Posted by: nancycurteman | October 28, 2011

Interior Dialogue: A Great Tool for Mystery Writers



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Interior Dialogue is a great tool for mystery writers. It’s a tool writers use to depict a character’s non-verbal thoughts. Non-verbal thoughts allow the reader to gain an in-depth understanding of a character. Here are some effective uses for this versatile tool:

• Reveal backstory without stopping the flow of plot. The action and setting in a story can evoke character memories of past events and connect them with present ones.

Nambeko lingered next to her ill brother for several minutes and studied his face. With light fingers, she traced the smile lines on each side of his mouth, signs of his perpetual good humor. As a child her ruthless teasing never angered him. Now she wished she had treated him with the kindness he deserved.

• Private reactions to surroundings. When a character finds himself in an exciting, uncomfortable or wonderful environment, internal dialogue can express his feelings.

Sam eyed the elegant chandelier, rich draperies and plush carpet. Why had he accepted the invitation? He didn’t belong here. This whole thing was a disastrous mistake. He determined to escape at the first opportunity.

• Contrast spoken dialogue and true feelings. As in real life, people don’t always express their true feelings. In fact, they often verbalize a completely opposite view. Internal dialogue can alert readers to a character’s true feelings.

She took a substantial bite of the meatloaf and grinned. “Another culinary triumph,” she said. She didn’t add that it would be a perfect recipe for dog food.

 • Show the emotional state of a character. Secrets, doubts, fears, insecurities, hopes all impact the emotional state of a character. The character can reveal these feelings to readers through internal dialogue.

He gave himself a sharp mental kick for making the remark. Was it too forward, too presumptuous, too uncouth? Did he detect coolness in her voice? He hoped she hadn’t considered his remark too boorish.

Internal dialogue is a great tool for mystery writers. The possibilities are endless.

More writing tips:

Pacing: A Critical Element in the Mystery Novel

Backstory: 10 things a Mystery Writer Should Know


  1. Nancy, I love this technique. It’s so effective, yet on occasion I’ve read a writer who totally misunderstood the technique and had the character(s) saying things unrelated to the issue at hand. Love your posts! Good stuff!


    • Marcia, In the past I did very little with interior dialogue. I’ve discovered it’s a great tool but must be used appropriately. You’re right, thoughts unrelated to the action or setting send the reader wandering around trying to discover some kind of connection. Result, the story stops.


  2. Great examples, NC


    • Thanks Nancy. Some of these examples come from my novels.


  3. Even more good tips. Thanks. Were you at the workshop today? I didn’t see you there but I was way at the back and the place was packed. Smashwords’s Mark Coker gave a good pitch for his group. When you put this together (notice I said when and not if :-] ) into an e-book you might look at their site.


    • I’ve attended a Mark Coker workshop and found him to be an interesting and informative presenter.


  4. Good stuff, Nancy! As always!


    • Thanks, Richard.


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