How Do You Write Internal Dialogue?

Internal dialogue can be more confusing than one would think. I don’t believe there’s a “right” way or “wrong” way to write internal dialogue, but I’ve seen plenty of people write it in different ways. I’ll admit, I have a preference, but that’s just my opinion.

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There are different forms of internal dialogue – direct and indirect.

Direct Internal Dialogue

Direct refers to a character thinking to themselves in first person. This means these are thoughts they’re actually thinking, not thoughts we believe – or the narrator is telling us – they’re thinking. This can be written in two ways: using quotations or italics.

Using quotations makes it seem like the character is speaking aloud. It’s up to the dialogue tag to show that the character is actually thinking instead of speaking.

Using italics without quotations, but still using dialogue tags, makes it easy to differentiate between thoughts and speaking. Both are fine ways to write internal dialogue, but I prefer the italics. I find it easier to read and follow along.

Indirect Internal Dialogue

Similar to direct internal dialogue except it’s written in third person. This also means the narrator is telling us what a character is wondering, or may be wondering. So it’s not the exact thoughts from the character but we have an idea of what they may be thinking.

How do you typically write internal dialogue? Do you like using quotations or italics? Let me know in the comments below. If you liked this post, please share it around.

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34 thoughts on “How Do You Write Internal Dialogue?

  1. I use internal dialogue frequently. The way I write it is in first person to differentiate it from third person narrative, followed by a comma then a dialogue tag, or rather an internal monologue tag, such as ‘he thought’ or ‘she wondered.’ I don’t use quote marks or italics, and I don’t seem to need them. Though I did use italics in a 99 word flash fiction I just wrote because it seemed like I needed italics in a piece that short.

    • Yeah, I’ve seen people just throw it in with the narrative like that but separate it just enough. And it works. But yeah, with something so short, italics help, lol.

  2. This is very timely because I was wondering about the best way to write internal dialogue (thoughts) versus speech. I’ve done it both ways (i.e., putting it within quotation marks and using italics), but I think going forward I’m going to use just italics with the dialogue tag. Of course, I’m just a blogger and not an author, so I’m not sure it makes much of a difference one way or the other.

    • It does make a difference. Blogging is still writing and you end up finding a certain style for yourself. I personally like italics better, but there’s no wrong way to go about it.

  3. I use single quotation marks with direct internal dialogue and nothing with indirect. I like italics but I use italics for any foreign words (non English) I use so thought it would be confusing. I always struggle with this and see it done many different ways in other books.

    • That makes sense. If you use italics for one thing, you can’t really use it for anything else that’s consistent.

  4. I write many of my novels in first person with internal thoughts done in italics. Since it is first person, I tend to not use a lot of dialogue tags since who else would be thinking for my character? If I use foreign terms – I italicize them. I give my readers credit to know the difference. Since I write first person, there is no way to know what other characters are thinking.

  5. I write in first person and was confused about internal dialogue, but my editor said be consistent in whatever way you use. I selected italics and moved forward. Since I write with a lot of dialogue, I wanted my internal to stand out from my other. Thanks for a good post.

    • Yeah, I feel like you need to choose a way and stick with it. I use a ton of dialogue as well and find italics to be easier for me. Thanks for reading.

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever used indirect internal dialogue, Rachel. Internal dialogue for sure, present tense with italics. The hard part is figuring out what should be internal dialogue and what is just part of the ongoing action.

        • I don’t really have a trick. It was just how I started writing when I was younger. I rarely used description. Most of my old stories are strictly dialogue.

            • You have to do what you’re comfortable with. But back then I had no idea what the basics of writing were, lol.

              • Awww you’re right Rachel of course – Rachel guess what? I have written another section of my novel and yesterday I read it to my boyfriend and he said it’s the best section I’ve written so far! AND there is loads of dialogue in it 😊 I am so happy I got it right for once. He said that it all sounded believable and that he could imagine each character saying what they said! He also said that a good thing about it was it was not constant dialogue but there were action words in the script too such as: Bethan frowned “why on earth would you say that?!”… He said the action words in between made the whole section more realistic and easy to imagine. I feel very proud of myself 😊 xx

  7. I tend to use italics, mainly, but occasionally i put it in third person in the body of the work, especially if there is a dilemma to sort out. e.g. What was she to do? Would he believe her story?

    • Yeah, that’s a good way to do things. As long as it doesn’t get confusing to the reader, then you’re doing something right, lol.

Let me know your thoughts!

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