1/19/2017: Thoughts on Inner Dialogue

I’m not sure if I want to have it or not. Tolkien doesn’t have a strict routine with it, though I believe he does have some commentary on things. Rowling also uses inner dialogue.

It seems that you can do a better job showing the progression of learning and feeling in the protagonist if you show not just how he or she acts but also how he or she thinks and feels. It’s a strength of writing that you can do this. It seems like it’d be a more fertile soil for showing the changes in the character, which is what the story is all about, really.

Are there any benefits to not having inner dialogue or commentary? It seems like it’d be harder for the reader to interpret what’s going on in the POE character. Readers would have to spend more thought on doing so, even if I wrote subtext masterfully (yeah right).

Perhaps one benefit would be greater show-don’t-tell and the effects it brings. It’d be like putting readers in the scene but not being players in the scene (even though I try to only show what the POE characters perceive anyways—just without their commentary). Whereas telling readers the POE characters’ thoughts is like giving them a view of the inside of the characters. What comes to mind is “Hills Like White Elephants.” But something to be pointed out is how hard it still is to know what’s going on there. You can do it, but you either have to be a good interpreter already, have that topic on your mind, or spend a lot of time and thought trying to figure it out (like me, and I still didn’t get it without help).

So this again brings up the topic of how intellectual should I try to make this? Assuming I could do it well enough, would it be better to make this more accessible or to make it more “masterful?” The latter seems a bit pretentious. I shouldn’t make something of the harder-to-do-and-harder-to-get without a good reason for doing so, and I think the reason that matters most to fallen me is because it’s the harder (and more prestigious) way to do it. At the same time, I do like the challenge, and it’s challenges that make me a better writer—“What’s the least that I could say with the greatest effect on the reader?” That’s always been a goal of mine, though I tend to still make things inaccessible to non-interpreters. Even trained interpreters have trouble with my stuff—even my professor. And that should say something (probably that I suck at subtext).

I really don’t know what to do.

Perhaps the answer is to have inner dialogue but to have action that speaks for itself, as if the inner dialogue wasn’t there. It seems like it’d be easy to use the dialogue as a crutch and to avoid trying to show through the POE character’s action at all. I think this would be a mistake. Indeed, it seems like I could do some interesting things with telling his thoughts and feelings and then having him act apparently other things—shows subtext.

Movies come to mind for showing through action only. I haven’t seen any (that come to mind) that use inner dialogue well. But there are many that do well without it. But a key difference is you get to see body language and facial expressions and you get to hear tone, which indicate a lot about inner dialogue, and which would be difficult to show without some kind of interpretive language being added concerning how they speak and act (in written form). This is actually something that came up a lot when writing my first draft. It’s hard to say how a person looks mad without having that interpretive description (or something like it or an interpretive metaphor for it), “mad.” It’d be lots of cues that could be interpreted a lot of ways, making it really hard to interpret. Doesn’t fit into “clear and concise” for any but the most patternistic and interpretive of persons. Not good.

Another thought. It seems common to think that persons naturally identify with the protagonist—they get carried through the protagonist’s journey and in some sense experience it as if they were the protagonist. It seems only natural to need to know what the protagonist is thinking as part of that experience. And again, for all but INTP literary persons, it’s much easier to know what he’s thinking to have his thoughts on paper rather than having to merely interpret them from actions and dialogue. I guess it depends on my audience, though. But I don’t want only literary types.

It seems like having no insight into the inner dialogue of the protagonist would work better in situations where readers weren’t supposed to identify with any single person, or something.

Another thing. It seems like readers would gain an intimacy with protagonists by learning their thoughts, whether those thoughts concord with the characters’ actions and words or not. And that’s a very good thing.

But I think I’ve stumbled into a muddled dichotomy. Writing an inner dialogue and revealing a character’s inner dialogue are not the same thing. Correlative–not causative. To the degree that a person masters subtext, and to the degree that readers can interpret subtext, an author can communicate a character’s inner dialogue. So regardless of which path I choose, 1) I need to get better at subtext (and never stop getting better at it) and 2) I need to think about what audience I want to pursue and what level of interpretive powers I should expect that audience to have. This second one is true of any communication. Duh, Patrick.

Another point, which came to mind while reading the final bit of this: https://janefriedman.com/internal-dialogue/

I have a lot of practice writing my own inner dialogue. I am doing it now. It seems wise to put that practice to use.

Try it. See if you like it better. If not, get rid of it. It may be more work, but that’s okay.

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A Name And Only A Name

My name—

Do you spy green sprigs on a hill,

Hiding an underworld beneath?

A barrow of whispers?

Lines of letters, milling

On nametags, on poems, on pedigrees,

Like diplomat zombies?

Then I, the wildfire’s pinpoint spark,

I dim, and I drift among the leaves

As ash in an evening breeze.

A Beornic hermit, I subsist,

Pinewoods-bound, naked

But for fur, growls, claws, fangs, the stink of bear and blood.

“Beloved Father and Husband”;

Entombed in pine, under granite and grass, I break down—

Fabric tongue unraveling,

Losing all but my name.

Judging from my classmates’ reactions, I have over-subtle-ized this and obfuscated my meaning. I didn’t intend that at all. I changed the title to contextualize it a bit better, but you’ll have to let me know if it works. I might just need to add a bunch more stanzas to flesh things out.