Rethinking the Pacing of Interior Monologue

Part One:

Using your phone, Skype, or another sound recording device, record a normal conversation between yourself and a friend. Play the recording back. Without interrupting any of the speakers, “voice over” a mental running commentary, explaining or qualifying everything you say. Note how much you can get in before the other person starts talking again.

Part Two:

For the next twenty four hours, every time you have a conversation, stop in the middle to mentally explain your true motivations and otherwise qualify and explain yourself. Observe how long your companion sits there quietly, allowing you to narrate your life, before they interrupt. Note any feeling of awkwardness or unnaturalness. This is because you don’t have any motive for thinking  this other than being told to. What circumstances might motivate you to think such things ordinarily?

Also stop talking in the middle of conversations to mentally rehearse the highlights of your week, to mentally revisit something that happened to you in the past, to mentally describe your environment, the appearance of those in it, and to think about any new companion’s life history and/or her strengths, flaws, likes, and dislikes.

If you do this in conversations with multiple companions who ignore you and carry the conversation on without you, or during a lecture,  note how much you miss. Also note how long it takes you to figure out what you missed or what is being discussed now.

Try this in several different types of “scenes” such as laid back, business-oriented, or emotionally charged.

Should your companions find your behavior odd, simply explain this exercise to them and why you are doing it. Please take a break from the exercise at your place of employment if it could lead to unacceptable repercussions, such as loss of business or employment.

This exercise will improve your overall POV skills by helping you improve the flow and pacing of your scenes, as relates to dialogue, and help you identify where you are unnaturally stopping the scene.

Specific questions to ask when you discover you’ve stopped the scene and the reader will be lost without the information conveyed:

1) What would motivate your character to stop to think about this?

2) How much detail could they go into without the long silence provoking a response from the other character(s) present?

3) Are you 100% sure your reader must know this right this minute?

4) What scene could you develop that would illustrate this naturally, without interrupting this scene?

5) What motive could you give the character to mention this in dialogue?

6) Can you chop this into smaller pieces and weave it into the scene in more manageable chunks?

How is this related to POV? It tangents off POV in that the heart of  modern POV techniques is offering your reader real life, minus the boring parts.

Suggested ways to do this in a group setting:

1) Bring in a pre-recorded conversation for part one. Ask for one or more volunteers to add in the voice over.

2) Do only part two or start with it. Ask for a volunteer to interview. Start up a getting-to-know-you-better conversation with them. Stop periodically to interior monologue. Once they’ve had enough, explain what you were doing and switch places with your volunteer.

3) Assign part two as homework. At the next meeting, discuss the results of the experiment. If you keep a contact list, you can also assign it ahead of time.

If you do use this in a writers’ group or classroom, please inform the participants you found this exercise on