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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Point of View--Interior Monologue

The Interior Monologue point of view is one of the most powerful devices an author has to reveal the inner core of a character. It requires sinking deep into a character, living in the moment, voicing thoughts uncensored by political correctness or culture. In other words, it reveals the basest emotions. It is a great way to give a lot of backstory in a few words, but it requires real effort on the part of the author to sink into the character and become that person. You must lose yourself and all your inhibitions and let go.  Sometimes it is called, “stream of consciousness.”  That means there are no pronouns like I or no tags like ‘he thought.’ It is the character talking to himself, revealing truths he’d never voice aloud.
I used this device in a short story in a December blog about two years ago. The title is “Marilyn Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” The scene is on a sidewalk in Chicago. Henry is waiting for his ride. It goes like this:
“I've lost my mind.  I'm standing in a puddle of slush on the sidewalk, in Downtown Chicago, waiting for my ride and shivering my ass off, because I've been sucked into to another Christmas cocktail party. Hell, I just came from an office party. 
“I’m a pushover that’s what. I hate these things. The food is lousy, alcohol gives me a headache, and I stand around trying to look like I'm having fun, but nobody wants to talk to me. Bud wants me to meet this woman he's gone ape over--the broad he's going to marry if he can talk her into it, and, OK, I owe him. He’s new in the office and the only one who’s tried to be friendly in a while. The rest of those losers all took Marilyn’s side in the divorce and now they just ignore me. Learned a lesson there.  Four years of marriage is more than enough. Shit, if the guy wants me to go to this party to meet this woman, well, what the hell.” 

So, what have we learned about Henry in one short paragraph? He’s unpleasant, opinionated, friendless, divorced, doesn’t like women and abused his wife, at least verbally. He’s lonely and wants to please Bud. You also suspect that the author doesn’t like him either and he’s being set up to get his comeuppance. You're curious, you’ll keep on reading. 
The entire story is Interior Monologue, in Henry’s point of view. You can read the rest in my blog archives.
IM is a good way to get in a lot of backstory quickly, to establish a character. Since it involves intense emotion, it is best used in extreme situations, like the innermost thoughts of someone about to be murdered, or commit murder, or a character experiencing an extreme situation.
I used IM in another way in Accidental Alien. The scene: a seed pod from outer space, has just germinated, in a forest on Earth, producing a young plant that will mature, in a short time, and become a being that looks like a man, but is really a plant. At this point he has only hearing, smell, and an imbedded artificial intelligence.
“His hearing, especially acute, detected sounds of movement—some slight vibrations in the ground, accompanied by the approaching sound of rhythmic crunching and tearing. A new scent caught his attention. It smelled oddly fecal. What was it? What were those succulent sounds, wet and juicy, like plants being ripped from moorings? He interpreted the "something" as animal, chewing and eating vegetation, and he was directly in its path. The greenish odor of freshly bruised leaves caught in his senses, alarming him.
“No, this couldn't happen. Terror ripped through him. He was going to be consumed as food. Images of rending and grinding by jagged teeth threw him into a panic. He wanted to live, to grow into his pre-destined form, whatever that might be, and explore this strange place.”

IM is much like internalization, where you interrupt dialogue or the progression of the story to let the reader know what your point of view character is thinking and feeling. The following are excerpts from near the end of Maddie’s Choice. The scene is during a gunfight between drug dealers and the Feds.  Maddie is handcuffed to a corral fence when her captor is shot. This is internalization:
“Blood, obscenely, brilliantly red, welled in thick globs from his shoulder. She couldn’t look away. She’d written scenes like this, never imagining the awful color of real blood from a mortal wound.”
If I had used IM here, it would read like: “Blood everywhere. How could one body have that much blood? The gorge flooding her mouth, dribbled down her chin, burning her lips. Hold it together. Can’t black out.”
The use of IM here would have distracted from the flow of the action, but you can see how much more dramatic it would have been.
Next time: First Person, present, past and future.

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