaps, cowboy hat, and was swinging a lariat. Gosh. Does everyone in Oklahoma dress like a cowboy?

In this example, the action of Clarette rummaging in her closet makes the tag line unnecessary. However, there will be times when that is not the case. In such instances, it does not detract to add a tag line within her inner thoughts. So feel free to do so, but use with discretion.

First Person

Also notice in this example that I switched into first person. Some will say this interrupts the flow. Others will counter by saying that this makes it even more genuine-sounding. Who is correct? The answer to that is: you are the author. It has to be what works best in your story to maintain the pace, tone, and story flow. What feels right to you?

NOTE: Please don’t make the amateurish error of writing: she thought to herself. Who else would she be thinking to but herself? It’s a subtle trap. Don’t be snared.

New Paragraph or Not?

Another puzzler is whether or not to begin a new paragraph when inner dialogue appears. The best rule is to treat it the same as spoken dialogue which does require a new paragraph. And just as spoken dialogue and action can be mixed within one paragraph, so can inner dialogue and action.

Be A NovelistQuotation Marks or Not?

One of the more confusing aspects of writing inner dialogue – especially for novice novelists – is the use of quotation marks. When words are placed within quote marks in a novel (or short story) the reader automatically sees it as spoken dialogue. If the quote marks are used for inner thoughts, they serve only to confuse your reader. Not to mention, marking you as an amateur author. The answer then is, no quotation marks for inner dialogue.

Have Fun!Be A Novelist

This is not an extensive study of writing stream of consciousness (i.e., inner dialogue), but it can at least lay a foundation for you. As you read novels that you enjoy (as an author should read) search out passages that use inner dialogue and study how it is introduced, how it helps to build the plot, and how it’s punctuated.

If you don’t already – soon you will learn to love crawling inside your character’s head to write his or her inner thoughts.  Have fun!

Be A Novelist

March, 2014

Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection

This collection includes six re-released titles

of my previously-published teen novels

Exciting Project! Click for Details!

Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection Logo-1

You can be a vital part of this ambitious project.

Personalized gifts for supporters!

Come on board and together we can get these books into the hands of teens everywhere! Be A Novelist

Stream of Consciousness – Part II: Practical Use

Be A NovelistUse Wisely, Deftly, Sparingly

In my previous blog post, Stream of Consciousness – Part I: Then and Now, I pointed out how in the early 1900s writers discovered how to use stream of consciousness (or interior dialogue). Once that happened, they then used it to excess. Readers grew weary of multiple pages filled with the character’s free-wheeling inner thoughts. The use of this technique then had to be brought under control. Writers had to learn how to use it wisely, deftly, and sparingly.

The fun thing about writing inner thoughts of a character is that most all of us would love to be able to read someone’s mind. We hear what is being said, but then it comes down to: “I wonder what he’s really thinking.”  This happens because we do it ourselves – say one thing while thinking quite another. (Our characters do the same thing.)

Emotions Laid Bare

Add to this the fact that we all talk to ourselves, either totally silent, or barely mumbling. When talking to self, we are much less inhibited.  OurBe A Novelist deepest emotions are laid bare.

Sometimes we argue with self, and so it goes into a question and answer session. We are searching for answers. We want to know; we want to understand.

This knowledge then is put to good use in our novel as we plumb the depths of our character.  Through the use of stream of consciousness, we are seeking to know the truest nature of this person. This can be done without external (author) explanation or commentaries.

First Person or Second Person?

Inner dialogue can be presented either in first person or second person. The way to discover which will work best for you is to simply try both.

          I’m such a sap. Why did I ever believe her? I saw all the warning signs.

Or :

Oh, Colin, you are such a sap. How could you have ever fallen for that line? You saw all the warning signs.

Try these on for size then read back through the passage and see which one seems to create the effect you’re looking for. Different scenes, different pace, different tone can all come into play.

Passive or Active

The examples above are passive inner dialogue as the character chides himself for falling for a lie. If it were active, it might read like this:

Dump her! Just dump her, you sap. She’s nothing but trouble. Get out of here. Now.

As you can see, the more emotional the inner dialogue, the more emotional the scene.

Use Sparingly

Weaving in stream of consciousness is definitely an art. The idea is to bring it into play when needed for the plot to be advanced, but (word of caution) avoid addingBe A Novelist inner thoughts just for the sheer fun of it.

Here are a few pointers as to what the use of stream of consciousness can achieve. Inner thoughts can:

  • allow insight into a character
  • allow characters to be unique
  • present character’s true voice
  • reveal character’s true motivation
  • slow the pace of a scene (therefore, never stick in inner thoughts into a fast-paced action scene)
  • reveal a character’s conflict between his deeper self and the needs of others

In the next blog post we’ll look at different ways stream of consciousness can be set up and punctuated – something that can cause confusion for the beginning novelist.Be A Novelist

March, 2014

Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection

This collection includes six re-released titles

of my previously-published teen novels

Exciting Project! Click for Details!

Norma Jean Lutz Classic Collection Logo-1

You can be a vital part of this ambitious project.

Personalized gifts for supporters!

Come on board and together we can get these books into the hands of teens everywhere! Be A Novelist