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I wrote a story called Tempo, which I enjoy (this does not mean that it is good), but that has a chunk where the main character has an internal monologue. This is usually bad, but I can't tell how bad it is or how I should go about fixing it.

Here is the passage:

It's only as she speaks those words that I understood that I had thought, for some time, that relationships were the key to some locked-away chest of happiness. What is unsettling is that I can't figure out if I'm offended by her attacking me or if I'm angry at myself for feeling attacked. If it wasn't someone else that brought happiness, what was I supposed to do? Loneliness certainly didn't seem to be a viable option. Or maybe it is just my personal brand of brooding loneliness, which seems to follow me around like some pathetic cartoon rain cloud.

In the story of my life that I keep on building in my head, I had always drawn my idealized self with a woman. Someone to share experiences with. Someone to recount the tales and adventures back to me and say: "Yes, this was worth it."

God, what a terrible fantasy. I didn't want a lover, I wanted someone to confirm I wasn't wasting my life and to reflect what Hollywood and every brainless pop song on the radio claims to be happiness. Why didn't I think I could have adventures on my own? Where did this neediness come from?

I try to disguise my childish inner turmoil, talking about the weather in San Francisco as we pay our bills. Outside of the cafe, Dev's question leaks from my head to my mouth.

I could turn this into dialogue, but I don't think that would be much better. I also really don't want to cut it out completely from the story because it's kind of the main character's epiphany moment and the pay-off for all his turmoil up until then. How else should I go about transmitting this idea? Is it not the format of transmission (the inner monlogue), but it's length?

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I didn't mind it at all. It seemed just fine - I kind of like internal monologues for stories in first-person, it helps build a strong relationship between the reader and the character. Here, I'm getting to see the full range of your character's emotions, and am able to identify with him a personal level because I've been let inside his mind. Don't go writing a whole story like this, but for a section, I think it's just fine. –  Singular1ty Aug 13 '13 at 5:51
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Agree with @Singular1ty. The passage is fine, and in line with what I'd expect from a 1st person. It isn't slow or boring, & that's more important –  Shantnu Tiwari Aug 13 '13 at 7:46
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The content itself seems fine, but using inconsistent tenses in the sentences wasn't. Also, it's a little hard to "understand" something when you're already writing/speaking about it. "Understood" might be better. These things made me want to stop reading even though the content was fine. –  Joe Aug 13 '13 at 20:52
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@Seanny123 By the way, I read the whole story. I suggest you to start the dialogue with "Listen, I have a proposal for you..." the part before that is unnecessary (try avoiding small talk as much as possible). Or tell it instead. The phone call was a good opening try to exploit that. –  Alexandro Chen Aug 14 '13 at 7:41
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@Seanny123, I particularly enjoyed: "Or maybe it is just my personal brand of brooding loneliness, which seems to follow me around like some pathetic cartoon rain cloud." Nice, though I might drop "brooding" for better scansion. –  STSagas Aug 14 '13 at 23:02
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7 Answers 7

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Yes, I think the internal monologue in the passage above is a clear example of telling (which could be good or bad depending on the situation). Personally, I tend to avoid internal monologue as much as I can. Here are some methods I use (plus examples taken from my own writing):

1) Using something from the character's surrounding as an analogy for his emotions/thoughts.

I raised my eyes, thinking about the question. A moth was hovering around the wall lamp. Yuki was right: why I was so certain about it? True, the idea of the Flying Stone was as shapeless as the insect's shadow dancing on the ceiling. But what if there was something actually real casting it?

2) Using a symbolic action to show the character's emotions/thoughts

Taking a few deep breaths, Saki lifted the box slowly over her head, and then threw it to the front with all her might. The box made a plunking sound as it hit the water. Saki followed it with her eyes as it sank in the deepness of the ocean.

(Note: this is the epiphany of the story)

3) Using a metaphor/simile to describe the character's emotions/thoughts

Eyes closed, Saki sank back into the seat, and let the darkness surround her. Her mind reminded tonight's events, and tried to picture those that would follow tomorrow. The more she thought about the them, the more unreal they seemed to become. But then, gradually, those images started to lose their shape, until they finally disintegrated and scattered around like sand in the wind.

In brief, make use of senses, metaphors, and surroundings to reveal the character's emotions or thoughts.

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I would say that this is foreshadowing which is not strictly telling or showing. Presumably this will self-fulfill later on - just don't make the mistake of hanging a neon sign on what's happening. Let the character (in this case) ease the reader into showing (or telling)

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I'll throw this out there even though this question has been answered. Showing requires description. Your passage:

In the story of my life that I keep on building in my head, I had always drawn my idealized self with a woman. Someone to share experiences with. Someone to recount the tales and adventures back to me and say: "Yes, this was worth it."

Tells the reader exactly what the narrator feels. It is almost as if he or she has direct access to his or her subconscious. A descriptive version would be:

I picture an ideal woman, dirty fingernails from rock-climbing, a soft bottom that is as warm as a toaster when we spoon at night. Someone who would rather wander the streets aimlessly than watch T.V. on a Tuesday night, but most of all someone who wants to be by my side until the day one of us dies.

My example may not be what you are going for, but I think it has a level of descriptiveness that shows the narrator desires someone adventurous yet tender.

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Thanks for the reminder to "unpack" as Chuck Palahniuk once wrote: wingedbeastieanji.tumblr.com/post/12504675837/… –  Seanny123 Sep 25 '13 at 9:42
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Unless this is a screenplay you're perfectly fine describing the character's thoughts. That's what the best authors do (If memory serves me, I think like 95% of Crime and Punishment was internal ruminations)

Anyway, the problem for me is that I had a hard time deciphering the point you were trying to make. I had to re-read it about 4 times. For example,

If it wasn't someone else that brought happiness, what was I supposed to do?

Could be more clearly written as

If being with another woman couldn't bring me happiness, what was I supposed to do?

And the next sentence was even more confusing:

I didn't want a lover, I wanted someone to confirm I wasn't wasting my life and to reflect what Hollywood and every brainless pop song on the radio claims to be happiness.

since I was expecting a single thought, and had to re-read it several times to get to the point where what I believe you're saying is that:

1.) Your character wanted companionship for abnormal reasons

AND

2.) Your character wanted to conform to popular society's expectations

Consider breaking that out into at least two sentences, which gives you more room to expand on those thoughts.

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I don't think there is a tell versus show problem, but it's not really an interior monologue either. For me, an interior monologue is a soliloquy, that is, a dialog with oneself.

You wrote:

What is unsettling is that I can't figure out if I'm offended by her attacking me or if I'm angry at myself for feeling attacked.

As an oversimplification, I should be able to put quotes around that and recognize it as something the character would say out loud to someone else or to the mirror. It doesn't really read that way, though.

It's like the difference between, "What makes me mad is her selfishness," compared to, "Damn! She's so f-ing selfish!"

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"Telling, not showing," is not really a "rule" that applies to thoughts. In your example, you are sharing your thoughts. How would you show your thoughts, other than by telling us what they are? Being able to share your thoughts, by telling us your thoughts, is one of the great advantages of prose.

When it comes to action, however, always try to show, not tell.

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I don't think this is necessarily a problem depending on the context, but yes, this is exactly what telling vs. showing is. It's a good rule for beginning writers because there's kind of a tendency to tell everything ("Bob was patient and kind") rather than showing it (putting Bob in a situation where patience and kindness is kind of a problem). That being said, almost all writers tell all the time. It's not that big of a deal. Even Raymond Carver, who was huge into minimalismm and was therefore about as show-y as you could get, told things every now and then.

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