Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Internal Dialogue

Jennifer gives voice to the “inner voices” of her characters…

Have you ever had a silent conversation with yourself? That’s internal dialogue. We all do it. Whether it’s a running commentary of what you’re going to do (“I’m going to make myself breakfast, then do the laundry.”), a commentary about what’s happening around you (“What a beautiful sunrise!”), or comments about other people (“I can’t believe she’s wearing that.”), there is usually a voice running in our head.

Sometimes it serves as our conscience (“Be nice.”) and sometimes it helps us to calm down when we are emotional (“Breathe.”).

Our characters can have an internal dialogue as well, and it’s often a useful tool to show what’s really happening with them. We wouldn’t want an entire book of it, but as one method of showing, rather than telling, it can be effective.

In my current WIP, my hero is having a phone conversation with his mother. She’s...difficult and he has a variety of ways of showing his frustration, including internal dialogue. Here’s an example:

“Wait, Jacob, are you trying to tell me you’re gay? Because it’s fine if you are, but you need to tell your mother these things.”
He was going to lose all the hair on the back of his head. Did men lose hair there? He’d have the reverse “monk” look and it would be ridiculous. Especially since he was Jewish.
“No, Ma, I’m not gay. But thanks for being supportive.”
“Are you sure? And don’t be lippy with me. I’m still your mother.”
He swallowed. There was not enough oxygen in the world for him to breathe through all his frustration. “I’m positive. I like girls. I just don’t have time for a girlfriend right now.”
“But you would if you had one.”
“You’d have time for one if you had one. You’d make the time. Which is why I’m going to introduce you to the daughter of a friend of mine.”
“What? No! You can’t do that.”
“Of course I can, sweetheart. I have to.”
“No, you really don’t.”
“Jacob, it’s a mother’s job to make her son happy.”
“But I am happy.”
“Don’t lie to your mother. You need a girlfriend.”
She was killing him. “Uh, I, kind of already met someone.”
Jacob pulled the phone away from his ear. On a good day, he could hear his mother through the phone when it was sitting on his lap. Right now, with that shriek, well, he couldn’t hear anything, but when his hearing returned, he’d be able to hear her across the room.
“I said I already met someone.” He wasn’t lying.
“When? Where?”
“Last weekend at a speed dating event.”
“Speed dating. Hmm, we’ll talk about that later. In the meantime, tell me about her. What’s her name? What does she do? What’s she like?”
“Her name is Aviva. She has very short brown hair, a great sense of humor and she’s very smart.” So far, so good.
“What does she do?”
Crap. “She’s an escape artist.”
His mother was silent on the other end of the phone. That was not a good sign.
“It’s a joke, mom.”
“Is Aviva a joke?”
“No, she’s real. I was just teasing you. I’m sorry.”
“Well, stop teasing me and tell me about her.”
He started pulling his hair again. His description needed to be perfect so that she would leave him alone. What was his ideal woman? And what kind of woman would his mother think was perfect for him? “She’s pretty and she lives with her parents. She’s going to cooking school and learning to be a chef with the hopes of opening her own restaurant. She has a good sense of humor and she loves animals and kids. She’s athletic and likes to travel and she plays the piano.” Oh man. He was totally lying. To his mother. Thank goodness she’d never meet her.


  1. Great post and great excerpt, Jen!
    You hit just the right balance between dialogue, action and introspection.

    1. Thanks, Ana. It was a fun scene to write.

  2. I could feel Jacob's torment, which wouldn't have come through without internal dialogue. It's hard to get it just right but you've handled it beautifully.

  3. Love this conversation with his mother. Ana said, you have a great balance between the dialogue and his inner thoughts.

    1. Thank you, Paula. You'll see more soon. ;)

  4. Great scene, Jen! Having his ma at the other end of the phone and hearing his internal dialogue throughout the conversation really gave us a great peek inside your hero.

    I chuckled my way through it because it was so relatable! :)

    1. Seriously, the mothers in this story are my favorite characters.

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