Bridge to Story

Where Action Conveys a Thought

Here, we’ll deal with Internal Dialogue. We’ll look at how to bring it up to the point where you can mix it with actions to show us more about a character. No dialogue should be always said or thought in a vacuum. But novices usually write thoughts off on their own. Dialogue gets clumped away from narration.

Do you write something like this?

 Dialogue here, everything they have to say, the more commas the better. Followed by action-tags for how the character spoke. Remember your -ly words!

Now let’s add character movement, not for subtext – just to tell the reader that someone is now moving. Next comes narration, to make clear the motivation for that movement is explained.

 Now I’ll add in more dialogue, all of it again, long 20+ words at a go. I’ll hold off the facial reaction to explain why they said things that way. That can go last...

One of my students wrote an internal monologue in my class. The exercise began in voice only. Nothing more.

They then had to take the role of main character and narrator. Moving all that internal thought into both narration, and motivations,using inner thoughts to get into the mind-set of this character. The ultimate goal was bring in characterization of this narrator that the reader could see, without it being spelled out.

The goal was to take the first draft of this example and work in revision to mix up thought, action, and characterization. In the example page look at what I mean about inner thought and action combining to describe the narrating character.

 You can practice with the example, or move directly to your own work for this lesson’s exercise.

Example Toggle


25 words. Original prompt Kay said “Hi”.:

God. Kay said “Hi” and my eardrums may pop. Grating and loud doesn’t do it justice, she could cut steel with it, what a voice.

1st Revision Of Original: 81 words.

Here, there are still some thoughts he’s thinking, using I thought and I wondered. But, some are rewritten as narration, and some actions are slipped in too:

Walking down the street I ran into Janice, and a friend of hers, Kay. God. When Kay said “Hi”, I nearly recoiled.

“Whoa, I thought, What a voice.” I think I actually stepped back. She started in babbling and I was sure my eardrums would pop. Grating and loud didn’t do it justice. I snuck a look or two at Janice, but she just smiled. I wondered, “How does she stand it? Kay could cut steel with that.” What a voice.

2nd Re-write: 60 words.

Where he can be seen, reacting physically in a new way than above, so straight narrating is lessened:

Walking down the street I ran into Janice, and a friend of hers, Kay. God. When Kay said “Hi”, I nearly recoiled; I may have even stepped back. She started in as I reached to shake her hand, and I plugged my ear with my free one, if only I had a third for the other ear. What a voice.

We learn just as much about the narrator here as we do about this girl Kay and her voice. Now  go to the exercise page and try this for yourself.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Here’s where you’re asked to use your internal monologue and expand it in these ways, consider the voice you’ve used internally to be your narrator.

  1. Mix in some "actions" to reveal the thoughts you have this ‘I voice’ character thinking. Avoid movements that have no use, make actions convey the thoughts you started with.
  2. Now re-write the piece, having the physical action you’ve added and thoughts about those actions, convey the thoughts and views of the original piece so the reader can see them.
  3. Remember that internal monologues often show us, the reader, what the character cannot or will not say out loud. And that can be reflected in their movements too.

No dialogue should be always said or thought in a vacuum. Learn to mix your dialogue into narration and motivations. This is what grounds subtext, and stronger storytelling.