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woman thinking 20482620_sI: Internal Dialog

“I talk to the trees, but they don’t listen to me; I talk to the stars, but they never hear me!” (“Paint Your Wagon,” 1969.) If you’re talking to trees and stars, aren’t you really having an internal dialog? And how important is a character’s internal dialog?

Some characters simply think more than others. And, for them, it’s a good idea to reference their thought process. Other characters are more action-oriented, and maybe we want to see their thought process, but not to such a great extent. They are doers, not thinkers.

When you read internal dialog, a character can be pretty sarcastic, even dismissive, of other characters without taking a chance on reprisals. And yet, we get a good idea of exactly how much disdain s/he holds for others, and often for her/himself. Using internal dialog helps fill out a character, every bit as much as the character’s actions.

I’ve read books where there is so much internal dialog, the reader (me, in this case) feels like they’re only in the characters’ heads, and not in the moment of the plot. For me, that’s disappointing. I don’t need to know every, single motivating thought in a character’s mind. How about you? How much internal dialog is too much? When does it become “talking to yourself”?

For your hopping convenience:


  1. Kathy Heare Watts

    Ok, I spend most of my time alone and I talk outloud to myself sometimes! I go outside and talk to the stupid feral cats that live here and I look out for. If hubby is out of town, I talk like I am carrying on a conversation with him if I think I hear a noise and need to investigate. Sometimes it is the most intelligent conversation you will have! The one with yourself.

  2. Not sure but then maybe I need to talk to myself about it. I get caught in my own head all the time but in a book I don’t always need all the extra internal dialog.

  3. I have one publisher who insists on a lot of internal dialogue or deep POV. They want the reader to feel and think like they are the character. It’s sometime hard to write so much internal dialogue. I’d prefer to read about what the character is doing rather than every single thought they’re having. But each to his own, I guess.

  4. I think it depends on the type of book you are writing. Some books are almost entirely introspection – take “Catcher in the Rye” for example. Whereas in a more action-packed book, that would jar.

    If you intend all your books to become optioned into Hollywood movies, you might want to tone down the internal dialogue, That definitely makes the movie-maker’s job more difficult unless they decide to opt for a voiceover. I noticed that was something they needed to handle for the Hunger Games films. In the books, Katniss remains impassive most of the time with only her internal dialogue to let u s know how she really feels about things. They had to tweak that quite a bit for the films.

  5. I can handle my internal dialog during the day but sometimes at night the internal dialog is over whelming and hard to shut off. I get less sleep on those nights.

  6. Following. I sometimes feel like i have way too much internal dialog. That being said, I find too much external dialog annoying at times too.

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