Recently I have been editing Book Two in The Plotters of Cantaera trilogy (book one is due out soooon... I promise! Are you listening my pretty little book cover illustrator?)
Yesterday while happily chopping away I came across a block of prose so atrocious I nearly vomited on my keyboard. Well the vomit may have had something to do with the undercooked chicken sandwich I had for lunch, but I digress.
Seems that in one of my previous block edits I completely missed a very large chunk of a William Deane ‘introspective monologue’. Cringe...
Introspective monologue, or interior monologue, is where you include all the inside-the-head thoughts that your character has. It usually happens for me early on in the writing process when I am still fleshing things out and when complete brain dumps are what is needed to get the ideas out of my head. And typically I will catch these monsters and clip their wings, groom their unruly hair, slap some makeup and lipstick on that big fat pig and make it a real piece of easily digestible Pulitzer Pate’! (Am I thinking about food too much? Am I hungry? Hmmm...).
If you do not catch these monsters they can and will completely STOP the flow of your story.
Don’t believe me? Think about the definitions of these two terms:
Introspective = to examine one’s own thoughts and feelings
Monologue = (in this case) a long speech
Can you see the problem? Can you say screech? Do you know what a Jake Brake sounds like on a diesel truck? (see here). Cause that’s what your readers will hear in their heads every time they come across excessive introspective monologues.
Let me be very clear about what I am trying to tell you here -- STOP DOING THIS NOW!
In today’s fast paced world of fiction fantasy and sci-fi, these introspective or interior monologues just don’t work.
Readers want ACTION!
They want a fact paced novel that they can fit in during commercials between American Idol segments. Believe me you do NOT want to keep your readers from seeing the next performance/vote for their favorite performer. I have done that and barely made it out alive.
Ok, truth be known and hand to heart, if you shove me up against a wall I will say that SOMETIMES it’s ok to do an introspective monologue.
What? Really? WTH?
Yes... but only sparingly! If you do an introspective monologue correctly it can (as in maybe)add back story and flavor to your character. But there are other ways... (we will explore that on another day).
So if you find yourself writing or editing and think to yourself that it would be just WONDERFUL to dump in an extensive introspective monologue and you just can’t stop yourself, at least consider these FIVE tips before you do. (BTW when I read that last part out loud I give it my best Nathan Lane treatment a’ la The Birdcage)
5 best practices for introspective monologues:
- Consider doing something else - Yes I said that. Stop and think... do you really want to do this? Can’t you just do some actual dialogue or pry in another tricked out fight/action scene? No? Really?? Well if you must...
- In general, keep them short - The best and I do mean the best introspective monologues are the ones that are SHORT. Wrap it up in a few lines and it’s possible your reader will still be awake.
- Be specific about the goal of the monologue - Don’t meander. Get to the point. Wait, that’s keep it short again. I’m really stuck on that. Ok when writing an introspective monologue, keep your eye on the prize. Ask yourself why are you doing this? Are you dead set on making sure the reader knows that the character has a bad case of hemorrhoids from the Chili he ate last night but doesn’t want to blurt out why he’s squirming in his seat at the all hands staff meeting? Then SAY that! (Wait, there’s another food reference... sigh).
- Action!- Make your introspective monologue POP by keeping the action REAL and RELEVANT. Yes it is possible to put action into your introspective monologue. Think about it. You will come up with something. OK fine alright! I’ll do it for you! Remember in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the Improbability Drive creates a sperm whale out of a missile and we go into the whale’s head? That’s a great example of introspective monologue written in a way that provides action to the reader. Look it up.
- Make sure it fits - There is nothing worse than when a writer decides to add the entire back story into terribly long and mundane introspective monologues. I have seen some introspective monologues go on for pages, yes literally PAGES in which all we are reading about is the foundation of the kingdoms and the lineage of the kings and the mind numbing number of dukes and princes and fiefdoms and on and on... YUCK! This just plain sucks, and I have found that quite often the writer just dumps it in seemingly at random and for no good reason. Please, if you must do an introspective monologue filled with back story, make sure it fits into the actual story wherever you decide to put it. Then look back at #2. Better yet, look again at #1.
And there you have it! If you follow these best practices then even when you feel you must include an introspective monologue you will find a way to make it work!
What do you think? I really appreciate your comments.