1. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    Internal Dialogue Length

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Void, Jan 5, 2015.

    So I'm just wondering, is there a certain length that people should try to maintain when working with internal dialogue?

    Every book I read seems to keep it to a maximum of about 2-3 sentences, yet I have some in my first draft that are much larger than that. Is there a reason that people seem to avoid large internal dialogues? Is it considered bad writing? Am I just coincidentally only reading books that don't have large internal dialogue?

    Just for some details that might be relevant, I'm working in third person with a single character perspective (with a couple of exceptions near the end), so I'm aware that things might be different in first person. There are many places in which the protagonist encounters various complex moral and practical conundrums that couldn't really be adequately slimmed down to a few sentences of internal dialogue, so is there a reason why I should/shouldn't just convert some of the thoughts into third person discriptions?

    And just before anyone asks, obviously there is a limit somewhere, so I don't need to be told that half a chapter is a bit much. But is something like a paragraph or two for a complex conundrum an issue for some reason?
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you mean, like, italicized or otherwise offset internal dialogue? Like, you're pretending the character is actually thinking exactly these words?

    I think one problem with a long stretch of internal dialogue like that is that people don't think that way. We have flashes of ideas, images, emotions, random words, not full-on organized paragraphs of codified thoughts. Words are actually a fairly inefficient form of communication, and we don't need to use them when we're just communicating within ourselves. So it would feel really unnatural to read a character thinking that way.

    How are you trying to use these long stretches of dialogue?
     
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  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    No, there's no length or limit you should stick to. As an obvious example, some modernist books have pages and pages of just thoughts (stream of consciousness). Compared to that, a few paragraphs is nothing.
     
  4. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Kind of depends on the style of writing, doesn't it? I mean, if you want to be bold and different, fair enough, but I don't think I've seen multiple paragraphs of internal thoughts in genre books, so if that's what you want to write, you should at least be aware that you're bucking the trend.
     
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  5. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's no yardstick, but be reasonable. I almost dropped a sci-fi book I was reading because six pages of reflective exposition were jammed into the third chapter. The hero goes to a bar, buys a drink, and then scrolls through all his history and motivations in one big slump. That kind of thing can be annoying, and was especially so in this case because his present was completely dismissed for the length of it.

    Books that don't stray from the now for too long are often easier to read. Since 'readability' is something I strive for, I keep mine short. If it's a history or something else longer winded, I break it up with chunks from the present.

    Of course there are plenty of times that long stretches of monologue work great and some people love it and you can write whatever makes you happy bla bla bla.
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I've always found inner dialogue to be helpful in prolonging suspense in horror, in helping a heroine flesh out her feeling about the hero in romance and in general fiction contemplating their place in the world. The best keep it varied - a few thoughts here and there with maybe a lengthy discourse when needed.
    The worse is when the writer inserts stuff that's already made clear in the symbols or situation. i.e.
    Say an artist during a depression is trying to sell his art in New York. He's unsuccessful and has to keep hocking his things for paint. Finally out of things to hock and money he slashes his wrists and uses his blood for one last painting. It would be redundant and cheesy to have him thinking he'd rather die than stop painting because the context speaks for itself.
    Look to the context - if it welcomes thoughts and is made greater for them add just enough to make the point - if it takes away from the power of the moment strike them.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Remember that in close third person, you can dip into a character's thoughts without using literal, word-for-word thoughts. Are you perhaps using these long passages of literal thought because you thought it was the only way to get in there?
     
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  8. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    If what you mean is simply describing the thoughts such as...

    "He sat and ran through all the possibilities in his head, stressing over the predicament at great length before realising the leap of faith is the only way forward."

    Or something to that effect rather than explaining the exact back and forth. Then yes, I'm aware of that method. Along with basically just implying them if it can be clearly done.

    As for the internal dialogue, I've basically decided that regardless of whether having large stretches dedicated to it is considered a writing faux pas; I will trim the sections considerably. Mainly because if have long suspected that I have been rather excessive with their frequency and scale. And because I am on the edge of completing my first first draft ever today, and the word count is very much on the chunky side (~170,000 words with most of two chapters to go). I have already got a mental list of sections that provide little but superfluous bloat, but overall many of the chapters are longer than they need to be so I think the larger internal dialogues are basically a low hanger fruit when it comes to making the writing more succinct.
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can get closer than that--you can get to specifics. Example:

    He sat, thinking, toying with the coffee cup. How to handle this? He could address it with Mom, but Mom was...well, Mom. Mom had that crying jag last Thanksgiving, just because the turkey sat for an extra fifteen minutes. Mom had the brains, but she couldn't handle stress. Sue was the opposite--Sue would have been unfazed by the cooling turkey, but she would have handled it by throwing it in the clothes dryer on High, or something.

    It had to be Joe. Dammit.

    He shoved the coffee to the middle of the table and dumped a handful of change next to it as he stood. Better get the call over with.

    Dammit.
     
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  10. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    My whole book is internal dialogue, in a way.
     
  11. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    It is first person present, right?
     
  12. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with this. We might even run a previous occurrence through our heads, but this is usually just to gauge (unrealistically) how we came across to others; whether we should feel teeth-clenchingly embarrassed or feel momentarily heroic; or to identify where we screwed up and pine after the alternative, better courses of action we might have taken. Frankly all these thought process can be summed up with a shit! and a contrite expression, or an if only- etc.

    We rarely objectively recount events in our head in order to ascertain how we arrived at out current situation, and when this occurs in a work of fiction it just screams exposition. Unless of course someone is updating their diary, but if you are identifying these sort of thought processes on the page you may as well write in first person.

    This to me is an example of poor exposition.
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2015
  13. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    yarr
     
  14. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    Internal thought can be mixed with an action to move the plot forward. The above sample writing of looking through the mail is a good example. But, if the action is big, such as a fight scene, it doesn't tend to work well with internal dialogue.
     

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