Thursday, November 05, 2015

Q & A 190


Should italicized internal dialogue be given a separate paragraph or placed at the end of a paragraph? I'm providing an excerpt from my book [Previously seen here in New Beginning 1047] done both ways.


Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school.  She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language.  
            Nothing’s more important than an education. 
The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother's new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before.  Her father brought it home for her to play in.  
The nicest thing he's ever done.  
Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off.  She lived in the next house up the hollow.  Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities.  Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail.  
All she needs is a little motivation.  
Before they had crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped the upper corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, "The place of all things possible -- especially you passing the fifth grade so we'll be together in the sixth."
Please concentrate, Faith.  Try this one. 
            "Armadillo."
            "A, R, M, … A … D, I, L, D, O," Faith demonstrated her intellect.
            "That's weak.  This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points.  Come on."
            Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word.  
I’ll trick her by going out of order – a word she can't turn into another punch line.  
“Don’t talk about it and the image will go away.  Let’s get back to studying,” Lacy Dawn said.  
            My mommy don't like sex.  It's just her job and she told me so.

Inside her first clubhouse, Lacy Dawn glanced over fifth grade spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz at school.  She already knew all the words in the textbook and most others in any human language. Nothing’s more important than an education. 
The clubhouse was a cardboard box in the front yard that her grandmother's new refrigerator had occupied until an hour before.  Her father brought it home for her to play in. The nicest thing he's ever done.  
Faith lay beside her with a hand over the words and split fingers to cheat as they were called off.  She lived in the next house up the hollow.  Every other Wednesday for the last two months, the supervised child psychologist came to their school, pulled her out of class, and evaluated suspected learning disabilities.  Lacy Dawn underlined a word with a fingernail. All she needs is a little motivation.  
Before they had crawled in, Lacy Dawn tapped the upper corner of the box with a flashlight and proclaimed, "The place of all things possible -- especially you passing the fifth grade so we'll be together in the sixth." Please concentrate, Faith.  Try this one. 
            "Armadillo."
            "A, R, M, … A … D, I, L, D, O," Faith demonstrated her intellect.
            "That's weak.  This is a bonus word so you’ll get extra points.  Come on."
            Lacy Dawn nodded and looked for a new word. I’ll trick her by going out of order – a word she can't turn into another punch line.  
“Don’t talk about it and the image will go away.  Let’s get back to studying,” Lacy Dawn said. My mommy don't like sex.  It's just her job and she told me so.


I would place internal dialogue in the same paragraph, not a separate one. If it's in a separate paragraph we have no way of knowing which character is thinking it, unless you add an unitalicized tag like "Lacy Dawn thought" or "Faith wondered." Even when the internal dialogue is in the same paragraph, an occasional "she thought" isn't a bad idea, especially if it's not a lengthy thought.

I don't see why Please concentrate, Faith.  Try this one. is internal. Why wouldn't she say it aloud?

It's common for a scene to be described from one character's point of view, and since no one knows what another character is thinking, you wouldn't be able to provide internal dialogue from two different characters in the same scene, as you do here. An omniscient narrator would know everyone's thoughts, but if we have an omniscient narrator, that's one more person to which the italicized words could be attributed if they're in a separate paragraph.

Also, as I said in New Beginning 1047, these particular snippets of internal dialogue aren't especially useful to the narrative. Use it sparingly. If a story is told well, the reader can usually figure out what the characters are thinking. It's when the characters aren't thinking what we'd expect that internal dialogue is most helpful. As in this scene from Annie Hall:

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I found it odd that someone is thinking "My mommy." "My" is one of those words you use when talking to someone else about something you don't have in common. It would be as strange to hear it in my thoughts as it does to hear it from a sibling. With all the disconnected italics, it made me wonder if one of the girls is hearing voices.

AA said...

The main problem is, I don't think any of these are needed as internal monologue.

Nothing’s more important than an education, The nicest thing he's ever done, and All she needs is a little motivation can be deleted entirely. The "I'll trick her..." sentence is not needed assuming you show she's been tricked afterward.
"Please concentrate, Faith. Try this one," should be said aloud.

"My mommy don't like sex. It's just her job and she told me so." Is non-sequitur, besides not even being in the character's own voice. It sounds like a much younger child.

Is your character schizophrenic or does she suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder?
It is possible, of course, that she is remembering something another child said to her earlier in the story. If so, this should be the only internal line. By adding all the others, you ruin the impact of this one.

Anonymous said...

If you want to use this technique, my vote is to put it in the same paragraph. It was much clearer to me; I couldn't tell who was doing the thinking in the first sample, and at times I wondered if it was an omniscient commentator or ghost.