Interior Monologues

Definition and Examples

An early edition of Ulysses
James Joyce experiments with the form of the interior monologue in Ulysses.

FRAN CAFFREY / Getty Images 

In both fiction and nonfiction, an interior monologue is the expression of a character's thoughts, feelings, and impressions in a narrative.

From A Handbook to Literature, an interior monologue may be either direct or indirect:

  • Direct: The author seems not to exist and the interior self of the character is given directly, as though the reader were overhearing an articulation of the stream of thought and feeling flowing through the character's mind;
  • Indirect: The author serves as a selector, presenter, guide, and commentator, (Harmon and Holman 2006).

Interior monologues help to fill in blanks in a piece of writing and provide the reader with a clearer picture, whether from the author or a character themselves. Often, interior monologues fit seamlessly into a piece of writing and maintain the style and tone of a piece. Other times, they deviate. For examples of this fascinating literary device, keep reading.

Where Interior Monologues Are Found

As mentioned, interior monologues can be found in any type of prose. In both fiction and nonfiction, these stretches of text help to clarify an author's points and provide context. However, these can look very different across genres.


Using interior monologue has been a common stylistic choice among fiction writers through the years. Out of context, these excerpts seem ordinary—but within a text, they are brief moments where an author intentionally strays from the norm.

  •  I looked into the reception room. It was empty of everything but the smell of dust. I threw up another window, unlocked the communicating door and went into the room beyond. Three hard chairs and a swivel chair, flat desk with a glass top, five green filing cases, three of them full of nothing, a calendar and a framed license bond on the wall, a phone, a washbowl in a stained wood cupboard, a hatrack, a carpet that was just something on the floor, and two open windows with net curtains that puckered in and out like the lips of a toothless old man sleeping.
  • "The same stuff I had had last year, and the year before that. Not beautiful, not gay, but better than a tent on the beach," (Chandler 1942).
  • "How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself. Do not come and worry me with your hints that it is time to shut the shop and be gone. I would willingly give all my money that you should not disturb me but let me sit on and on, silent, alone," (Woolf 1931).


Author Tom Wolfe became known for his use of interior monologue. See the author of "Writing Nonfiction—Using Fiction" William Noble's thoughts on this below.

"Interior monologue is appropriate with nonfiction, provided there's fact to back it up. We can't get into a character's head because we suppose, or imagine, or deduce that's what he or she would be thinking. We have to know!

See how Tom Wolfe does it in his book about the space program, The Right Stuff. At the outset he explained that his style was developed to grab the readers' attention, to absorb them. ... He wanted to get into the heads of his characters, even if this was nonfiction. And so, at an astronauts' press conference, he quotes a reporter's question on who was confident about coming back from space. He describes the astronauts looking at one another and hoisting their hands in the air. Then, he's into their heads:

It really made you feel like an idiot, raising your hand this way. If you didn't think you were 'coming back,' then you would really have to be a fool or a nut to have volunteered at all. ...

He goes on for a full page, and in writing this way Wolfe has transcended the usual nonfiction style; he's offered characterization and motivation, two fiction writing techniques that can bring the reader in lockstep with the writer. Interior monologue provides a chance to 'see inside' the heads of characters, and we know that the more familiar a reader is with a character, the more the reader embraces that character," (Noble 2007).

Stylistic Characteristics of Interior Monologue

An author has many grammatical and stylistic choices to make when they decide to employ interior monologue. Professor Monika Fludernik discusses some of these below.

"Sentence fragments may be treated as an interior monologue (direct speech) or regarded as part of an adjoining stretch of free indirect speech. ... Interior monologue may also contain traces of non-verbal thought. While more formal interior monologue uses the first-person pronoun and finite verbs in the present tense:

He [Stephen] lifted his feet up from the suck [of the sand] and turned back by the mole of boulders. Take all, keep all. My soul walks with me, form of forms. [. . .] The flood is following me. I can watch it flow past from here, (Ulysses iii; Joyce 1993: 37; my emphasis).

In Ulysses James Joyce conducts more radical experiments with the form of the interior monologue, especially in his representation of the thoughts of Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly. He eschews full sentences with finite verbs in favor of incomplete, often verbless syntagms which simulate Bloom's mental leaps as he associates ideas:

Hymes jotting down something in his notebook. Ah, the names. But he knows them all. No: coming to me—I am just taking the names, Hynes said below his breath. What is your christian name? I'm not sure.

In this example, Bloom's impressions and speculations are confirmed by Hyne's remarks," (Fludernik 2009).

Stream of Consciousness and Interior Monologue

Don't let yourself become confused between stream of consciousness and interior monologue writing. These devices are similar, sometimes even intertwined, but distinct. Ross Murfin and Supryia Ray, authors of The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, help make this less confusing: "Although stream of consciousness and interior monologue are often used interchangeably, the former is the more general term.

Interior monologue, strictly defined, is a type of stream of consciousness. As such, it presents a character's thoughts, emotions, and fleeting sensations to the reader. Unlike stream of consciousness more generally, however, the ebb and flow of the psyche revealed by interior monologue typically exists at a pre- or sublinguistic level, where images and the connotations they evoke supplant the literal denotative meanings of words," (Murfin and Ray 2003).


  • Chandler, Raymond. The High Window. Alfred A. Knopf, 1942.
  • Fludernik, Monika. An Introduction to Narratology. Routledge, 2009.
  • Harmon, William, and Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. 10th ed. Prentice-Hall, 2006.
  • Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003.
  • Noble, William. "Writing Nonfiction—Using Fiction." The Portable Writer's Conference, 2nd ed. Quill Driver, 2007.
  • Woolf, Virginia. The Waves. Hogarth Press, 1931.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Interior Monologues." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 29). Interior Monologues. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Interior Monologues." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).