Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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June 12, 2023

Writing from Within: Crafting Internal Narratives

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Internalization breathes life into your characters and allows readers to connect with them on a deeper level.

What sets a novel apart from a movie or play is the ability to see inside the character’s head and understand what makes them tick. You aren’t simply watching the action from the sidelines, you’re right there with that character as they experience the story and face the novel’s problems.

You see what they see. You feel what they feel. You know what they think and why they think it.

Not only is this more fun to write, it gives the reader a much more immersive reading experience, which increases the odds they’ll rave about your book to all their friends.

Let’s look at some benefits of crafting a strong internal narrative:

Internalization Shows Who the Character Really Is.

Characters come alive through their internalization, because it’s where they reveal their true selves. They share information with readers they wouldn’t tell anyone else, hint at secrets or even confess terrible wrongdoings. Readers get to muck around in a character's psyche and gain a deeper understanding of their core identity and how they view and interact with the world.

It’s also where character voice shines through, and internal thoughts play a significant role in differentiating your point of view character’s voices. No other character in the book will have their same perspective or opinion on what’s going on, or think about things the same way. Those difference show up in their internal narrative.

No matter what facade a character puts up, inside, readers can see their real fears, desires, and beliefs, which helps them understand the character’s motivations. And knowing someone that “intimately” helps readers connect with the character, which makes them more relatable.

Internalization Does the Heavy Lifting for the Plot.

Plots are created by characters making choices, and the more you understand what a character wants, why they want it, and what they’ll do to get it, the easier it is to write how they pursue those goals. Their thoughts will tell you what they need, so you’ll know what needs to go into each scene.

Even better, internalization shows the emotional struggles a character faces, revealing the moral dilemmas and conflicting desires that crate strong internal conflicts. These internal conflicts make the external plot harder, which adds tension and suspense as the character fights those inner demons to succeed.

It goes even deeper. Internal conflicts are the backbone of the character arc. If readers can’t see inside a character’s head, how will they know what they’re going through or what they’re struggling with? Their thoughts show how they evolve, learn from their experiences, and become a better or happier person in the end.

But it doesn’t stop there—internalization is also a powerful tool for adding plot twists and reveals. It lets you hint at a character's secrets, and unveil their hidden agendas at the right time to surprise readers with unexpected revelations that can reshape the plot and send the story in a whole new direction.

Internalization Gets Readers on the Character's Side.

Empathy is the bridge that connects readers to characters and makes them care. The better a reader understands a character, the more they’ll feel invested in that character’s goal and what they hope to achieve in the story. They’ll root for them, worry about them, and feel like they’re part of that character’s journey. The novel will feel more real, because the characters feel like people, not actors on a stage.

They’ll even care when a character slips up and does the wrong thing for the right reasons. It’s a lot easier to forgive someone for making mistakes when you understand how those mistakes happened, and what the character’s intent was all along. Often, readers care more because they know the character’s heart was in the right place all along.

Internalization Helps Control the Pace.

Dialogue is fast paced, description is slow, and internalization bridges the gap between them.

It can work like description and let you slow things down so characters can process their experience, giving readers a breather and a chance to catch up and process what just happened as well. It can work like dialogue and speed up heavy descriptive passages by slipping in a character’s opinion or judgment, making the description relevant to the scene.

It can create a stronger sense of urgency and heighten emotions, which also increases tension. It can add moments of levity, or be an emotional touch point in heavy actions scenes, drawing the readers back into the story.

Internalization Clarifies the Point of View and Narrative Distance.

Unless it’s first person, readers don’t know whose point of view they’re in until they see a character’s internalization. If those thoughts are personal, and clearly the thoughts of the character, then readers know they’re reading a close, subjective point of view. If the thoughts feel more distant, or are shown through an outside narrator, then readers know they’re reading a more objective viewpoint.

This is particularly important in third person point of view novels, where several characters are introduced in an opening scene. Without the internalization, any of those characters could be the point of view character, which makes it harder for the reader to connect to the protagonist and get on board with the story. The longer it takes them to connect, the more likely it is they’ll put down the book.

Internalization Lets You Show, Not Tell.

One of the most powerful aspects of internalization is that is helps you show and not tell. Being inside a character’s head forces you to show what they think is important or worth noting, so they won’t just be spouting random details. You’ll be able to add judgment to what a character sees or thinks, so even small infodumps read like opinions or observations.

At the core, internalization is how you reveal your point of view and show what’s important to a character.

It connects the internal to the external and gives everything that happens in the story relevance and deeper meaning. The story won’t be an explanation of things that happened, but a character’s tale of woe and how they endured a difficult time in their lives.

And those are stories readers want to read.

Want to dig further into internalization and strengthening your point of view?

I’m giving my Make the Most of Your Point of View workshop for Lorin Oberweger’s Writing Success Series on June 15, 7:15 PM ET - 9:45 PM ET on Zoom. This is a great workshop that goes beyond the basics and really explains how to use POV and just what it can do to improve your writing. Plus, it has fun exercises to put what you learn into practice right away.

Here are the details: Point of view is the single-best tool writers have in their toolkit. With it, you can create immersive scenes and deepen the emotional layers of your story. A strong point of view helps you determine what details and to share, understand how a character will react in any situation, and even helps you develop character voices. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to see your story from the eyes of your characters (no matter which point of view you use) and how that unique perspective can make your novel stronger.

Cost: $39. Ten percent of webinar proceeds to benefit World Central Kitchen. Recordings will be sent to all participants within twenty-four hours of the webinar. Registrations will be accepted up to twenty-four hours in advance of each workshop. Hope to see you there!

About Janice

Janice Hardy

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy. When she's not writing fiction, she runs the popular writing site Fiction University, and has written multiple books on writing, including Understanding Show, Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, and the Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft series. Sign up for her newsletter and receive 25 ways to Strengthen Your Writing Right Now free.

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18 comments on “Writing from Within: Crafting Internal Narratives”

  1. The internal narrative is my jam. I love reading characters whose internal dilemmas are slowly revealed in ways that complicate the plot. I love writing those kinds of characters too. I hadn't realized internal narratives allow me to show rather than tell, until you said it. Then I thought, of course it does. And that opens up other ways I can use internal narrative in my writing. Thanks for that!

    1. You're most welcome! That's also why I love it so much 🙂 All the things I enjoy about writing (and reading) come from the internal narrative.

  2. Internalization always gets me when I read it in a novel, but it is harder to write it well. Thanks for the tips on how to write these with finesse.


    1. I hope they help 🙂 Just keep asking, "What would *this* character think?" and "How would *this* character see this situation?" It can take some practice to get into the rhythm of it, but before long, it'll be second nature 🙂

  3. Hi Janice!

    Internalization is something I could do better. Great tips!

    I should look into the upcoming webinar.
    Does the recording cover everything in case something crops up and we miss it?

    1. Thanks! It does come with practice, so you'll get there. I'll be talking about it a lot in the workshop, since POV and internal narrative are so closely linked.

      You'll be sent a replay link within 24 hours of the workshop, and it's good for 30 days. So if you can't make it live, you have plenty of time to watch it 🙂

  4. Great article with practical advice.

    It's a delicate balance between showing a character and overdoing the telling, but it also doesn't work if you just rely on actions and don't let reader understand why a character makes choices. I enjoyed your viewpoint.

    1. Thank you! Indeed. One of the most common comments I make in critiques (newbies and my pro crit buddies) is "What are they thinking/feeling here?" when it's all external action and stage direction.

      That's fairly common for a first draft, and can easily be fleshed out in the second past, though. 🙂 Good thing!

  5. Very good, very helpful. Thank you. I particularly sat up and noticed this gem, "Plots are created by characters making choices", and what followed.

    1. Thanks, and you're most welcome. That's my go-to plotting tip for sure. It helps ensure that the characters are driving the plot not the writer explaining what happens. It really helps a lot when plotting 🙂

  6. Excellent points, Janice.

    I dislike huge blocks of internal monologue in italics, though.

    And getting the tense wrong bugs me. Internalization is like speaking in a manner that nobody else perceives. So, thoughts need to read as though you could put quotes around them and they'd make sense. They're happening in present tense for the POV character.

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  8. I just finished a novel that is an excellent example of this, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. It is a novel I won't be forgetting.

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