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.
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.
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.
Quotation 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.
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!