The Art of the Paragraph: Internal Monologues in Fiction

Paragraph writing in fiction doesn’t follow traditional rules. In this series, we cover how to write a good paragraph by exploring different lengths and kinds of paragraphs—and when to use them. Here, learn how to incorporate internal monologues into your fiction.
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Paragraph writing in fiction doesn’t follow traditional rules. Like storytelling itself, it is artistically liberated, and that liberation gives it the potential to contribute to the story’s aesthetic appeal. Paragraphs build a story segment-by-segment. They establish and adjust the pace while adding subtle texture. They convey mood and voice. They help readers visualize the characters and the way they think and act by regulating the flow of their thoughts and actions.

In this series, adapted from "The Art of the Paragraph" by Fred D. White in the January 2018 issue of Writer's Digest, we cover paragraph writing, how to write dialogue and more by exploring different lengths and kinds of paragraphs—and when to use each one.

Internal Monologues in Fiction

Fiction writers often get inside their viewpoint characters’ heads as a counterpoint to the external stuff going on. A master of interior monologues (or stream-of-consciousness) is Virginia Woolf, as evidenced in her 1927 classic To the Lighthouse. Here is the chauvinistic Mr. Ramsay’s reaction to his wife’s contradiction of his claim that the weather would not permit their planned lighthouse excursion:

The extraordinary irrationality of her remark, the folly of women’s minds enraged him. He had ridden through the valley of death, been shattered and shivered; and now, she flew in the face of facts, made his children hope what was utterly out of the question, in effect, told lies. He stamped his foot on the stone step. “Damn you,” he said.

Woolf then shifts to Mrs. Ramsay’s viewpoint to show her conflicting reaction to her husband’s harsh words:

She was quite ready to take his word for it, she said. … She often felt she was nothing but a sponge sopped full of human emotions. Then he said, Damn you. He said, It must rain. He said, It won’t rain; and instantly a Heaven of security opened before her. There was nobody she reverenced more. She was not good enough to tie his shoe strings, she felt.

TRY THIS

Dramatize a quarrel between two characters, using internal monologue narration rather than dialogue.

This is one of five basic kinds of paragraphs and their respective functions in fiction. Learn about each type of paragraph writing—and how to apply what you've learned—in these articles:

Fred D. White is the author of The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus, Where Do You Get Your Ideas? and The Daily Writer. His latest, Writing Flash, will be published this spring.

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