I have seen this in visual media, but not really in written media so I am sort of at a loss as to how to proceed.

I am writing a first person narrative where the main character is almost constantly in his own head. In fact some 75% to 90% of the narrative is in the narrator's head if it isn't dialogue. And the narrator thinks a lot during conversation. Example:

"So what are you thinking about?" she asked.

And there it was. The loaded question. It was the question she always asked me during any lull in conversation. It always made me super uncomfortable and she knew that. Oh gods she's looking at me. Quick think of an answer.

"I love you." I said.

Hopefully this is a decent example of the dialogue. The idea is that it is entirely first person driven. My question is: how can I convey a narrator that questions himself constantly in conversation without breaking the flow of the dialogue? Do I interject the internal monologue in the middle of the dialogue or is there some other method that I am not realizing?

Note: the internal monologues are a device to convey the narrator's character and mental inclinations so it would be hard to get away from them entirely in the writing.

  • Have you read any books by Nick Hornby? They are highly entertaining (and quick) reads that I think you'll find really useful. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 11:23

2 Answers 2


While it's not incorrect per se, as a reader I'd likely dislike your story.

The effect of so much internal monologue is a glacial pace of the actual story progression. Unless the internal monologue actually makes good revelations and discoveries, it will quickly develop into a story pacing problem. While the problem of perception of the pauses in the story world can be reduced with writing techniques, this does nothing about actual pauses this forces upon the reader in the real time, between they get to morsels of actual progression.

There are readers who like this style. But they are not numerous. Huge majority will just get bored.

And since this is simultaneously the narrator and the protagonist, and it's an inherent trait of his character, it's pretty much unavoidable in this combination. If I were you, I'd rethink that entire setup. You're just digging yourself into a hole and making your life as a writer unreasonably difficult, because getting this setup right, without boring majority of readers half to death, you'll have to expend extraordinary effort to make each paragraph worthwhile. "I have this, here, spoon, and this, here, field. And I want to plow it with this spoon. How can I do this most efficiently?" Get a goddamned plow instead!

  • I find it odd that you say this, since I don't think I've ever read a first person story that doesn't have these kind of internal thoughts and digressions. I'd go so far as to say that it's probably rare to find one in which they don't form the bulk of the character development and story. I can certainly think of several examples (both "mainstream" and "literary") in which they do. It's part of the reason people like (and buy) books written in first person. Sure, it can be overdone, or done in a way that's distracting, but it's a big stretch to go from that to "Nobody will want to read it". Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 11:44
  • @TheTermiteSociety Oh, almost every story does have them, peppering the action here and there to draw the reader's attention to the unsaid parts, implications or revelations. But find me an interesting story that is made in over 75% of these! I'd say 10% of the book content would be already overdoing it. 75%-90%? No, just no.
    – SF.
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 11:51
  • ...also, remember: "Show, don't tell." The first rule. And the internal monologue is nothing else than telling the reader every single conclusion and feeling. "It always made me super uncomfortable and she knew that." Cheap!
    – SF.
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 12:06
  • Internal monologues reveal (that is, they "show" us) how the character thinks, what kinds of things are at the top of their mind at any time. A character who tells us, "The world felt flat and distant. I noticed that my hands were shaking, and tried to steady them." is a different person to one who tells us "I struggled against my fear". Sure, we're being told stuff, but the stuff itself isn't half as revealing as the way we're told it. You don't get that if the character's just go around grimacing and squirming and never thinking anything because the writer was too scared to "tell". Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 13:23
  • @TheTermiteSociety: Notice difference between: The world felt flat and distant. My hands were shaking; noticing that, I tried to steady them. versus I thought "The world really feels flat and distant, doesn't it? Oh, look! My hands are shaking! I really should steady them."
    – SF.
    Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 13:29

I think your example portrays a person in a way we can relate to. Whether this internal monologue is fast or not may depend on who reads it and at what speed that happens, but you could use the reactions of the people involved to indicate that he doesn't linger before answering. You can also give him thoughts like "wow, it's like they have no idea how much I consider before answering their stupids question.. It's like time passes slower for them, since they don't notice."

Now, I don't know your character or the plot/theme and so on, so I have no idea if such a thought is suitable for your story, but there are many ways of saying something important indirectly. BTW I liked your example.

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