1. Hambone
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    Hambone Member

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    How to express what a character is thinking

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Hambone, Dec 23, 2012.

    I want to express what a character is thinking. I have seen this done with italics, and was thinking of possibly using 'single quotations'. Any suggestions? What do some of you do in this situation?

    Thanks.
     
  2. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    From what I understand thoughts don't need to be in italics. I could be wrong, but there are far more knowledgeable people on that subject,.
     
  3. GazingAbyss
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    GazingAbyss Member

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    I can't think of any time I've seen thoughts in anything other than italics, unless it's something written in first person...
     
  4. popsprocket
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    popsprocket Member

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    There's no hard and fast rule about it, but italics is the most common. I would think that using single quotation marks might be confuse some people at first, but it wouldn't be a problem after making the distinction that these are thoughts and not speech.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I use no quotes, which seems to be fairly standard. Some publishers, however, have their own guidelines for handling character thoughts.
     
  6. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I keep mentioning this book, and hope it doesn't look as if I am scamming. But the book "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" by Browne and King has a chapter on "Interior Monologue" which you might find useful.
     
  7. F.E.
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    F.E. Member

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    First of all, let me address this idea of using quotation marks to mark off a character's thoughts--the issue of possibly using either double quotation marks or single quotation marks. Please do NOT do that. Please don't use any type of quotation marks. In today's current prose, the convention is to not do that. (Even though The Chicago Manual of Style supports a recommendation for using quotation marks for marking a character's thoughts, please don't follow that recommendation. It is a very, very bad recommendation.) Quotation marks are mainly used to mark up character dialogue. (Note: Some literary books/prose might use their own unique type of convention to mark their character's thoughts or dialogue.)

    Now as to the issue of whether or not to use italics for a character's thoughts:

    1. Look at novels and short stories, see how it is done in those books published by trade and commercial publishers (books that were first published within the last decade or two), because their books are edited by professional editors. Especially look at the novels written by your favorite authors in the genre that you are writing your novel/story in.

    2. Also see what the writing craft books that are authored by professional editors say about this issue (e.g. Browne and King's Self-editing for Fiction Writers). ​

    When you do this, such as looking at a novel, you'll also want to see what type of story POV and what narrative verb tense are being used. E.g. limited [narrator] 3rd person POV in past-tense narrative, or limited [narrator] 3rd person POV in present-tense narrative, or omniscient narrator 3rd person POV in past-tense narrative, or omniscient narrator 3rd person POV in present-tense narrative, or 1st person narrator POV in past-tense narrative, or 1st person narrator POV in present-tense narrative. If a 1st person narrator is being used, see if it is a reminiscent narrator (e.g. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird).

    There are, basically, two main types of character thoughts:
    1. interior monologue
    2. interior dialogue​

    Interior monologue is narrative that is filtered through the character, where his thoughts are expressed grammatically in the same fiction narrative verb-tense and person as the rest of the narrative.
    E.g.
    She was shocked, couldn't believe what she was hearing. Her brother had to be lying! No way were the cops coming to arrest her!​

    Interior dialogue is narrative that is filtered through the character, where the text is basically exactly what he is thinking--that is, the grammar and punctuation and what is said is like that of dialogue, except there are no quotation marks used. (That is, it uses 1st person and present-tense like that used in dialogue.)
    E.g.
    She was shocked, couldn't believe what she was hearing. My brother has to be lying! No way are the cops coming to arrest me!​
    Notice that interior dialogue is expressed as if the character is speaking her thoughts out loud (except there are no quotation marks used).

    Now if you end up deciding to use italics for a character's thoughts, then it would only be the interior dialogue type of thoughts that would be italicized (not the interior monologue ones, as they will still be in normal text--unless the author wanted to use italics to emphasize that prose).
    E.g.
    She was shocked, couldn't believe what she was hearing. My brother has to be lying! No way are the cops coming to arrest me!
    .
    .
    Okay, ... now as to my own personal preferences, :) ... In limited [narrator] 3rd person POV stories, I use normal text for a character's interior dialogue (I use normal text for all of his thoughts, including interior monologue and interior dialogue); though, I seldom use interior dialogue. (This convention comes in handy, since in one novel I use italics to mark up the telepathic communication between two of my characters. :D ) ... In omniscient 3rd person POV stories, I don't mind reading either type of convention: either italics or normal text for a character's interior dialogue type of thoughts are fine--even a mixture within the same novel can often be okay for me.

    As to stories/novels with 1st person narrators: almost everything, or at least a lot, is the narrator's thoughts (unless an objective narrator is being used), where much of it is either interior monologue and/or interior dialogue. For practical purposes, you probably don't want to use italics for interior dialogue, because if you did then a lot of text will be in italics--a lot of italics is not a good thing to have. You will sometimes see italics used for some of a 1st person narrator's/character's interior dialogue type of thoughts, but that is usually done to emphasize that text.

    Some small publishers use style guides that recommend, or require, the use of italics for a character's interior dialogue type of thoughts, so you might want to be aware of that. (If I were to be in that type of situation, I would not allow them to override my own convention. But that is my decision.)

    Hope this is helpful. :)
     
  8. Oswiecenie
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    Oswiecenie Active Member

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    Personally, I use single quotations. There are even writers (e.g. Cormac McCarthy) who don't use any speech marks at all, not even for dialogues. So it seems like it's entirely up to you.
     
  9. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    ...............he/she thought.
     
  10. tmrose
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    tmrose Member

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    It depends on the context, but as a rule I would continue with my regular font.

    That being said, I urge you to remember that creative writing is an art form with rules that are meant to be understood, then challenged. Play with font sizes, types, colors even and see if it could work in the context of your story. Alternatively, post 50 words in this thread to show context for better advice.
     
  11. Hambone
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    Hambone Member

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    F.E., thanks for your reply. I was thinking 3rd person (maybe I should have mentioned that earlier). I understand that 1st person is a different beast.

    Thanks. I'll look into this book. I can guarantee it will be helpful for me in other areas as well.

    The last two books I have read didn't use any quotes for dialogue either. (Amanda Coplin's "The Orchardist" and Charles Frazier's "Nightwoods". Frazier also didn't use them in "Cold Mountain".)
     
  12. Hambone
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    Hambone Member

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    F.E., thanks for your reply. I was thinking 3rd person (maybe I should have mentioned that earlier). I understand that 1st person is a different beast.

    Thanks. I'll look into this book. I can guarantee it will be helpful for me in other areas as well.

    The last two books I have read didn't use any quotes for dialogue either. (Amanda Coplin's "The Orchardist" and Charles Frazier's "Nightwoods". Frazier also didn't use them in "Cold Mountain".)
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    single quotation marks are totally incorrect for this [in the us]... they are to be used ONLY for a quote within a quote...

    italics are a pain to read, when used for more than an emphasized or foreign word/expression... good writers don't have to resort to fancy fontery to let readers know when a character is thinking...
     
  15. Hambone
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    Hambone Member

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  16. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    This.

    Also, it drastically lessens the impact for the moments when you want to use italics for what they're actually made for -- emphasis.
     
  17. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Good Third Person Limited does it all the time, though the thoughts are often paraphrased. I can't think of many occasions where a directly quoted thought (aka, interior dialogue) would ever be a good thing. Sounds amateurish, like 99.9% of the time.
     

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