How to Write an Interior Monologue



Image from Jackson Pollock.
Interior monologues: post-modern art

As I mentioned in my post on writing allegories, I get people googling how to write an interior monologue as a hit all the time. As I’ve never actually written about how to write an interior monologue, it’s a little baffling to me, but it’s about time I wrote about it, right? So without further ado,

How to write an interior monologue


So. Let’s start with what an interior monologue, or internal monologue, really is. It’s a nice fat chunk of text of thought — that is, a narrative of exactly what is going on in a character’s head. These can be tricky to pull off successfully for two reasons. First, just like it’s a struggle for even great writers to reproduce authentic sounding dialogue, it’s just as hard to create an authentic-sounding interior dialogue. Because when we’re thinking, that’s really what’s going on — we’re talking to ourselves silently. We usually don’t use big words or perfectly grammatically correct sentences in our thoughts. Unless we have the control of a zen master, most of the time thoughts are fragmented, darting, a million places at once. But that brings us to the other challenge of an interior monologue. If we do it too well and accurately capture what thought is usually like, we will probably end up with the literary equivalent of Jackson Pollock painting. It will be incomprehensible and very post-modern. If you’re going for that, for the next Finnegan’s Wake or To the Lighthouse, then by all means forge ahead, but for your normal interior monologue, one that can be very touching or effective, you need balance and discipline.


An interior monologue is all about character and voice. It’s about knowing your character so intimately that you know how he speaks to himself in his head. Even if you don’t use an interior monologue in your story, it’s a good idea to have this level of knowledge anyway, as a kind of baseline that will improve how you write about his actions. So first, let’s begin with character.

Character
Is your character the kind of person who would talk to himself extensively? If not, you’re barking up the wrong tree. If he is, what’s on his mind at this stage in the story? Is he frightened, worried, rapturously in love, paranoid? What are the things haunting his thoughts? A past love, a crime he is about to commit, someone who wants him dead, the traumatic event he witnessed that day? Whatever it is, it should be the centerpiece of your monologue, returning again and again. His thoughts might wander to lighter matters, but always they must come back, circling around and constantly returning to The One Thing dominating the interior monologue.

Voice
This is all about character as well. As I mentioned earlier, it will be incoherent if you try to actually reproduce literally everything a character is thinking. Instead, try to isolate his particular voice. It’s probably similar to the way he talks, but more intimate. Perhaps it is only in his thoughts that the character’s insecurities are allowed to come to the surface. Perhaps he denies feelings for another person outwardly, but is inwardly infatuated. The voice must strike a balance between too-tidy narration, which will sound awkward, forced, and artificial, and pure stream-of-consciousness, which will lack continuity. Err on the side of stream-of-consciousness at first; let your pencil go where it will. You can clean it up later.

This is your first lesson in writing an interior monologue. Email me your efforts at blair@blairhurley.com and I’ll be sure to post them. More lessons on this writing technique and others will always be forthcoming at Creative Writing Corner.

UPDATE: It’s been great seeing all of the enthusiastic responses to this post, and I’m glad I’ve been able to help so many of you with writing your own monologues. A few of you have commented, wondering why I don’t include an example of an interior monologue. I’d like to explain why. First of all, I get many many emails asking for help with school assignments on this topic. While I can give tips like what I’ve written above, I can’t help you do your work for you. Also, many people have emailed me trying to get me to basically write their monologues. If I were to include an example of an interior monologue here, I’m afraid that it might be used for cheating by some people.

So I’m afraid you’ll have to do the work yourself! Good luck writing that monologue, and feel free to ask me questions about the process!

35 comments

  1. sarah says:

    Thank you so much… that was really helpful. I have to write a monologue this weekend and it was inspiring to read this…
    Thanks again!

  2. Emily says:

    Hey! thanks a bunch, i had to do an assignment for school and i have never been taught how to write a monologue, it was great, really helpful. i will make sure i check out all you other works!!!!

  3. Ahmed says:

    Thank you very much, it was very helpful , I have to explain the interior monologue on Tuesday at the Uni.
    Thank you very much

  4. Chuck Norris says:

    Our Teacher made us write a monolauge (who cares if it is spelled wrong?) and we were never even taught how to do it thnx

  5. Peter says:

    Thanks for the monologue guide, I have never written one myself, but I have to teach a class of 15 year olds how to do it tomorrow.

  6. Peter says:

    Thanks for the monologue guide, I have never written one myself, but I have to teach a class of 15 year olds how to do it tomorrow.

  7. Peter says:

    Thanks for the monologue guide, I have never written one myself, but I have to teach a class of 15 year olds how to do it tomorrow.

  8. Mary says:

    Thank you a lot! Your explanation about the characters voice helped me a lot when I was working on a school assignment where I had to write a monologue for a character in a book I had read! I really appreciate it! :]

  9. mooose says:

    thankyouuu soo much!you’ve saved my life no joke…i will get into uni becasue of you! thankyouuu from the bottom of my heart!god speed! xxx

  10. Norah says:

    Many thanks for the informative post on the subject.
    It would be more helpful though if you can posts for us examples of interior monologue writings.

  11. Maureen Whitley says:

    I agree with Norah. Learning something without the benefit of example has no staying power. Tips on how to write an interior monolog are somewhat self-evident and of little value, without the illustrative power of example to anchor the lesson in my mind.

  12. Nancy Nelson says:

    Hi – I signed up with my name and email, but I can’t seem
    to read the whole page – only part of it shows, the rest
    is hidden behind the red area…. I like the information
    given here regarding writing. Thank you. Nancy

  13. Amanda says:

    Hi thanks for writing this lol. It’s hard to establish the kind of character you want for an interior monologue. I am doing Elizabeth Proctor from The Crucible 2 years after every thing has happened. I don’t know if you’re familiar with this text, but I suspect you might be. I guess you’d know how I’d feel if you have. If you haven’t, this is how I feel: GAH!!! I’m writing some thing along the lines of her worries for her sons who she wishes some times could have had the guidance of their father because John Proctor was a strong man who thought for himself. She’s worried about whether she has brought them up the way John would’ve liked. She is wondering whether she has done right by them and she is feeling very tired. She needs help. Her servant Mary Warren left her and she hasn’t been able to find a servant to stick around and help her sinse. she wonders what ever happened to Abigail and hopes she is rotting in a brothel some where. wow. im scaring myself. but uh. what do you think? =D <3 Oh and... in interior monologues, can they have flash backs?

  14. Christy says:

    OMG this help so much because i have to write an interior monologue for my school assignment and my teacher hardly taught us how to write it so thanks : )

  15. Joshua says:

    This post is awesome! Thank you so much for this!!
    Keep helping!!
    This is Joshua from Israeli Uncensored News

  16. Eran West says:

    Thank you so much for this! I was reading through my monologue and it completely stunk, so a few of your elements fixed it right up!

  17. Micky says:

    thanks, also have to write a monologue at school for an assignment and i just moved schools so never learnt or knew anything about how to write one so thanks 🙂

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