Puffing a bit as she reached the top of the stairs, Anita stopped to catch her breath. Maybe Nathan was right--she was getting a bit old. Since when had a flight of stairs been so daunting? For once, she wished she'd picked up one of those crazy neon sports drinks from Marty's instead of her usual coffee. Thinking of him, she tried to stifle a silly grin rolling across her face; trying to get her breath under control and stop smiling at the same time only led her to lapse into a terrible coughing fit.
She was so loud that she drew Peri to the doorway. "Anita, are you okay?" said the tall young woman, reaching out to pull her inside. "Gosh, you sound awful. Here, I'll take the drink; you go sit down in the office." Georgia looked over from where she was stocking yarns, worry all over her face. She knew Anita well enough not to make a huge fuss; still, she was watching the older woman's every move.
"I'm"--breath--"fine," Anita insisted, a wave of her hand as if to swat them all away. "Quit fussing." She let Peri take her to the back office, if only to avoid the prying eyes of all the customers. That was something that had been lost with her generation, it was true--the fine art of minding one's own business. Okay, okay, a sip of water. Why did everyone seem to think water cured everything? All it did was wet the throat. Still, she took the glass, nodded a thank-you to Peri, leaned back into her seat with relief when Peri left the office.
~~ from The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs
The parts highlighted in green are clean interior monologue, unmixed with other narrative elements like action or description. Take a look at how she brackets that interior monologue. That's fairly important when you're trying to keep some kind of narrative distance, but still want to dip into the thoughts of a particular character. You do things like bury the IM in the middle of paragraphs and surround it with other narrative elements, especially exposition that disguises itself as interior monologue.
Why especially that? "Telling" the character's internal state (rather than showing it directly with interior monologue) can serve as a sort of depth midpoint between the more distant feel of the omniscient and the more intimate feel of the interior monologue.
Let's pick apart that first paragraph as an example.
Puffing a bit as she reached the top of the stairs, Anita stopped to catch her breath.
That's action. Action is dynamic motion of a character or object in the narrative world. So the dynamic movement is a body climbing stairs and a chest huffing for air. It doesn't matter that Anita "stopped" because stopping describes her activity (we all stop climbing when we reach the top of the stairs, right?) and allows her to engage in another activity (puffing).
Maybe Nathan was right--she was getting a bit old. Since when had a flight of stairs been so daunting?
That's interior monologue, a character's direct thoughts presented without any narrative filters. Anita is remembering something her son said, something she's been resisting. And she asks herself a rhetorical question.
Now, the next bit might initially seem as though it's also interior monologue:
For once, she wished she'd picked up one of those crazy neon sports drinks from Marty's instead of her usual coffee. Thinking of him, she tried to stifle a silly grin rolling across her face;
But it's not. We have a narrative filter in place here. This is "telling" the reader Anita's thoughts. The "telling" comes mainly from the use of the phrases "For once, she wished" and "Thinking of him." (By the way, we've already been given to understand that Marty's coffee is always piping hot, maybe too hot to drink.) If we were to recast this as a cleaner form of interior monologue without the filter, it might read something like,
She should have picked up one of those crazy neon sports drinks from Marty's instead of coffee. Marty. The silly grin rolled across her face. No way to stifle that.
Yes, this does change the voice slightly. This isn't an exercise in preserving voice, but in interior monologue and exposition and ways to use them to achieve certain effects. Can you all see the difference now?
If you're writing in deep third -- the limited or subjective form of third person -- you won't need these midpoint bits to transition the reader from the omniscient narrative to the interior monologue. In fact, you won't always need it even if you're writing in omniscient. In the third paragraph of this excerpt, the final sentence is a list of actions. It's not separated from the preceding interior monologue by anything at all. We move straight from IM into action, and it works just fine.
Anyone care to propose a theory on why that works in that particular spot? I think there's a reason, and the reason can be found in the final sentence.
One more thing about this excerpt. But I think I'm also going to pose this as a question for all of you. What do you notice about the middle paragraph?
For those of you who read this blog on a feed reader, here's a gentle reminder that we have really smart people making comments on the last Friday Night Knitting Club post. They all had worthwhile insights, and if you have a moment, it might be interesting to take a look.
One final note--
I've been invited to participate in a Pitch Party at Book Roast on March 17. See the Book Roast blog for details. It looks like a fun event.