Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ring Around a Rosie. My problems with interior monologue

Going through my bookmarks out of sheer need for topic, I happened to chance upon Miss B's blog on indirect dialogue.
Indirect dialogue is when larger scenes or dialogues may be too boring and too detailed, so out pop these bits of indirect dialogue so the action and pace of a story is not slowed down.

Interesting, yes, but not quite what I was looking for.

What I was really looking for was interior monologue and thereby begins my despair as a writer.

My very first novel, The Black Icon, had losts of interior monologue, viz,

There is a buzzing in my ears. The worms, the worms are coming. There is a craving in my mouth for acid, any acid, pickle brine, vinegar, malt. I sob to my sister, who knows what is going on with me and she knows what to do. She lifts the covers off me, turns me over so I am on my stomach, picks up a wad of newspaper there for just such an event, snatches the first roundworm, which is vituperative--full of life; she pulls the wire-consisten parasite free, then deftly dumps the horrid thing into a bowl of acid by the bedside.

This passage was deleted by my creative writing instructor.

It was not so much that the passaged may have been gross, it was because I was not yet adept at rendering interior monologue.

I was not to play with italic fonts, perhaps like Faulkner in The Sound and the Fury.

But I was not Faulkner, and neither was my novel "The Sound and the Fury", though my tale, truth be known, was something of a tale told by an idiot, as in the Faulkner story.

So we finally edited the book to read straight and direct, almost UPI newspaper style, and the style was sparse and dramatic enough to have the book work. It went through three printings. It was a local bestseller. Its name was The Black Icon.

And yet and yet, even after three books out, I am still not all that good at handling indirect dialogue, certainly interior monologue.

Here is how a Canadian mini-Master handles it:

He is in a working-men's pub . He has met a gambler, a woman. He has spent eight years in jail for armed robbery, he is just out and he can't believe that he can actually sit in a pub with an attractive stranger. He had mentioned to the lady horse-player that now, in this new free life, he is looking for an identity.

Here is how the dialogue (and what I used to call interior monologue) go together:

(The gambling stranger says to Roger):

"Did you find it when you were there?"

"What's that?"

"The identity thing. You said you lost it. Is that like amnesia?"

"Sort of. I kept thinking I was somebody else, like God sometimes or Santa Claus in the middle of July. But I've got it all fixed up now. That's what I carry in the suitcase. Rolled up in my socks."

"Hey, you know, you're all right kid."


You hear that, Roger? The lady says you're all right. Yeah. I hear.

The waiter again.
"Another for you folks?

I should go. You're weak, Roger. Yeah I know.

"Come on kid, have another. Watch the races with me. Ya might bring me luck."

"The same," I say and (the waiter) shuffles off. Tired feet.

"I've got a real good thing today," she says. Squeezing my arm like I'm a rabbit's foot. Can hardly pay attention. Head's buzzing. After one beer. Not acclimatized. What's she saying?

"...he's in the fourth, a friend of mine told me to go heavy. I got him twenty across. Ships That Pass. He hasn't won this season. You follow the nags?"

"No," I say. An honest answer. Lots of guys in the joint did, but safe old Roger is cautious of those pitfalls. Much too smart to gamble.

"He should go off at least ten to one. I'll tell you what, if he wins I'll buy ya a steak supper. You look like you could do with a good meal."

Sharp laughter, like somebody stabbed her in the gut. Is she drunk or what? Or nuts? Or just friendly? What have you got that she could possibly want? Skinny bone wreck, two inches away from being a midget. Smashed-in face. Bad teeth. Hair falling out. Ho, you're in great shape. Just great. Ya, well, I've got one commodity money can't buy. Yeah? Yeah. Youth. I can't argue with that, Roger. Especially when where your thinking is concerned. Yeah, well maybe. But my poems are young. Somebody told me that. Mercy, Roger, your jokes jokes choke me up. Shut up, you.

"Whaddaya say?"

"I was thinking of a poem..."

This interior monologue of the late Don Bailey's really has two people in it, Bailey himself and his alter ego.

It makes not only for a an interesting read, it makes for good instruction in how to handle not only interior monologue, but a kind of indirect dialogue, where only the important aspects of a scene jump out at you.

"You write great travelogues, great adventue stories--I can see them all between covers.
"But you can't write fiction."
This from a Canadian editor to me twenty years ago. Ouch!

I still have problems with interior dialogue, though I am solving a couple of them.

1) Avoid italics in interior monologe. Lay it out in plain roman.
2) Develop an ear for indirect dialogue.

Nice work if you can get it.

Yet something nags at me.

Neither W. Somerset Maughan nor Will Durant could last a month working in a newspaper office...They did try.

We meet at funny places, we writers (though I must say I am nowhere near those two greats).

But we still seem to meet in the same places where it comes to published work.

Whores' Corners?



Josie said...

Ivan' didn't a lot of detective writers (Mickey Spillane) and the writers of film noir use interior monologue quite a bit? I can always hear Sam Spade's voice...

EA Monroe said...

I was wondering that too. I keep hearing Bogart's voice. This is weird, Ivan, but I was listening to a lady writer discussing this on a local OKC writing show. She was talking about how she started her novel with a prologue that was an interior monologue.

Thanks, Ivan! I need to go back through my novel and get rid of the italics in the interior monologue! said...


You have done a Dash The Flash. :)

Dashiell Hammett is durn hard to analyze or imitate.

I would say his writing is more first person. There is a lot of interior monologue, but it somehow blends into a first-person whole.

The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man and The Whoosis Kid are highly grounded in plot...Come to think of it,
The Whoosis Kid reminds me of my Don Bailey character that I'd mentioned above.

Seems with Hammett, we are dealing with a genius (Certainly not me!)

Too much brainwork:

First an author would have to construct a background situation of anarchy. Then he or she would have to create a complex formal mystery puzzle plot - Hammett usually had these in his work. Lastly all of this would have to be woven into an adventure story. This is a tremendous job, and probably too complex to form a model for other authors. Chandler, whose effects of situation, character and prose style are relatively plot independent, can far more easily form a direct influence. Similarly, Hammett's brilliantly intricate dialogues would be hard for most other authors to emulate.

So I don't know.

Ivan said...


Bogart in the Maltese Falcon?

Yeah, that first person narration really works.


Josie said...

I was thinking of Humphrey Bogart too.

I have always found interior monologue an interesting concept. said...


I can understand your appetite for inerior monologue.

Hm. I'd better think that phrase over!

Better to say I understand your fascination with it.
Everybody loves Bogart, perhaps becaue everybody used to love Dashiell Hammett. In my generation, it was William Faulkner.
Faulkner's kind of narrative technique seems to start with James Joyce, the stream-of-conscious man, through Virginia Woolf and onto William Faulkner.

I don't remember a whole lot of Faulkner, but I know he never finished his first year at Ole Miss, but look at the kind of stuff he came out with:

When the shadow of the sash appeared on the curtains it was between seven and eight oclock and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it. Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.

--from The Sound and the Fury

And here is something from a scholar named Smith or somebody:

The second section recounts the story from Quentin Compson’s perspective. Even though the present-day of this section is almost eighteen years prior to the present-day of Benjy’s (the idiot's) section, it nevertheless follows roughly the chronological development of the novel, for while many of Benjy’s recollections are of their early childhood, most of Quentin’s flashbacks record their adolescence, particularly Caddy’s dawning sexuality. Quentin’s section takes place on the day he commits suicide, and in the present we follow his wanderings around Boston (he is a student at Harvard University) as he fastidiously prepares for death. Like Benjy, he too is obsessed with the past and frequently lapses into flashbacks. Unlike the fairly discrete narratives of Benjy’s multiple memories, however, Quentin’s are much more fragmentary—a repeated (and usually italicized) word or phrase early in his section often recurs later with greater detail and embellishment. Quentin’s flashbacks also are much more intellectual than Benjy’s. Whereas Benjy records mainly sensual impressions, Quentin more often delves into more abstract issues such as character motivation, guilt, honor, and sin.

He begins his section by contemplating time, even breaking the hands off his watch in a futile attempt to “escape” time. Another minor obsession Quentin has throughout his section is with shadows; the word “shadow” is repeated constantly throughout his section (thus recalling Shakespeare’s image of a “walking shadow” in the soliloquy alluded to by the novel’s title). Alone among the present-day Compsons, Quentin still feels pride in his family’s noble and glorious past, but he recognizes that today nothing remains of that past; it is mere shadow, and he is merely a “poor player” strutting and fretting, powerless to achieve anything of serious importance. Part of Quentin’s mental perturbation arises from his father’s deep and unswerving cynicism and nihilism; much of his section is a sort of inner dialogue with his father, in which Quentin hopes to prove his father wrong. In fact, his suicide may be just that—his escape from time—for Mr. Compson has told Quentin that as time passes, Quentin will forget his horror, which is unacceptable to Quentin because forgetting would render his horror meaningless, and so he escapes time in the only way he can, by drowning himself.

The source of Quentin’s horror is Caddy. Hearkening back to antebellum views of honor, Southern womanhood, and virginity, Quentin cannot accept his sister’s growing sexuality, just as he cannot accept his father’s notion that “virginity” is merely an invention by men. Most of his flashbacks concern directly his involvement in Caddy’s sexual maturing, but ironically they depict also just how ineffectual Quentin is. In an attempt to restore “honor” to Caddy and to the Compson family, for example, he confronts Dalton Ames, who may be the man who impregnated Caddy, but Quentin is easily overpowered by Ames—and in the present, when he mistakes a fellow student for the adversary of his flashback, Quentin gets beat up. In another incident, Quentin proposes a suicide pact with Caddy, but ultimately he cannot go through with it.

Josie, I think I am over my head. Hell, when it comes to writing, I just down twelve beers just to get the logjam out, drink a caraffe of coffee in the morning and let 'er rip.


Josie said...

I like interior monologue because it allows us to see the world through the person's eyes, rather than just narrating the story to us. It feels like a more natural form of telling a story. Rather than just 'first person' it feels like we are 'feeling' the person's response to what is going on around him.

Oh, what the hell do I know? I'm just an uneducated putz anyway, as I seem to be constantly reminded :-)

JR's Thumbprints said...

There'll probably be college kids copying and pasting your last comment into their research papers on Faulkner. Very perceptive. I'm just glad you didn't go into an interior monologue during it. said...

Thanks, JR.


You are one funny dude!


islandgrovepress said...


Natural brains is best.

I didn't have much to start with, and was probably trained beyond my intellect.
That's what happens when you marry rich.

Unfortunately, the heiress caught on: "You're cute, but you're kind of dosey." :)


Josie said...

Ivan, so, was she smart, besides being rich?

ivan said...

Yes. Yes she was.
Smart enought to dump old Ivan, I suppose.

Or was she?

She is now with a Hungarian who beats her often.

Why does an old song by Dan Brown come to mind?

"Ever since my masochistic baby left me
"I got nothing to beat but the wall." :)


Rich girls who have "powerful father" issues are damn smart, but masochistic. They seem to like to marry guys who are perceived as losers.
...She did do a double take, however, when this loser got his novel published.
And when I got the advanced degree, that seemed the end of it.

It is my firm belief that marriages seem to last longer if the husband is perceived as a failure...Someone has to take care of him. :)


Dwight's Writing Manifesto said...

Okay, I've read this three times and I'm still missing the "why no italics" reasoning.

There's kind of an apples and oranges element to your examples. Sure the italics on a whole big paragraph was a little much, and probably unnecessary.

And yes, your short, interleaved dialog snippets worked just fine without the italics.

But why wouldn't italics on the interior dialog snippets have been thatmuch more helpful clue for the reader to understand the source?

Seems like there's a compromise in there somewhere between density and reader comprehension. said...

Hi Dwight,

I guess what I was trying to establish was that a mature writer's facility really oversteps the bounds of any ABC's of writing.

It is pure Gertrude Stein, as well as a familiarity with writing for the past couple of hundred years.
The prose you are seeing in Don Bailey may well include a lot of Proust, Harod Robbins, Dashiell Hammett and much pulp fiction.

Gertrude Stein?

There's no need for a question mark here, is there.

It is an esthetic decision whether to use italics or not. It is certainly effective in Faulkner. It may have been effective as well for Don Bailey, but he chose the straight roman.

What I was trying to cite was Don Baileys absolute facility with ways to go in interior monologue
and he chose the direct way, no typographic playing around.

That comes from a lot of writing and lot of reading.

Bailey's technique in the short example I cited--would more emulate the technique of Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle man).
I forget the exact novel, but out of the fifty that Hunter has produced, there is one about a junkie who thinks exactly like Bailey in some sections:

"Good thing I'm just a tourist, just trying out heroin....lying here flat on the balcony, my shoulder broken, the needle just inches away and I can't get at it. Ridiculous position to be in. Good thing I'm just a tourist and not a real junkie..." (From memory).

But in the last count, Dwight, what I offered in my blog was an exercise in reading.

Though I have been a teacher, I am not a pedant.

I write what I hope will be ineresting to other bloggers.

The reader can fill in the blanks, as you have done here.

Thanks so much for your input.

It make me think as well.

Ivan said...

...Should read, "it made me think as well."