The importance of internalization … and getting the balance right.


As some of you will know (and may be sick of hearing!) I hit a big–no, gargantuan–1000-foot high brick wall about half way through my current WIP, where I felt that my MC’s voice was feeling flat or non-existent, and it FREAKED me out! I flicked back to the early pages of my WIP and felt like her voice was there, but then it suddenly dropped off and I didn’t know why.

Ever since then I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of what on earth happened, as a result i did this post here about how filter words can create distance, and the importance of showing MC Voice, but there is another tool in the writers toolkit that is so important for luring in that reader and making them feel for, and understand your MC: internalization.

Internalization gives a unique insight into the world the character lives in and how they feel about that world–it can show their biases, prejudices and attitude, showcasing that they have a unique and intriguing personality–through the words and style of words that your MC would use.

Example: Two different types of characters receiving an overdue bill.

The OCD bitch:

Keta’s hands began to shake as she saw the crisp white envelope from the council ruined by red ink, it seeped through the pores of the paper to form one aggressive word. OVERDUE. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. The only time she’d ever been late dealing with anything–ever–was when she’d relied on her ex-boyfriend of two years to post a cheque. With a three-week buffer, he couldn’t even get that right. She sighed. What idiot bureaucrat fucked this up.

A solo-mother:

Keta saw it, buried under all that junk mail, the council’s crescent gave it away. She’d been waiting for it; for the last week she’d gnawed on the tips of her nails knowing it could arrive any day. And there it was, sitting under pamphlets for outdoor furniture and BBQ’s, and other things she could never afford. With a trembling hand she slowly pulled it out. Looking at the heavy-duty ‘late’ stamp, she tried to recall the last time she’d seen just a regular white envelope–with no blood-like capitalized letters that made her heart skip a beat–she couldn’t. Keta didn’t want to open it, she already knew what it’d say: twenty-eight days and counting. It wouldn’t be enough time to package up every memory of him, and say goodbye to the house they’d brought together.

Same scene, different personalities and circumstances frame the action, reaction and internalization in each example.

This type of internalization should not be italicized like emphasized internalization, and as such it should be kept in the same tense as the rest of the your novel.

A mix of character action and internalization (and dialogue if the scene calls for it) feels the most natural. If there is just action, it can feel detached, formulaic and list-like. However, a paragraph of internalization can have the reader wondering when the author is going to get to the damn point already, it also slows down the plot as there is no action advancing the next scene.

For my WIP I noticed when I hit that gargantuan wall, I was leaning towards having too much action and formulaic description, and not enough of the characters opinions, bias, attitude–the internalization was lacking, and as a result it is something that I concentrate on in the rewrite stage.

beautiful Do you struggle with balancing internalization with action and dialogue?