When is a monologue not a monologue?


I was reflecting recently on the nature of interior monologues (yes, I know, that in itself is an interior monologue).

Setting aside for a later blog the question of whether it’s good for the narrative to expose thoughts of a character in a way that’s impossible in real life, it occurred to me that an interior monologue is frequently anything but a monologue.

True, in real life, much of our thinking takes place without us thinking in words. But this is written fiction, we need the words to be understood, so the interior monologue will be, for the sake of the medium, better constructed than our real-life thoughts.

A monologue, though, is literally the thoughts of one person – and true, when expressing thought in fiction, that’s entirely valid, as in: ‘Bitch, thought Gerald’.

Yet people aren’t comprised only of their own thoughts. We’re all the sum of our past, our surroundings, our family and our friends. When we reflect on an issue, we take it apart using our own views – but we also test it with the views of others. We consider how others would feel; what they would say. That’s one way, perhaps, that we reach a viewpoint that’s different to the one we previously held.

So a monologue can involve the thoughts and influences of more than one character. Not as a conversation (unless the character is schizophrenic – I’m thinking in particular of the excellent Gollum to Gollum monologue/dialogue in The Lord of the Rings film The Return of the King) but as a single voice, albeit a mental one.

It’s the nature of people to be multifaceted – and so should be the nature of fictional characters. Our views are seldom that black and white. Sometimes we do things which seem to be contradictory to our nature, at least as others understand it.

Thoughts in fiction, then, are where these different facets of our lives can crystallise. Where internal debate can become a force, like opposing waves crashing each other – or, more gently, like two different coloured paints meeting, to make a third colour. It’s where decisions are made, choices debated – and where even what others might assume is unthinkable can be considered.

If the only viewpoints in the interior monologue were those of the one character, then there’s less scope for that character to behave as a real person would, to change, to go on a journey, to grow apart from another character or perhaps grow closer to one.

Sure, the voice of the interior monologue will be one voice, but more than the single character holding that voice will shape it.

About Peter Labrow

Peter Labrow has worked as a copywriter, writing non-fiction, for around twenty years. His output includes copy for websites and brochures; for around a decade he wrote a regular column for IT Training magazine. He has published one non-fiction book about learning within the corporate environment. The Well, Peter’s first novel, is available on Kindle and in print from Amazon. View all posts by Peter Labrow

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