Thursday, February 19, 2009

Internal Dialog

Yeah, I know, I'm pretty much my own pirate. I create posts and move them around--you know, something here in an e-mail, something there at RD--scoop them up and move them, so sooner or later I can archive them on my site.

Internal dialog is one of my evolving favorites. I used to think it was simply a variation on Suzanne Brockman's Deep Pov. But the more exposure I get to other people, the more I've come to realize that internal dialog means a lot of different things and should mean a lot of different things because the way it's used dictates a certain structure.

It used to be internal dialog sounded like this...

Jane started up the stairs. I'm tired, she thought, and it's a long way to the top.

Basically you were telling you reader that A) look here, it's in italics, so it's internal dialog and B) just in case they didn't know, you tacked on an internal dialog tag.

Many writers still do it this way and in most instances, it works because it works with the writers voice in a certain kind of story or certain circumstances.

Then came deep pov, which in Brockmann's words, put the camera behind the hero/heroine's eyes.

Jane started up the stairs. It was a long way to the top, and every step was a screaming agony.

And yeah--I cut it off. It's just the two sentences. Jane starting up the steps. Jane's internal dialog. The first one, the old-fashioned one, is okay depending on the circumstances. If it's a transition scene, and you just need to get Jane up the stairs and don't want to cut away and say, "At the top of the stairs, Jane--" then it's a good, workmanlike transition. Nothing shiny about it.

The second one, the deep pov one--can definitely be fleshed out. When you strip the "I" words from your heroine's dialog, it creates a more immediate feel. You don't see the heroine, you "are" the heroine. And it works great if the heroine has a damned good reason to be there on the stairs.

And that goes back to story proportion.

Not every event is important to your story.

Which means layering should be selective. You don't need to be in deep pov ninety-nine point nine percent of the time.

So let's back that up and go back to Jane. If the important story event happens after walking up the stairs, say there's a killer somewhere in the apartment on the third floor. But Jane is on the first and a very long hallway away from the killer, then Jane walking up the stairs doesn't need to be layered. Jane walking down the hall should be layered, because you are closer to the story event. The stairs are just a transition because, remember--you didn't want to cut away and start on the landing. So it's a style choice, and a proportion choice because if your reader knows the killer is in the apartment they aren't going to be too happy about Jane puffing and wheezing up the stairs when the real excitement is going to happen as Jane gets closer to the door.

Think of a horror movie. Remember the teenagers necking in the living room? Not really? Bet you remember them creeping down the stairs into the basement. The living room needs to be there to set the scene, but it doesn't have to have gobs of internal dialog because that distracts from when you slow the scene down and open the basement door.

Layering internal dialog creates a sense of slowing down and texture because you're stopping to smell the blood and feel the sweat trickle down your neck. Layering for the sake of layering makes the action in your wip blur. In a straight contemporary, too. Something has to draw your hero and heroine together. Putting emphasis on the heroine's bed-time ritual isn't important, unless it plays a part in the story.

If the heroine is running her hands along the silk sheets and lighting candles, then the whole event loses oomph and becomes filler if the hero doesn't show up in the scene. It'd be better for your story structure (if you don't want the hero and heroine in her bed) if you simply said, Jane turned out the lights. Or simply cut to the next scene where something happens to drive your plot forward.


Kaige said...

So, how many volumes are you planning for your non-fiction proposal? :) As usual, you're a great chunk wrapper. I think what makes it click for me is your examples. You and Jo Bourne are great at those.

Although, I hate posts like these too. Especially before bedtime. Makes my brain spin and want to go revise things. ;)

jodi said...

lol, Kaige. I think it's going to be a small (read normal sized) book with a lot of very in-depth stuff that address one issue.

So far I've come to realize it needs to be broken into three units. The Groundwork, The Technique, and Layering. And those units are probably going to be broken into maybe six chapters. I think it'll be a "opus" and hell--if a publisher won't buy it. I might just publish the damned thing myself or start an internet company devoted to craft of writing books.

Alice Audrey said...

I can see keeping it short, unless the whole point of all the attention on the heroine's bed is that she expected the hero to be/end up there but he never does.

I think this is where having a strong sense of the story becomes vital.

Kaige said...

I was just teasing. It's definitely something I'd be interested in. So many of the craft books I've sifted through (and, yes, perhaps there've been too many) only seem to go about halfway on the examples.

You and Jo make it very easy for me to see the difference in why the before isn't preferable to the after.

*twiddles her thumbs waiting for the pairings* I hate waiting.

Unhinged said...

I have been thinking of this ever since I read it last night:

When you strip the "I" words from your heroine's dialog, it creates a more immediate feel. You don't see the heroine, you "are" the heroine.

It was a handslap-to-the-forehead moment for me. I was under the (unconscious) mistaken idea that using I words helped a reader understand the character.

I say unconscious because the only thing I really sweat over when I write is the words. I have an idea of what I want to show and how I want to do that, but if I were to think about much else, it'd cripple me.

But I love what you've said here. And obviously, it struck a chord because I thought about it several times. Yeah and Huh and Wow is what I was thinking. (My brain was fried, okay?)

I think I'm a deep pov writer. I hope I am (I'll have to read back through some of my words). I know there are instances where one can be both, but I love the idea of writing deeply.

Jodi, what's your favorite pov to write in? Have you ever written a story in first person? (Can't count blog posts. I'm talking STORY here.)

Jeanna said...

Jane takes as long as me to get up those damn stairs.

Unhinged said...

Howling...just Jeanna's danged comment!

deanna said...

I'm just reading through your posts; I've been sick, and I don't know all the stuff you're talking about in some, but it's no problem, since I'm barely blogging lately (and writing long sentences when I do). But I have checked all the teaching posts you've archived - like this one, they're still greatly helpful! Buying your book, for sure, however it gets pubbed. :o)

I'll try to post something coherent one of these days, but it won't give educational examples.