Talking Out Loud to Myself in My Head
A couple weeks ago, I had this idea for a new novel. The entire story is told via the running dialogue in the main character’s head. For one thing, it would definitely prevent “head hopping” – the (controversial) “practice of switching point-of-view characters within a single scene.”* Of course the character would interact with other people, which would occur as it does in virtually every other novel, with dialogue indicated by quotation marks. But what she was doing would be constantly narrated. Maybe it’s been done before, but I’ve never read that book.
I think she might be a nurse who develops a drug problem – of course, Edie Falco already nailed that character, so maybe just a school teacher. Oh, wait. Walter White. Well, I’ll figure out some profession that hasn’t yet been depicted with an addiction issue.
So I told my husband my idea, and then I put it on the back burner, or so I thought.
Been working really hard to get Stan done – and I was having trouble with two episodes I want to depict in this final chapter I’m writing, about his experience in Brazil. So while driving the other morning, I decided to turn off the radio to see if I could work out the details in my head. Suddenly, the strangest thing happened. I noticed myself narrating my thoughts. Instead of just noticing that white truck over there with a dented tailgate, I thought in my head, “Look – that white truck over there has a dented tailgate.” Likewise with the school bus with its tail light out. And the motorcyclist without the helmet. Instead of just noticing and grasping the information, I was silently narrating it all to myself.
Do I do that all the time? I’d never noticed it before. Is that because I can’t hear the narration with the radio, or when I’m actually having a conversation with another person? Is this a habit, a temporary phenomenon, or something that comes and goes? I still haven’t quite puzzled out the answer.
But it’s interesting to think about, both as it relates to this new novel I’m contemplating, and as it relates to Stan. Stan’s the main character, to be sure. There are secondary characters, namely his friend, Paula, and his dog, Isis. And plenty of tertiary characters. But the story is about one guy traveling around the world. So he’s by himself, a lot. And he thinks things to himself, a lot. I tried not to overdo that aspect, and indicate his unspoken thoughts with italics. That works pretty well, except in the places where there are a lot of foreign words, as those also warrant italics.
I don’t know about you, but my husband and I have three dogs and a cat – all of whom I talk to with some regularity. They don’t have to be there, though, for me to talk out loud. I’ve been known to talk to the vegetables as I’m chopping them, the plants as I’m watering them, and the clothes in my closet as I’m trying to decide which ones will get to venture out in public on a given day. I’m guessing that not everybody does this. But I suppose it does make sense that the character I am creating talks to himself and his dog. Partly because it’s a behavior with which I am personally very familiar. But also as a device to let the reader know what’s going on in Stan’s head. I hate the omniscient narrator – so I want the reader to have a reason to know what Stan’s thinking. I can get away with those italic quasi-thought bubbles once in a while. But when no one’s there and you still need to know what’s in his head, one of most practical ways to do that is to have him talk out loud. Like this:
Typically a day trip for Guadalajara tourists, Tequila is just shy of 40 miles from the second largest metro area in Mexico. When Stan books his “Tequila Tour,” he’s shocked to find it’s just 14 American dollars. “The whole trip, things I’ve expected to be expensive have been cheap, and things I would think would be affordable have been expensive,” he mutters to Isis, who licks his ankle in agreement.
To the group’s pleasure, the tour concludes with the opportunity to drink just about as much tequila as they can consume. Recalling his Chicago experience, Stan limits his intake on the tour to a cursory tasting. That’s what the name says – TASTING, he thinks, looking around at the rest of his tour-mates who obviously perceive the concept of “tasting” differently.
What are your thoughts? Do you prefer first-person or third-person storytelling? Are you OK with an omniscient narrator, or would you prefer to see the story through the eyes of one character – or one character at a time? Post your thoughts in the comments section!
*As defined by Randy Ingermanson on AdvancedFictionWriting.com
Laura’s first novel, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World is forthcoming in early 2018. Watch here for updates – and prepurchase your signed copy here.