Lately, when reading, italicized internal monologue jumps right out at me. Literally. The words jar me, and I’m sure they jar the majority of readers. Why? How can I put this?
- Internal monologue is shown via italicization. The reader is going along in the normal font, and then it slants. Then it returns to normal. Then it slants again.
- When used in third-person viewpoint the italics are joined by a sudden switch to first-person viewpoint.
- When used in a first-person viewpoint, the italics have no reason for being there. Italics announce to the reader that the point of view wasn’t deep enough in the first place.
- Internal thought is used as a shortcut in fiction, and as such, it becomes a tool for telling rather than showing.
As with all style issues in fiction, overuse of italics is tiresome and ineffective and should be used sparingly. I believe that internal thought has two functions: 1) to place emphasis on an important thought; or 2) for relevant silent prayer.
When self-editing for areas where telling versus showing are the focus, italicized internal monologue is a great place for an author to search.
In the evaluation of these areas, here are some questions that should be asked:
- Is the internal monologue important enough that it needs special emphasis (and if that is true more than twice in a manuscript, the author may want to determine another way to get this emphasis across)?
- If internal monologue is included in a scene, can the first paragraph be set stronger to clearly define the point-of-view character and to allow his or her thoughts to flow in the narrative, drawing the reader closer to that character?
- If the story is being told in first-person point of view and internal monologue is being used does that mean that the first person, point-of-view character’s voice is not strong enough for the reader to realize that the thoughts are flowing from that character into the narrative?
Internal monologue has a place in fiction. It can be used to great effect, but only if it used minimally and for the greatest impact.