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Can we discuss internal voice?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by piperofyork, Oct 4, 2021.

  1. piperofyork

    piperofyork Scribe

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    It seems that internal voice has become quite popular.

    Hmm…they might dispute this outright, he thought.

    I’m curious: do you tend to think that – more often than not – internal voice enhances the reading experience or detracts from it?

    They’ll probably say it just depends.

    If you tend to think it enhances the reading experience, what are the signs of skillful use of internal voice?

    Just end the damn post. They get the idea.
     
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  2. Lynea

    Lynea Sage

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    I try not to go overboard with internal voice. A line here and there helps boost the writing for me. There are some things that have way too much internal voice for me, specifically anime. It's their way of giving depth to characters but I personally think it's just too much fluff that stalls the story. Ah well, every culture has their tropes.
     
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  3. PianoFire

    PianoFire Acolyte

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    I kind of like to have it as an in between. If a character has to make a choice that, for example, could conflict with their inner morals but still has to be done for the greater good, then internal monologue is useful for showing that conflict and justifying later actions. But if there’s constant inner monologuing, then it’s getting into that territory where you’re straight up telling the audience what the character wants with no room for nuance.

    I love Death Note, but there were times that I had to slog through it because there was just so. Much. Monologuing. And a good amount of it was in the middle of conversations, when five minutes would pass without anybody saying a word. It’s good to just have that inner voice summarized to just a sentence or two, if that during conversations. Like I said, there’s a time and place for it.
     
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  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    In close third you don’t need the italics. Over use of italics can be distracting and break immersion. If you really need a lot of italics it’s a sign that you might want to consider just using first person.

    In third person you can flow from the narrative into an internal thought without indicating it’s an internal thought.

    Eg. Mike stepped up to the curve as a truck rumbled through a puddle, soaking him to the skin. Great. Meeting in fifteen. The boardroom is going be smelling of wet dog for the next hour. Mike grumbled to himself. F*ck my life.
     
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  5. ladyander

    ladyander Dreamer

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    It's not something I add to all my character voices and even stories. Heck, even in my current series, I tend to have a single character who does internal dialogue. Mostly when he's thinking one thing and has to filter himself when he speaks, if he manages to filter himself. It's a little broken. This changes a bit as he gets older. He's a bit more mindful. It's something that you sprinkle in at moments as well. Not something you want to go overboard with.
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm trying to figure out if there's anything more to be said beyond "it's fine if it's done well." ....

    Not really. There's a suggestion above that comes closest; namely, that it is perhaps most appropriate when the MC is embroiled in some sort of internal conflict that would be difficult to lay out for the reader any other way.

    I'd also note there's something like indirect internal. That's where it's the narrator who is telling us rather than using a direct (italicized) quote.

    He wondered if punching Bob in the nose wasn't too on-the-nose.

    That sort of thing. There it would matter what narrative POV you have chosen. And it might get distracting to mix the two styles.
     
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  7. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

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    I tend to use internal voice for some of the main characters, this as a way of highlighting their internal conflicts and/or feelings which they can't or won't express to anyone. That way their motivations can be explained in a more natural manner than having some narrator tell the reader. But, I also use shorter descriptions of what a character observes as they move around or do other things, as a way of adding detail to the setting.
     
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  8. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

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    My main WIP has italicized internal voice/monologue....but it also has telepathic speech, too, which is also in italics. There are one or two times where I leave it ambiguous as if it's someone's own thoughts or speech from someone else, and that's intentional. The story is in 3rd person limited though sometimes it "zooms in" and gets pretty deep. In my first person project, there is no internal monologue, the internal voice is just the narration, and I don't miss it. I feel like I'm conveying what the MC is thinking through my word choices.

    Internal monologue should give you something that can't be done anything else. "His bank account showed a balance of $0. Wow, that sucks! he thought" doesn't give us anything. "His bank account showed a balance of $0. Good, all according to plan." does, since that's not a thought we'd expect someone to have in that situation. He probably isn't also reacting externally to show that he's thinking that, which we'd need that internal voice to show us that.
     
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    I've always been a huge fan of the italicized internal voice. Or even italicized external voices, like communication to and from psychic animal companions.

    Part of this probably arises from my early fascination with Dune. I read it many times as a teen. Then again, there was a period in which the italicized formatting was something of a fad, or at least seemed to be quite popular. I saw a lot of it in novels and stories around that same time period, and I was always fascinated by this ability to be directly inside the head of the character.

    The newest styling is to try to hide it as much as possible, or blend the thoughts into the narrative in close third, as PenpilotPenpilot mentioned. That's an effective approach. (But I don't find use of italics for internal thoughts to be distracting; it can flow fine also—when, as with all things, it's handled well.)

    Personally, I think there may be different habits of appreciation, either for different people or for a single person viewing different pieces. For instance, I don't feel I need to be "inside" a painting in order to enjoy it; nor, inside a television show. Similarly with fiction, I don't need to feel I'm always inside a POV character's experience. I can enjoy watching that character from the outside. Then, the break into an italicized thought is like an extra peek inside. This can increase my enjoyment.

    Perhaps because I can't help slipping into the director's shoes or writer's shoes, I "see" the authors/narrator's attempt to fake being the POV character when thoughts are simply blended into the narrative, and this can be distracting. Again, however, much depends on how well it's being handled.
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
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  10. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    I remember the first time I ran to Wikipedia to explore the term "free indirect speech" since I hadn't known the phrase even if I'd always known what it was, simply from my reading.

    Anyway. Wikipedia. Not the greatest of sources perhaps, but this was laid out rather well:

    The following is an example of sentences using direct, indirect and free indirect speech:
    • Quoted or direct speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. "And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?" he asked.
    • Reported or normal indirect speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. He asked himself what pleasure he had found since he came into the world.
    • Free indirect speech: He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure had he found, since he came into this world?
    The "normal" indirect speech is like your example.

    The question of italics is interesting here, because the first example in the opening post would be direct speech:

    Hmm…they might dispute this outright, he thought.​

    I suppose the other two examples in that post are also direct speech, simply without the tag, "he thought."

    Dune tends to use the tags along with italics.
    • What does she fear? Paul wondered.
    • Now, there was a man who appreciated the power of bravura—even in death, the Reverend Mother thought.
    But without the tags, these would still be direct. As direct as simply using quotation marks around some speech but no tags.

    I don't think indirect speech would ever use italics. Using italics would turn it into direct speech or free indirect speech, wouldn't it?
    • He wondered if punching Bob in the nose wasn't too on-the-nose.
    • He wondered if punching Bob in the nose wasn't too on-the-nose.
    See, that would be sloppy. It hasn't quite turned into direct speech; it would need revision. But my sense, seeing that, would be that it was intended to be direct speech or free indirect speech. It's just uncertain, sloppy.

    To me, some examples of free indirect speech come across as really being direct speech, or near enough, even without italics. Using the example from Wikipedia but tweaking it to first person in the second half and making a slight verb change....

    He laid down his bundle and thought of his misfortune. And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?​

    In something published today, we'd maybe not get "and thought of his misfortune;" so....

    He laid down his bundle. And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?​

    The pronoun and verb change make this into direct speech. It's not a separate narrator giving us his exact thought, no, but is the exact thought, cutting out the middle man. Italicizing the thought would only accentuate this effect:

    He laid down his bundle. And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?
    Of course, something published today might just forgo most of the italics and do something like this:

    He laid down his bundle. And just what pleasure have I found, since I came into this world?​

    Maybe at this point I'm just rambling; but, this is something I find to be quite interesting.

    There may be an art to creating subtle free indirect speech, and a benefit in making it subtle. Is there as much art in trying to hide direct speech and make it appear to be free indirect speech? Hmmm, muwahaha, I haven't decided yet. (Keeping in mind that all three styles can be quite effective.)
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
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  11. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    We tend to roll internal voice directly into the narrative, as well. For example, this is Jessie, our teenage wizard. Italics are saved for special occasions and speaking in languages other than the dominant one in a conversation.
    ...

    “Seriously, who gets business deliveries from an herbal store first thing on a Sunday?”

    “I don’t know. This guy does. Just let me up.”

    The security guard rolled his eyes. “Fine, whatever. Give me his name and I’ll call him.”

    Yeah, okay… so it wasn’t Jessie’s best plan ever. “Uh, sure. Gimme a sec.” Why hadn’t she thought about that? She made lots of business deliveries for Curiosity’s, so the sneak-in-as-a-delivery-person idea had made perfect sense when she’d come up with it.

    The only thing was she usually made those deliveries to the city's preternatural leaders and they were all people who knew her.

    She turned her back on the big round desk and dug the receipt book out of her delivery bag while her mind spun at a frantic pace. She only knew the names of two people who worked here, and one was the guy who had kidnapped Cian. She really didn’t want the guard to call him. Even if he let her up to his nefarious lair where he was holding her friend prisoner, she could just imagine how that conversation would go. ‘Here, have some herbal lotion. I’m just going to grab this boy and run, now. Kthxbai.’

    Yeah, that would fly like a lead turkey.
     
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  12. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    i think ‘it depends’ is the only answer to every thread post.

    I do prefer to put internal thoughts in itallics. I some time wrestle with the choice. But i like having them delimitated.
     
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  13. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

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    I italicize them. It let's me distinguish between an exact thought and a slightly more distant indirect thought. It's the difference between
    * Is punching Bob on the nose too on-the-nose, he thought
    * He wondered if punching Bob on the nose was too on-the-nose

    In the first we get an internal dialogue, the second is a narator describing something (even if the narator is the person doing the thinking). There are situations where you want to use one or the other, and I like distinguishing between them in this way.

    In the end, it doesn't matter how you do it, all that matters is that you're consistent throughout the story. Your reader will get used to whatever convention you pick and after that he'll not notice it anymore.

    As for internal voice itself, it's part of the close 3rd POV stories that are common these days. Writers try to get as deep into a character's head and this is one method you can use to achieve that. In the examples above, the internal thought is much closer to the character than the narator describing the thought. Even more so when you drop the speech-tag. A. E. LowanA. E. Lowan 's example is a great one. We're taken along with Jessie's thought process in a much more immediate way than when it would have been more indirectly.

    The thing is that you tend to mix them, with most of the words being hte indirect speech instead of the direct internal speech. To borrow from A.E. Lowan:
    Yeah, okay… so it wasn’t Jessie’s best plan ever. “Uh, sure. Gimme a sec.” Why hadn’t she thought about that?​
    This is the closest we get into Jessie's head. Here we're following along with Jessie's direct thoughts more or less. The following part is already a bit more distant:
    She made lots of business deliveries for Curiosity’s, so the sneak-in-as-a-delivery-person idea had made perfect sense when she’d come up with it.

    The only thing was she usually made those deliveries to the city's preternatural leaders and they were all people who knew her.​
    And after this it's pretty much just the narator telling us the story. So you zoom in and out of the character's head.

    It gets interesting when you do this in omniscient. Suddenly you jump into everyone's head as needed for the story. Dune is a classic example of this. I think the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is another one that does this magnificently.
     
  14. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Another thing that a good, close, internal voice lets us play with, really no matter the POV or the tense, is the unreliable narrator. We love unreliable narrators. Perspective is everything, and when you're deep inside a character's head you can do some neat things with signposting and revealing information as the character learns about and processes it through their own lense.
     
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  15. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    This is an effective example for why this whole business of writing fiction is more art than science.

    This portion is direct speech, or as good as. It is similar to this part of PenpilotPenpilot's example:

    Both come across as being exactly what the character is saying, a direct quote.

    Later we move into something that is more free indirect speech:

    It's in third person POV, with a narrator referring to the character via the third person pronoun. You could almost imagine The Watcher from Marvel standing over the scene commenting on Jessie's situation, narrating.

    There are a couple of iffy/middle ground examples:

    In this phrase, the initial "so" is putting it directly into the character's speech, imo. That, and the fact this is a continuation of the initial direct speech, push this into direct speech territory—possibly. But take off the "so" and the rest would have read as free indirect speech (or even possibly simple, third person narration a la The Watcher.) It has the third-person pronoun, after all.

    A word or three can make a large difference. The concluding sentence in the example above turns on "The only thing was" which is character voice:

    "The only thing was" is obviously in character voice, so it would seem to be almost direct speech; but the sentence as a whole feels more like free indirect speech.

    These are the subtle shadings that can really draw in a reader.

    There may even be other parts that feel a bit like a character voice, although for all the reader knows it's the narrator's peculiar voice. E.g.: "She made lots of business deliveries" and "the sneak-in-as-a-delivery-person" are probably examples of Jessie's idiomatic speech patterns but...is it the narrator simply using ventriloquism? Or are these the omniscient-ish stylings of a third person narrator? Over the long haul, and given the occasional direct speech, a reader may come to feel these are Jessie's even if they fall within free indirect speech, losing sight of the narrator altogether.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2021
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  16. Malise

    Malise Scribe

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    Hi, long time no see folks.

    I personally don't use internal voice because I'm writing a WIP comedy with a large ensemble cast.

    (1) I cannot give a truly unique voice to all 10+ of my viewpoint characters. Middle-Aged Ex-Merc Auntie and 14-year-old Gremlin on Rollerskates, if given an internal voice, might end up sounding the same on the basis that they're both rather rude people and rudeness has no age.

    (2) If I use internal voices I also run the risk of not landing jokes because of timing. Using internal voices also means I have to tell more than I show and part of the fun of reading is the interpretation of a character's actions.
    ________
    Ex. (Original)
    "I want to invent time travel," Komeon said shaking her pencil, "So I can personally strangle the person who invented physics."
    Marcolo gave her a quick side-eye and continued jotting down velocity formulas into flashcards.
    Ex. (If Marcolo used internal voice instead of body language)
    "I want to invent time travel," Komeon said shaking her pencil, "So I can personally strangle the person who invented physics."
    Ugh, Marcolo thought, Yes, violence is sometimes the answer, and it's a very good answer for a lot of problems, but homework is not one of them.
    ________


    No.2 is in character for Marcolo and I do think it's amusing, but it's not as funny as the original.

    (3) I'm having fun with my spotlight-stealing lemony narrator. Too much fun actually.
     
  17. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    I find the original funny before Marcolo is even mentioned. I mean "invent time travel" seems to me to be a result of applied physics.....and Komeon wants to strangle whoever invented physics. It's ironic, and I love it.

    In-context, perhaps the bit about Marcolo would add something for me, but in this excerpt it doesn't add anything to rival the inherent irony of Komeon's direct speech, heh.

    But I'd maybe go with this:

    Ex. (If Marcolo used internal voice)
    "I want to invent time travel," Komeon said shaking her pencil, "So I can personally strangle the person who invented physics."
    Ugh, Marcolo thought, Maybe you'd get stuck back there, then, but he continued jotting down velocity formulas into flashcards.

    (Obviously I know nothing of their relationship, and this could be out of character...;))

    Edit: I totally forgot one of the first points your post raised for me. Humor and comedy seem to require heavy doses of audience/reader work, and often a lack of self-awareness in the characters—at least for certain types of humor. So getting the internal thoughts is almost a distraction. Sometimes, it's a softening of the blow, and too much so, or too much information. So here's to your point, #2. But in a more general sense, this would depend on the kind of humor you are using.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2021
  18. Malise

    Malise Scribe

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    Inspired by Fifth-View's feed-back, I decided to write 2 alternate version of the excerpt.

    (1- Without World Building)
    "I want to invent time travel," Komeon said shaking her pencil, "So I can personally strangle the person who invented physics."
    Ugh, Marcolo thought, I hope the resulting time paradox straight up deletes you back.

    (2- With Worldbuilding)
    "I want to invent time travel," Komeon said shaking her pencil, "So I can personally strangle the person who invented physics."
    Ugh, Marcolo thought, I hope the Maitreya Consciousness* straight up deletes you back.

    *That's the name of the world's creator god. The problem's not a being, but rather's the multiverse's open-source programming for universes.

    However, I don't think this joke wouldn't work without Terry Patchett-style footnotes.

    I guess it's up to the peanut gallery if they like inferred, direct sass better.

    (This post has been edited twice, sorry for the confusion)
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2021
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  19. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    Or you could always spin into a page or two of Douglas Adams style exposition, giving us the back story of the Metriya Consciousness and how it might—just might have been invented by an unusually intelligent chihuahua the dolphins uplifted shortly after escaping Earth's destruction.

    You could always add a footnote there, if you want: *How the chihuahua ended up in the company of the dolphins is a far less interesting, but potentially much more important, mystery.
     
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  20. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    Ugh, Fifthview thought, marveling at the performative time manipulation Malise had employed with ease.
     
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