Thursday, August 11, 2011

You tell me: too much inner monologue?

How much is too much when it comes to all that thinking stuff?

Some call it interiority and others, inner monologue, but whatever the name, it's vital to help us relate to a character.

My question (because I've been facing this dilemma myself) is, how much is too much?

The third book I ever wrote was a science fiction work of art, or so I thought at the time. Rereading it today, I can see how scene after scene got mucked up in my main character's mind. There was a good reason for that: the book had a sort of Inception-like weirdness and was in fact about the human mind. But still, rereading it, I see an overabundance of thinking scenes.

It's something I've striven to avoid in my later books, but now my CPs often cite me with the opposite problem: not enough interiority.

Where my first few (YA-ish) books were easily over 70k or 80k, my new bare-bones style of writing ekes out novellas of 30k-40k which I then have to embellish with stuff like description and inner monologue. I don't mind writing this way because it is actually easier for me to add these things in than to take things out later. My problem is knowing when to stop. 

So since I've been at either extreme, I'm asking you.

How do you know when your character is thinking aloud too much vs. not thinking at all?

Does it depend on the genre? Or is there a hard-and-fast rule?

In other epic, wonderful news, The Mystery Agent is revealed and her one-sentence pitch winners announced!!

And four days remain until WriteOnCon!!


  1. When I went to Big Sur and had my work critiqued, the agent in my group told me I needed to add more interiority. So now I've gone back and rewritten the entire book with interiority, and sometimes I think I have gone overboard with it... but I figure, that's what my critique partners are for! Better to add more, since you can always cut it later.

  2. Oh man, this is a question I struggle with quite a bit, especially when I was writing THE HUNGRY GROUND. The main character, Kalinda, isn't the most talkative person ever, but sometimes I'd have to force her to speak up just so I wouldn't have a scene with her arguing with herself.

    I'd say, for me, it definitely depends on genre. For something more literary and character-driven, that inner monologue is really crucial to the story, so you have to nail it. For something more plot-driven, you have to keep things moving, so you balance that interiority with development of the plot. Either way, though, I don't think there are any hard and fast rules. Sometimes I have to try a scene a few different ways just to see what fits.

    And yay Mystery Agent winners! The pitches were great!

  3. Personally, I have an easier time putting it all in there and cutting it down later. That way, I know exactly what my characters feeling and I can incorporate it into their actions. When it comes to knowing how much is too much, I see if I can read it and still remember what action happened last. If I lose sight of that and the next bit of action seems disconnected, there's too much. I usually start my MSs with WAY too much inner monologue, but I prefer writing that way and cutting it down to trying to add it in. But everyone's different! :D

  4. I think it depends a lot on the book and what it needs. My crit partners are a big help in getting it right-- letting me know when it gets in the way of pacing, or when they're confused because there isn't enough of it. It's a fine line, and I don't think there's a real rule.

  5. This is such a hard one because I don't think there is a hard and fast rule. I think you just have to feel it out. Like Shallee says, crit partners can really help with knowing what's too much vs. not enough.

  6. Some people hate it, but personally I love it. I say go with your instincts.

  7. I wish I had an answer for you but I don't. I think as long as the book flows smoothly you are good to go. If it leaves you wondering you probably don't have enough. If it leaves you bored, you probably have too much. Of course, CP's are an awesome help with this.

  8. Thanks, you guys, for all the awesome advice! I agree 100% that CPs are the best qualified people to help me find that line. I hope in the future I'll get better at feeling it out for myself.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Hi there! *waves*

    THAT is the million dollar question, huh? Tough one-balancing interiority with physical descriptions. Too much of one or the other and you've gone too far. I come up short also in my novels (40K) and then always add! *sigh*


Speak up! You will be heard...or read.