Internal dialogue is a back-and-forth dialogue with one person. Usually, this only occurs with demented, insane, or conflicted characters. This can happen when both sides are personified, or even if only one is. In the book Dune by Frank Herbert, the hero does a lot of internal dialogue.
Please note: this is different than monologue. Internal dialogue and monologue are very different. Compare Macbeth’s lines before he kills the king to most of Hamlet’s speeches. Macbeth does a lot of internal dialogue, even though only one side of his conflict is personified. Hamlet tends to monologue.
Monologue is more directed at nobody in particular (literally). Dialogue is directed at another specific person. Speeches are not monologue per se, but can be when no one is listening and the speaker is aware of this fact. Internal dialogue is directed at one specific person–only, that person is the speaker.
Internal dialogue should only be used in mainstream characters. For internal dialogue to take place, you have to be riding around in the character’s head. You don’t get into the heads of lesser-known characters. Stick with your main heroes and villains. Plus, don’t pick perfectly sound-minded characters to have internal dialogue.
For this to take place in the mind of the character takes a touch of madness. They don’t have to be overly eccentric or considered “mad” by the local populace, or even seem marginally so to the reader. Remember, everyone’s got a little crazy in their lives. Make the object of your internal dialogue just a tad nutso.
Most of internal dialogue lies around the content of the character’s personality. If someone is completely carefree and has no doubts or misgivings, it is doubtful whether or not they disagree with themselves on anything. There should be something that the character doesn’t like about himself or herself.
Herein lies the key. This kind of dialogue is rarely pleasant or peaceful. The reason why the character talks to himself or herself is because there is something in themselves that they hate or dislike. There is conflict, two sides of one coin in one person. That’s how you master internal dialogue: two clearly defined sides and conflict.
However, you can’t make them totally evenly matched. One side must be stronger than the other, so that the character will primarily do this or that. Making them equal will produce too much internal dialogue for you to handle. Stick with two sides, and one more powerful one.
Of course, I’m not pretending that all internal dialogue is about conflict. But that is of the lighter kind, and much easier to write about. I’m speaking primarily of the heavier concepts in internal dialogue (I am irresistibly attracted to gloom and thoughtfulness… some people call be grouchy, but hey, what do they know?)
One tactic that you may want to try is the idea of personification. You could try visualizing actual people for the figurative sides in the hero’s/heroine’s mind. For instance: If I were to visualize a Batman vs Bruce Wayne struggle, I might tell a story that Bruce is actually imagining Batman sitting across the table from him and talking.
Personification allows the reader clarity: something that is not to be ignored in any situation. It could be the classic cartoony angel-and-demon cliché, or it can be more sophisticated. In a way, this is like a metaphor: since the hero’s dark side is like an alluring demon, he sees it as such. Try this in your own writing.
Good luck, and happy writing!
One thought on “Engineering Internal Dialogue”
Great post! This is one of the fun things to write about in stories or read; either way it’s fun. To see the hero struggle within his or her mind about something important.