Want to Write Like A Human? Mine Your Inner Monologue

Are you one of those people who always has to “tell it like it is?” 

Or is there a yawning chasm between what you say, and what you really think?

If there is, here’s something for you to consider: we’re often at our funniest, our most insightful, and our most humanly graspable when we’re talking silently to ourselves. 

It’s the reason why novel writing courses talk endlessly about developing your protagonist’s inner monologue.  Readers have to be able to get inside her head, so they can understand the decisions she makes, and the things she does that don’t make immediate sense.

Without that inner monologue, not only is there no explanation for your protagonist’s behaviour, but there’s no relatability.  You can’t be on somebody’s side, if you don’t know what they think or how they feel. 

If you don’t understand anything about what it’s like to be them, they might as well be a robot. 

Happily, you can justify just about anything, as long as you explain it in a humanly relatable way.  The TV comedy Peep Show is a fabulous example of this.  Without Jez and Mark’s razor-sharp inner monologues, they’re just two loser flatmates who poo in the swimming pool, chow down on a charred dog’s leg, and sit on random children.

(If you haven’t seen Peep Show then no, I wasn’t making those things up.  And I’m not going to start on Super Hans). 

But we still root for Mark and Jez, even though a great deal of their behaviour is outrageously self-serving and unkind.

Why? 

Their inner monologues aren't just funny and revealing. They know us.  All those unkind moments of self-absorption, the pathetic lies we tell ourselves, the disappointments we try to hide, and all those broken promises are so excruciatingly recognisable. 

We’re all in it together, and we all know the truth. 

How to Mine Your Inner Monologue

Weave some relatable humanity into your writing, and whether they love or hate it, you will connect with the people who read it. 

Your own inner monologue is a fantastic place to start.  Ask yourself, how do you really feel about the subject you’re tackling in words?  What do you love about it?  What pisses you off the most?  Why have you decided to write about it in the first place?

(An obvious question, that last one, but it’s surprising how often it’s left unanswered).

Make some notes, or talk about the subject to yourself, if you like (I’m always talking to myself out loud; it’s one of many reasons why I’m an irritation in open-plan offices).  You could also try imagining yourself as a character in a gritty novel.  What would the reader need explaining, so they could understand what it’s like to be that character?

We’re always being told to write for the reader rather than for ourselves.  But in writing honestly about what we think and how we feel, that’s exactly what we’re doing. 

In short, it’s why the best writers are also the bravest.

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