Monday, 11 April 2011


Internal dialogue is one of the best ways to develop the reader’s understanding of the character in a novel. 

By making the reader party to the innermost thoughts of the MC a deeper bond can be established.

The internal dialogue works well in first person or third person narration.

There are three conventions for punctuation internal thought processes:

Substituting thought for said and using quotation marks:
“Sneaking out tonight didn’t happen,” Lucas thought, “but, there’s always tomorrow.”

Third person exposition rather than musing:
Lucas thought although he hadn’t managed to sneak out that night he might be more successful the next.

Sneaking out tonight didn’t happen, Lucas thought, but, there’s always tomorrow.

Italics can be used to continue the process of internal dialogue when the emotions felt by the MC are escalating:
They are afraid of me. His certainty grew as the angry faces before him drained to bloodless white. Very afraid.

This version is the most immediate.

“They are afraid of me.” Lucas’ certainty grew as the angry faces before him drained to bloodless white. “Very afraid.”

Lucas realised, as the angry faces drained to bloodless white, that they were all afraid of him.

A word of caution –
Be afraid. Elaine thought, confidentially. Be very afraid  (of adding phrases punctuated like this into your manuscript, mostly-because it is a bit clichéd ;)

The key to expressing a character’s internal dialogue is to punctuate them consistently. Select the method that feels right for you… and stick to it.

How is your internal dialogue going today?
idealistic, idiotic, ignorant, immodest, immoral, immune, impartial, impassioned, impassive, impatient, imperious, impertinent, imperturbable, impish, implacable, impolite, impudent, impulsive, inattentive, incensed, inconsiderate, inconsolable, incorrigible, incredulous, indecisive, indifferent, indignant, indiscreet, indolent, industrious, infantile, infatuated, inflexible, inhumane, innocent, inquisitive, insatiable, insecure, insensitive, insincere, inspiring, insulted, interested, interfering, intimate, intimidated, intolerant, intrepid, intrigued, introspective, intuitive, invulnerable, irate, irrational, irreligious, irrepressible, irreverent, irritable


  1. Irritable, but that has probably something to do with Mondays i general. nice post :)

  2. I stay away from italicized internal dialogue. I prefer instead to state it without quotes or other punctuations.

    This is going to hurt, Jack thought, looking at the candlestick.

    I avoid italics in general because the formatting gets lost when you publish. If it's self-pub, or small pub, which is what most of us will publish, you almost always run into formatting issues. Keeping the format simple can make for an easier read.

    Furthermore, italics on the electronic reader can be hard to read, especially if it's something like a two page italicized dream sequence.

    - Eric

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I removed my comment because it was an old handle. Sorry about that. I said "You probably just saved me a ton of edits. Thanks Eric. Working on my first fiction now."

  3. WOW another blog. This one needs the Powerful Woman Writer Award.
    Go to and pick up your award.

  4. hi elaine!
    new follower here. nice meeting you through the A-Z. my internal dialogue has been quite dull. It's probably due to the fact that the other half of my brain is still fast asleep despite it being almost 3PM.

  5. Very nice post with tons of useful advice! I'm in total agreement with your analysis of "internal dialogue" as it's something that is integral to proper and robust character development.

    Great blog!

  6. I actually like italics and then leaving off any type of dialogue tag. It needs to be used pretty sporadically, though - mine tends to be when my character is very nervous.

  7. great post. I like using internal dialogue (but not tooo often)

  8. Hi Siv Maria
    Irritable is a bad feeling - thank God it's Tuesday :)

    Hi Eric
    That is useful advice for anyone considering the self-pub route.

    Hi Deirdra
    Award? :D Thank you. I love the sound of the Powerful Woman writer Award.

    Hi Nutschell ;)
    Your poor brain. Feed it sleep and beware the toxins from moulds appears to be the latest advice ;)

    Hi Matthew
    Thanks. Including internal dialogue makes the experience much more intense for the reader.

    Hi Erica and Christy
    I like the idea of missing the dialogue tag. Unless there is more than one POV that would be an easy way to write and punctuate.
    I was never brave enough to include direct internal dialogue. Being confident about how to do that has been part of my writing journey.

    Hi Lynda
    I agree. Use internal dialogue sparingly is the key.