1. ILoveWords
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    ILoveWords Member

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    I have a couple of questions with regards to writing thoughts

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by ILoveWords, Oct 18, 2013.

    Hello! I'm making this thread because I'm struggling a little with the tenses and punctuation of thoughts.

    I will enumerate all the most important questions for the sake of clarity.

    I'm writing a story written in the past tense first person narrative.

    My issue now is that, I don't know if I should write my MC's thoughts in the past tense too, like the rest of the story or if I should write it in the present (since it's something she was thinking in that point in time, which was the present for her. Does that make sense?)

    1. Let's illustrate that with an example. Which version of the following texts are correct?

    "As I walked on the street, I crossed paths with an angry mother scolding and slapping her crying child. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How can a parent not see the wrong in hitting their child? It's wrong on so many levels!
    I walked up to her to ask her to stop."

    Or

    "As I walked on the street, I crossed paths with an angry mother scolding and slapping her crying child. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How could a parent not see the wrong in hitting their child? It was wrong on so many levels!
    I walked up to her to ask her to stop."

    2. When the thoughts are written in the present and the rest in the past, do you have the feeling that the narrator still thinks now what she thought back then or don't you?

    3. When everything is written in the past, do you feel like it's something that she thought back then but no longer thinks now or do you feel like it's something she thought back then and might still be thinking now?

    My second issue is that I don't know if I have to write "I thought" after each one of her thoughts, just like we write "I/she/he said" after each quoted speech.

    4. For example, which one is correct?

    "(...) I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Hitting your child is wrong on so many levels, I thought with outrage. I walked up to her to ask her to stop."

    Or

    " (...) I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Hitting your child is wrong on so many levels! I walked up to her to ask her to stop."

    As you can see, I also made some changes with regards to punctuation. That's my third issue:

    5. Is it okay to write "I thought" immediately after a punctuation symbol other than a comma like this?

    "(...) what I was seeing. It's wrong on so many levels! I thought"

    Or do I have to put the thought between quotation marks in that case?

    (...) what I was seeing. "It's wrong on so many levels!" I thought.

    6. And finally, my 4th and last issue:

    When writing "I thought" after a thought, does the thought have to be written in the present tense or can I write it in the past?

    "It's wrong on so many levels, I thought."

    Or

    "It was wrong on so many levels, I thought."


    Thank you for giving me some of your time by reading and answering!
     
  2. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    In the examples you've provided I would say it is better to leave them in past tense unless they are thoughts that the narrator still holds. Even then it feels like there is a more natural flow to keep it in one tense because switching to present breaks out of the narrative and seems a little unnecessary. In other words. I'm a fan of consistency and would say leave it all in the past tense. Also, there is no need to write "I thought" after every thought. As you have it written, it is completely clear that the narrator is imposing her thoughts on the situation without the added emphasis. The thoughts are embedded and it feels like a natural seep into the MC's head. In the example, you wouldn't use the exclamation mark unless you are giving a direct quote of thought, in which case you would pt the thought in italics for and make it present. As it stands, the context implies the exclamation, so you're better off without it and the "I thought". With regards to using "I thought" and the past and present tense question, it all depends on if the thought is a quote (i.e. internal dialogue) or a quip superimposed on the narrative.

    For example, I wrote recently:
    Here, I thought is an interjection meaning "I thought at the time." I wanted to be specific about when my narrator held that belief.

    Later I wrote:
    Here, I don't use I thought because I can just seep into the MC's head in first person. We know the narrator is thinking it by the nature of the comment.

    My point is that you don't always need "I thought" when writing in first person or close third. Keep the tenses consistent unless you want to really emphasize at thought as one that is continuous.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It gets more hazy when you move out of first person narration though. Why? Because the reader won't be sure if the character is thinking the kids hated him, or whether this is an example of the author telling us something.

    He always hoped the kids didn't hear him, but he could tell by their distant stares that they did. The poor kids had little to play with, and he always had to leave; they must have hated him.

    In that case, you'd probably need to designate the thought in some way. Horror. Italics???

    He always hoped the kids didn't hear him, but he could tell by their distant stares that they did. The poor kids had little to play with, and he always had to leave. They must hate me.

    Or a 'he thought' tag.

    He always hoped the kids didn't hear him, but he could tell by their distant stares that they did. The poor kids had little to play with, and he always had to leave. They must have hated him, he thought.
     
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  4. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    @jannert Yeah you're right. I chose that because it was fresh in my mind as a first person example. It totally breaks down in close third. I would have said something along the lines of "The poor kids... He thought they must have hated him." You do make a good clarifying point.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...if it's a direct thought, what the character is actually thinking at the time, then it would have to be in present tense... read your examples... are any of them exactly the words you would be thinking?... do you ever actually think in past tense?

    ...all those past tense examples are what someone might write in a diary, or other writing... or tell someone in conversation... but don't read as if they're actually thinking those words...

    ...a pov characters' narrative about what took place in the past isn't the same as what he's thinking...

    ...so, if you write something in past tense, it's what he is telling us about, not what he was thinking at that time... if you want it to be the latter, it would have to be something like:

    I can't believe what I'm seeing!

    ...and not be in " "...

    ...not:

    I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

    ...when telling readers what he thought in the past, or if he's thinking in the current scene, do not use " "... those are only for spoken aloud dialog, not for thinking...
     
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