Friday, August 5, 2022

Writing an Un-Put-Downable Character (Part 7 of 10): Internal Dialogue

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

Do you talk to yourself? I do. Some of the best conversations I have are with myself, and (though I shouldn’t admit to it) some of the best arguments I have are with myself too. So if you do it, why don’t your characters do it too?

Last time in this series we talked about how a focus on a character’s language can tell readers a lot about his or her back story. Today we’re going to talk about one of the greatest tools for characterization you’re ever going to use: INTERNAL DIALOGUE.

Sometimes you’ll hear it called Internalization, but regardless of what term you use for it, it’s basically the times in your story when your character is talking to themselves. It’s your character’s inner voice.

It doesn’t even matter what tense or voice you’re using either. Internal dialogue happens in every kind of fictional manuscript. The way it’s represented may change from manuscript to manuscript, but the idea is exactly the same.

The best part about internal dialogue, however, is also its potential danger: There aren’t many rules. It’s one of the most flexible items in your literary toolbox. With internal dialogue, you can establish your character’s unique voice. You can show how your characters feel and think versus what they say and do, which can be wonderful for both comedic and tragic types of stories. You can develop and reveal a character’s true motivation. You can give your character a chance to reflect on events in the story, which cues your reader that it’s time to pay attention.

So many uses! And this isn’t even close to a complete list. 

Let’s look at a few examples because this can be difficult to explain if you aren’t familiar with the concept of writing it. 

George waited in the parking lot with the windows rolled down. He tapped his thumb against the steering wheel absently. How much longer was this going to take? The outdoor temperature had just hit 90, and he was already soaked with sweat. If he waited much longer, he might start to melt too.


George waited in the parking lot with the windows rolled down. He tapped his thumb against the steering wheel absently. How much longer was this going to take? The outdoor temperature had just hit 90, and he was already soaked with sweat. If I wait much longer, I might start to melt too.

Can you spot the examples of internal dialogue? Both of these instances are stylistically correct, although not super well conceived (I just made it up). In one case, the tense and voice stays the same (third person past). In the second case, the tense and voice shifts (from third person past to first person present).

However you represent your characters’ inner voice will work just fine, as long as you are clear. If your readers don’t understand what you’re writing, though, it defeats the purpose. 

Having a tool like internal dialogue to aid in character building is such a huge advantage to storytellers, but there are limits to what it can do. You have to draw some boundaries in the way you use it, otherwise you run the risk of alienating or confusing your readers. 

Here are three to watch out for: 

The Overly Sarcastic Chatterbox

Don’t let your character’s inner voice talk all the time, and don’t make them needlessly sarcastic. Believe it or not, people who think or speak sarcastically all the time aren’t likable. A little sarcasm can be fun, but don’t overdo it. 

Irrelevant Details

Don’t use internal dialogue as a way to have a character blather on about things that don’t serve the story. You wouldn’t think this needs to be a note, but you’d be surprised. Anything that doesn’t serve the story should be cut out, and that includes dialogue, internal or otherwise. 

Back-Story Info-Dumper

Don’t use internal dialogue as a flashback or as something your character is remembering. Telling huge chunks of back-story all at once is usually frowned upon in general. Internal dialogue should be used to amplify or enhance a scene, not carry it. 

Internal dialogue is one of the most versatile literary devices that a writer can use in the never-ending quest to bring imaginary people to life. Let your characters have a rich inner life. Let them talk to themselves and cheer themselves on and make fun of themselves.

We all do it. They should too. 

I do hope you all are enjoying this series on writing great characters. Here’s where we are in the outline: 
  • Personality 
  • Conflict 
  • Contradictions 
  • History 
  • Interests 
  • Language 
  • Internalization 
  • Dreams 
  • Observables 
  • Growth


Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at


  1. Using internal dialogue or monologue was one of the early tools I put in my writers toolbox. It really give the reader an inside view of the character without the telling. Great post, A.C.!

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  3. This has been a very helpful series, thanks so much A.C. : )