Writers Poll: Portraying thoughts in fiction


5 responses to “Writers Poll: Portraying thoughts in fiction

  • David Michael Williams

    Depending on writing style, narration choices, characterization approach, etc., any of the tactics described above can work and, arguably, work well.

    Italics are effective when there is a single point-of-view character. Otherwise, if there are multiple perspectives — or an omniscient narrator describing the actions of multiple characters — there’s the potential for ambiguity as to whose thoughts are being broadcasted.

    One almost never sees thoughts in quotes, but if direct thoughts are slipped in sparingly, speech tags like “thought” and “wondered” work just fine.

    A very skilled writer can intersperse a character’s thoughts in with the action without drawing distinction between them (again, depending on the style of the piece), but there’s still the potential for the reader to confuse whether he/she is hearing the character’s thoughts or the narrator’s/writer’s opinions. So there’s a lot of room for error.

    Personally, I prefer itallics. I think the word choice, sentence structures, and so forth of direct internal monologue goes a long way toward character development. But it can be tempting to overuse them (for me, at least), and too many thoughts often hamper the pace of action and/or interrupt the natural flow of dialogue.

  • Thomas P. Ramirez

    Davey, my lad. If you prefer italics, then WHY do I always see your thought lines underlined? Why not italics in the first place?

    There are SO many ways to do this. I foresee the day when murder mysteries will have splashes of red over the bloody passages.


  • David Michael Williams

    Preferred MS format is indicating italics by underlining. Not sure why. But every resource I’ve encountered says to use underscores initially, and then someone later in the porcess converts them along with typeface, spacing, etc.

  • Bill

    underlining was back when there were editors, I suspect with E-pub growing the debate may become even more relevant. At least those are “my” thoughts.

    During a meeting, we had a discussion on dashes verses colons,
    I came across the short list of rules, most of which I need to follow more closely.

    Use a colon to cast forward.
    Use a dash to cast back.
    Use a semicolon to manage main clauses and complex series.

  • David Michael Williams

    Good point, Bill. I would think that, like a professional editor or publisher, the self-publisher would do his/her due diligence and prep a manuscript for “printing” — even if it’s for electronic distribution only. That would include getting rid of the double spacing, adjusting spaces between sentences (if necessary), and, yes, swapping underscores for italics.

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