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December 25, 2023 by in category Infused with Meaning by Kidd Wadsworth tagged as , , ,

My main issue with fiction, written in first person, is interior dialogue. Often interior dialogue is self-serving—or rather author-serving. Take this passage from The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard:

I’m an accident. I’m a lie. And my life depends on maintaining the illusion.

The character is talking to herself to explain stuff to the reader. This pops me out of the story. It’s unreal dialogue. Very few of us have such cogent thoughts. Instead, our thoughts are entwined with our actions. Our body, our emotions and our thoughts are jumbled together. I’ve attempted to rewrite this passage below.

I tried not to let her see how much I hated her, but I could barely breathe.

I get it. I’ve got to lie for you.

My hand clinched itself into a fist.

Interior dialogue also often lacks ambiguity. People neither move nor think in a straight line. Our writing should mimic that. The reason it often doesn’t is that our real thoughts, like real dialogue would be uninteresting and/or confusing. As readers we want the condensed version. If you’ve ever seen a transcript of an FBI wire-tap you understand. I feel so sorry for those FBI agents. Most of that stuff—a good 99%–is boring and repetitious.

“Should we a . . . a . . . go to Denny’s or—”

“I hate Denny’s. Don’t forget your wallet.”

“Ok, ok, maybe . . . what’s that place that’s orange on the inside?”

“All I’m saying is, I’m not paying for your ass. You mean Panera?”

Of course, this enlightening conversation is taking place while the agents are listening for details about the next bombing attempt. It could be hours before they hear anything remotely interesting like:

“Did you pick the stuff up?”

So, obviously, we can’t write dialogue exactly the way it occurs in real life. Not if we want anyone, except our moms, to read our stories. But when interior dialogue is too polished, it stops being real.

Most interior dialogue also lacks humor. Humor inserts itself into our lives frequently. Yet, because our characters are constantly saving the world, running for their lives, or at least obsessing over which lipstick will make the love-of-their-life finally notice them, we delete the humor. This is a mistake. Humor breaks the tension, but more importantly, if our character is still willing to laugh, especially at themselves, it can draw the reader in, simultaneously making our character more likeable and more believable.

Finally, interior dialogue tends to suffer from monotony. In other words, the character repeats herself. Again, from The Red Queen:

 I can’t do anything but steal.


 I’m a coward.

I am really tired of hearing this character put herself down. These two thoughts are excellent candidates for humor. Consider my attempt:

I’m a coward and a thief. Across the room I spot my next mark. Tall and clean—obviously, he can afford water for a bath. Well at least I’m not a cowardly thief. My fingers are literally itching. I hope he doesn’t smell me coming.

So, here’s the list:

  1. No info dumps.
  2. Entwine the dialogue with body movement.
  3. Add a smidgeon of confusion or exhaustion or forgetfulness.
  4. Add humor.

Happy Writing!


You’ll find some of Kidd’s stories in the following books.

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