William Doonan

I write books and stories.

Guest Blogger – James R. Callan

with 13 comments

Greetings Friends,

Today, novelist James Callan has some choice words about Internalization, the subject of his new book.  Hope you enjoy.


 How many times have you said, “What was he thinking?”  Sometimes that may be in disbelief: how could he have done that?  Or perhaps: what he said doesn’t sound like him. Or maybe: what is his real motivation for that? Or even: he’s not saying anything, but he’s got to be thinking about it.

And more often than not, we never know what he was thinking.  Even the NSA cannot know what we are thinking – unless we choose to put it in an e-mail or a phone call.

That’s where the fiction writer has the advantage. We can know what one of our characters is thinking.  And we can share some of that with the reader. This is a great weapon.

We do this with internalization, internal dialog.  Internalization has three important advantages for the writer.  First, it can tell the reader how the character really feels about something rather than what the outward appearance of the character might reveal.  (For my examples, I’ll put the internalization in italics.)

Example: Two women meet at a class reunion. Natalie says to Janice,

Hi. Glad to see you here. Someone had said you wouldn’t be able to make it this year.” 

Here we have two friends meeting, apparently glad to see one another. But suppose we have a little internalization from Natalie.

And if I’d known you were coming, I’d have stayed home. 

We get two attitudes from Natalie; “Hi, glad to see you.” And “I’d have stayed home.” Which is the reader going to believe? Without a doubt, the internal thought. Why? Since no one else can hear this, why wouldn’t it be the truth?

Second, internalization can reveal the true moral compass of a character.  This is different from number one above which is just her true feeling about a specific thing.

Example: Ryan leaned against the booth, hoping no one else came to try and pitch a quarter into one of the small dishes. I hate these charity things. If the poor people would get out and get a job and work like I do, they wouldn’t be poor. If I didn’t think this might help me get Mildred in the sack, I wouldn’t be within a mile of this sham.

This tells the reader much more about Ryan than Natalie’s bit of internal dialog. This goes to the core character of Ryan.

The third advantage of internalization is the most important: the reader will believe it. Internal thoughts are private. No one else is privy to them. We can think them. It’s okay. They’re private. So, they might as well be the truth.

We all have some feeling that we don’t share with anyone, not our mother, or best friend, or spouse. So, we know the internal thoughts of a character will be true.  We will believe them.

Three quick caveats. Internalization can only come from the POV character.  Second, don’t overwhelm the reader with too much internal dialog. That means, don’t use long segments, and don’t have too many segments. It will lose its power and you may lose your reader. And third, don’t give the reader access to the internal dialog of many characters, even if they have the POV at the time. That may lead to confusion. As a rule, limit it to the protagonist and possibly the antagonist.

Internalization is a powerful tool. Use it, but use it wisely.

Internalization is discussed at length in James Callan’s new book, How to Write Great Dialog, Oak Tree Press, 2014.


After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing.  He has written articles for a national magazine, and published several non-fiction books.  He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his fifth book released in 2013.  His work has also appeared in a number of anthologies. In addition to writing, Callan presents workshops in the U.S., Mexico, and on the Internet on various phases of writing



Written by williamdoonan

January 14, 2014 at 2:49 am

Posted in Writing

13 Responses

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  1. Thanks, William, for having me on your site. I am honored and it was definitely my pleasure.

    jamesrcallanJames Callan

    January 14, 2014 at 9:28 pm

  2. Very great tips. I learned something new and will eagerly head back to my current work in progress to address what I’ve learned. I’m going to grab a copy of your book too. Thank you Jim for this excellent information.

    C. L. Swinney

    January 14, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    • Thanks, Chris. Makes me happy if someone learns something from what I write. And I hope you find the book helpful. Be sure and let us know when your next book comes out.

      jamesrcallanJames Callan

      January 15, 2014 at 4:32 pm

  3. I don’t put internal dialog in quotes. The eye flies right to them and passes over everything else. So, what to do? I reveal internal dialog without quoting it directly. Most of my writer friends frown on this…

    Dac Crossley

    January 14, 2014 at 10:36 pm

  4. Good suggestions, Jim. Best of luck with the new book.

    J. R. Lindermuth

    January 14, 2014 at 11:11 pm

  5. These are wise words, Jim, and internalized thoughts are a fine tool for characterization.


    January 15, 2014 at 12:47 am

    • Thanks, John. You are absolutely right. Internalization is a great tool for characterization. I appreciate your comment.

      jamesrcallanJames Callan

      January 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm

  6. Wonderful to read this, Jim. I’m printing out your remarks and adding them to my “Dialogue” folder – for students and for myself. I look forward to reading the book.

    Eileen Obser

    January 15, 2014 at 5:02 am

  7. Very informative and helpful. I never thought that only the antagonist and protagonist should have internal thoughts. New information to ponder. Thank you.


    January 15, 2014 at 5:07 pm

    • Hi Elaine, I’m not saying that is a hard and fast rule. But, I do believe that if you give the reader access to every POV character’s internal thoughts, it can be tiring and perhaps confusing. Just as we don’t want to “hear” every thought the protagonist has, we also don’t want to “hear” internal thoughts from every character. . For one thing, it diminishes the power of internal dialog. Just a suggestion. Thanks for the comment.

      jamesrcallanmes Callan

      January 15, 2014 at 11:56 pm

  8. Sorry I’m late in reading this, but what great advice, and so true. Thank you!

    Marja McGraw

    January 25, 2014 at 9:48 pm

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