"Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they've all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe" ~ Neil Gaiman (A Game of You)
But occasionally, I'll be reading a book, sometimes a very good book, and I'll notice that the character is asking a lot of questions through inner dialogue. And it begins to irritate me. The character starts to seem whiny and weak. Is that really what the author intended? I'm especially annoyed if all the characters keep asking questions, and it doesn't seem authentic to me.
Here's an example:
"Good grief, I think. Do people really do that? Do they ask themselves questions over and over? Why can't they just form an opinion and stick to it?"
"Good grief, I think. People don't really do that. They don't sit there and ask themselves questions over and over. They form an opinion and stick to it."
Guess which example reflects my actual thought? The latter.
Maybe I was being unfair. I decided to investigate. Since reading The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, I have been writing stream-of-consciousness morning pages for several months. I have three or four notebooks filled with my uncensored thoughts. I picked up one of my old notebooks and thumbed through it, looking for question marks.
What did I find? Long expanses where I did not use a single question mark. I discovered I'm very opinionated when it comes to my husband, my children, the birds outside, and the weather. I noticed I occasionally threw in a rhetorical question, especially if I was trying to be clever or funny.
But then I'd hit a passage that blew my theory out of the water. Tons and tons of question marks. I read closer to find out what was going on. I discovered that when I was truly soul-searching, I used a lot of questions. If something was bothering me and I needed to dig it up, I asked questions. But here's the kicker. They were not rhetorical questions, and I always answered myself.
My conclusion, then, is that questions can be useful in inner dialogue if used purposefully. If you have a weak character, questions are a subtle way to emphasize that weakness. It's also a subtle way to show character arc when you have a weak character gaining personal strength -- change the inner dialogue from questions to statements of opinion. And it's very powerful to show your character wrestling with inner demons -- if you remember to answer the questions you raise.
What do you think? Do your characters ask too many questions?