One of my fellow writers reached out recently with a question about the use of internal dialogue for her antagonist.
While it’s true, if used sparingly, internal dialogue can be useful, even enlightening. However, if used too frequently, it can be quite boring, overly dramatic, and in some cases, just plain silly.
I always think of it in terms of visuals. When I write, I see the scene in my head as if acted out. So, if you think of internal dialogue visually, you know then that it is not very visual, thereby, not very entertaining. It is better to limit internal dialogue to the times when it will have the greatest impact– and I believe there are certainly times when it is truly needed.
So how can you show what your character is thinking without overdoing internal dialogue? Provide him with a "buddy," or his “dynamic character;” someone he talks to, opens up to, listens to, reacts to, etc. This is more visually entertaining and it can also add so many layers to your characters.
And, may I just add... many writers have said to me - but I am not writing a screenplay. This is not a movie. It's a book! It isn't visual... Well to those writers I have this to say... have you ever read a book you didn’t see in your mind? Aha! Books are visual too. It is your job to entertain your reader visually too. To put pictures in their mind. Do you want them to picture your antagonist alone in a room, pacing feverishly, thinking to himself? Well, maybe sometimes. But every time? I think no.
Most of us understand that our PROtagonist needs a best friend and thus a lot of internal dialogue is shown in the use of this “dynamic” relationship between your protagonist and its dynamic character – the best friend. But what about the ANtagonist? How do you show the antagonist’s point of view without leaning too heavily on internal dialogue? The same way… a buddy character.
This evil "buddy" is an integral part of your story as well. He will act as the antagonist's conscience or as a buffer to offset the harsh evil tone the antagonist provides. When dealing with an evil antagonist – btw, not all antagonists are evil. It can be a parent who thinks she knows what’s best for the teenage main character and so stands in his way from achieving his goal – but back to the point… a minion, or evil servant, can help lessen your antagonist’s evilness. The evil “servant” can be a source of comedy by being stupid, or clumsy - the opposite of the antagonist... The servant can also help show either just how evil your character is, or as mitigation to show why he is so evil, or create an opportunity to show a softer side of this evil character.
Of course every character will have some internal dialogue from time to time, but if that is all that character has, it will be a weak way of presenting his/her thoughts. By only allowing your antagonist to think via internal dialogue would result in a missed opportunity for you to add layers, dimensions, and mitigation for this other important character in your story.
So, how about it? Let’s start a list of antagonists and their buddies. I’ll start with…
- Disney’s Cruella De Vil, from 101 Dalmatians. She had a crew that did her dirty work for her… namely Horace and Jasper.
- Or how about the antagonist from Holes, by Louis Sachar. The Warden was truly evil, but she didn’t work alone. No. We knew her inner thinking through the use of her two helpers - Mr. Sir and Mr. Pendanski
So let's hear from you. What antagonists come to your mind, and who were their henchmen?