1. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Internal Dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DBTate, Aug 21, 2011.

    Hey guys,

    Just curious as to what (if any) is the generally accepted method of writing thoughts?

    I myself use italics, typically follow by a 'he thought', or something of the like.

    Is this sufficient? If so, another problem I have been having is punctuating thoughts. If a character poses a question, for example:

    What is wrong with me

    Is it best written,

    What is wrong with me? he thought.

    Or

    What is wrong with me, he thought.

    Is the 'he thought' even necessary in most cases? I'm starting to feel like thoughts can be used in a similar vain as acronyms, where once you indicate what something means (Big Bad Company = BBC), you simply use BBC when referring to them later.

    Would my italics be similar? Once I have established that italics represent internal dialogue, would I no longer be required to follow thoughts with 'he thought'?
     
  2. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using italics for that is usually frowned upon. Italics are used for emphasis in prose. It's pretty bad form to use italics for that. I've done it before, and I don't regret it (and won't change it in the pieces I used it in), but I don't do it anymore.

    It's one of those things most writers do in their early years, I think.

    Use the 'he thought' sparingly, I'd say. It should be obvious from the main clause when it's a thought, especially since most thoughts in that form are written in first person.

    So yeah. It should just be obvious when it's a thought.
     
  3. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    If not italics, how do you indicate internal dialogue? Using " " for dialogue seems to make it too cluttered for my liking.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if it's not said aloud, you can't use " "... a good writer doesn't have to resort to fancy fontery to let readers know when someone is thinking...
     
  5. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    I'm aware you don't use " ", I should have been more specific but I just meant I don't like the over-using punctuation that looks 'ugly'.

    I'm sure there would be ways of writing that would alleviate the need for 'pointing out' when someone is thinking, it's just that in my personal experience I prefer when things are easily set out and made so that it is less likely someone might miss the idea of what's going on.

    What's the saying, write what you like to read?

    ;)
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you are using internal dialogue instead of internal monologue, then we at least have a start at answering the character's question what is wrong with me?
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't use italics. Use plain text with no outer level quote marks. Make it clear from context that it is literal thought, or use a dialogue tag.

    He thought, I can't believe she really said that to me.

    or

    Jason couldn't stay focused on his work. He patted his pocket to reassure himself the tiny box was still there. What if she doesn't want dessert? Maybe I should ask her before the main course. No, that's no good, she won't have a chance to enjoy the dinner.
     
  8. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Thanks for this, really cleared things up!

    Was going to follow that up with another question, but remembered what Cog has been so determined to pound in to my head:

    Most problems can be solved simply with good writing. :)
     
  9. JackElliott
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    JackElliott Senior Member

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    Italics for when you want to quote exactly what the character is thinking, but I also agree that it is not the best way to write character thoughts. I think the best internal monologue is eased into, not set off by 'he thought' attributions, or anything that would indicate thoughts. Just go straight to it.

    For example,

    Jason couldn't stay focused on his work. He fidgeted with his fingers, straightened his spoon and salad fork again, felt for the tiny box in his pocket. Maybe waiting wasn't such a good idea. She might not even want desert.

    etc.

    The shift from the outside to the inside should be organic, subtle enough that the reader isn't aware he's entered the character's mind until he's already there.
     
  10. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    Also very useful, thanks again.

    I liked the example you gave, it was a seamless transition. I will make sure to look in to this topic further, and take some more advice on board, before reviewing this section of my work further.

    Thanks for everyone's feedback thus far :)
     
  11. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    I fail to understand this sentiment. There are plenty of good, successful authors (Gaiman and King come to mind) who have used italics for inner dialogue, and continue to do so. Is it really that frowned upon?
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is. And do not confuse what is in manuscript for what may appear in print. Publishers may make typesetting choices that have no relation to what is in the manuscript, in the interest of expediency.

    There are specific cases for which italics are appropriate. Italics are not duct tape to patch up awkward or lazy writing.

    As for Stephen King, no publisher will tell him what he cannot do, and that is not limited to the use of italics. It shows in many of his later works. He needs someone who will say "No" to him occasionally, someone he won't simply replace with another yes man.
     
  13. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    I'm not trying to be antagonistic, but this statement is very counter-intuitive to me. In my opinion, NOT using italics (or some other differentiation from the normal text) would seem to indicate laziness.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Nicholas - it is true that you see internal dialogue in italics a lot. You'll see it from established authors, as well as new ones from time to time.

    The way I look at it, while it is generally discouraged it's not something that is going to cause an agent or editor to throw an otherwise great manuscript in the trash. That said, there is no reason to do something that is going to be a strike against, whether it is a large strike or a small one.

    Unless you have some overriding artistic desire to do it that way, you're probably better off on the whole going with a more conventionally-accepted presentation. If you have an overriding artistic vision that demands it, for some reason, then go with the vision :)
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Many novice writers simply have their characters thinking way to effing much.

    I like the color red, he thought.

    That car is fast, he thought.

    Save direct thoughts for things that are interesting and relevant, which, honestly, is rare. Imagine a direct thought in fiction being something so important in real life you'd stop what you were doing, put your hand to your chin, and literally think the exact, direct thing. It happens, but not often, and stuff like a character being hungry doesn't warrant: Boy, I'm hungry, he thought, as it's not important enough to do a Thinker pose, so it's probably best just to add it in as a detail of his experience, not something so profound as requiring a direct thought. And this applies to about 80 percent of the direct thoughts I see in amateur manuscripts, and about 50 percent in published... and about 99.99% of direct thoughts I see in chick-lit.

    Then, once you've cut the crap, do what the examples have said. I've even see third-person texts so connected and empathetic an experience that a first person thought was slipped in and not at all disconcerting, because you simply understood it was a direct thought, and didn't need a flashing neon sign informing the reader the character is thinking something.

    I would be careful with too many direct thoughts as questions, though, as it can end up being disconcerting and almost a parody of sorts. Will she even say yes? Will she be happily married to him? Where will they live? When will this story continue... after these messages, of course!

    Yes, most problems can be solved with good writing, and most good writing can be created by staying true to the reality of the moment for the character. Is a character literally stopping to think their thoughts, or are they just happening? 'He thought' and the like have the ironic effect of actually delaying a thought from happening (or clumsily reporting what just happened, despite it just having happened, as if its happening wasn't clear enough). The truth is, most of the time, thoughts just occur as a part of experience, so should be presented as such in fiction to feel more natural and connected. If a character stops to think something specific, or realizes a realization, etc, then a 'he thought' might be used nicely to indicate that.

    Or, you can use it ironically, having a dumb character think something basic, but using a 'he thought' tag, as if he had to actually stop and try to think to think the thing he thought. Like a chicken, an obvious chicken, is crossing the road. That's a chicken, George thought.
     
  16. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    No, I don't necessarily have such a desire, rather a lot of inner dialogue text written in italics and the thought of going back and un-italicizing it makes my stomach churn. :eek:

    Also, I can't seem to find anything in researching the question that corroborates its usage as "frowned upon". If anyone could point to something beyond "take my word for it" (article, commentary, etc) that suggests this, I would be much more inclined to cease italicizing. Much of what I've found when searching the topic actually supports it. Not that that really counts for anything, as anyone can put their opinion on the internet... but just saying.
     
  17. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Nope. It's hard to write so well that the reader understands a thought is a thought without needing a neon sign flashing the fact.

    Also realize some writers write so well their dialog doesn't even use quotation marks and is just as clear.

    Though, of course, plenty of writers write poorly. Which is why italics are used. Instead of making a thought clear in context of the prose, just throw an out of context thought in italics and call it good. I wonder if a two-headed cow thinks it's a herd.

    See, without italics there, I'd simply have to write better so my wonderment was in context. But, blah, italics save the day! Right?

    The thing is, bad writing without the crutch of italics or exclamation points, etc, is quickly evident as bad fiction, as things start making no sense... thus, one can learn to write better, until they do make sense, if they avoid such crutches.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Ctrl-A to highlight the whole document, then hit the italics button twice and there should be no italics left :)

    But chances are if you do that you're also going to have to re-write, because if you were using italics to make inner dialogue clear it might not be clear in all cases without it (or may not read well).

    As for it being frowned upon, I've heard it from a number of sources and it seems to me to be accurate, but I haven't seen anything "authoritative" in terms of a book on fiction writing or whatever.
     
  19. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    This is probably my favourite piece of advice so far. That really struck a chord with me. Essentially 'writing the hard way' so that your writing benefits. Besides, writing is the main practice you have for writing, so why cut yourself short by practicing poorly?

    A basketball player wouldn't use a ladder to slam-dunk in practice, I guess you could say :p

    Thanks again guys!

    One more question, is a thought deemed 'worthy' in your opinion, if it is used to describe something, so as to prevent a block of unnecessary descriptive writing?

    For example:

    'It is unfair that she must suffer the ravages of time so young,' to indicate that the character he is looking at is young, yet wrinkly and frail?
     
  20. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    If you're writing through the perspective of a character, then the details and observations are the character's. Meaning you don't need 'he thought' and can simply provide what the character is experiencing directly in the text. (It's called free and indirect discourse, if you want to learn the technical aspect of it, but shrug).

    If the story is written with a narrator who is omniscient or removed from the character, then things get clumsy, as you have to indicate when the character is 'speaking' vs. the narrator. Which is why most stories these days are written through a character's perspective and the character is, in effect, the narrator.

    So, if the truth of the moment is the character observes and considers that about a character, then just have it directly in the text. But you can't have things the character wouldn't know, as that's not from them. If you stick with a characters perception, though, simply writing descriptions in the text will be assumed to be through their eyes.
     
  21. DBTate
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    DBTate Senior Member

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    In my current work, the narrative is, as you say, removed from the character.

    May I ask why things get clumsy? Is it the product of poor writing, or is it just a difficult way to write?
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using italics to shout "See this text? It's thought. Got that? It's _thought_," means that you don't have to do the careful writing needed to more subtly let the reader know that the thought is thought. That careful writing is more work, and also produces a more graceful narrative.

    Using the italics is sort of like using all caps to indicate that a character is speaking loudly - it's using a typography trick to do a job that the writing should be doing. You wouldn't call a writer who refuses to use all caps "lazy", would you?

    ChickenFreak
     
  23. Sundae
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    Sundae Contributing Member

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    Using italics to switch to relating a thought, dream, flashback is more often than not, the lazy way out. It's also weak writing in my opinion because instead of doing the actual work, you're asking the reader to do the work you refuse to do

    Think of those stories in which an author is writing in third person, and then for one sentence, they switch to first person to relate some internal thought the character has.

    Just think about it, what is the author doing? Instead of working to incorporate that thought into their natural prose, they are instead flashing a big neon sign that says: "HEY! I have a thought, this is a thought, I need to you switch your perspective and read this as a thought. And how are you going to know that I'm switching to telling you a direct character thought? I’m going to use italics."

    Okay, I over did that a bit, but that is essentially what the author is doing. And if you really think about it, it's pretty counter-productive. That simple line un-does so much work that you initially worked for. I mean, you worked so hard on that scene. You truly made engaging, full of immersion, yearning, passion, and emotion right? You worked so hard to have the reader totally immersed in the scene, to completely and fully experience it, and what do you do? You then suddenly bring the experience to a stop, bring the reader out of the scene, remind them they are reading a book and aren’t truly experiencing it, and then ask them to switch perspective so that they can continue reading because you didn’t work hard enough to just incorporate that thought properly into the text.

    It’s not a just a device or a trick, it’s a way for the author to communicate to the reader directly because you got lazy and tired of communicating through your words.
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree that it is necessarily lazy. It is a stylistic choice, and one that is frowned on, but you have personal knowledge of why an author chose to employ it, saying it was made due to being "lazy" is just something you are throwing out there without any basis for support.

    It is simply an ad hominem argument, and those are generally considered to be logical fallacies for a reason. One might say it is a "lazy" way to argue a point, but of course that might be an ad hominem as well :)

    EDIT: I have read a lot of good books, with good writing in them, that employ the technique.

    One example of a series I like is the Malazan series by Steven Erikson, who recently published the 10th books in the series. Sprawling books, and meticulously detailed. People tend to love or hate Erikson (I love the series), but one thing I don't think any reasonable person can accuse him of is laziness. Not if you've read even a handful of the books. And he does in fact use present-tense, italicized sentences for direct thoughts. He also works thoughts into the prose more often than not, as people are suggesting here that an author should do. But he departs from that usual method quite a bit as well, and provides direct thoughts in italics.

    Joe Abercrombie also comes to mind, and his writing is pretty lean and functional. I don't consider his writing to be lazy either.
     
  25. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Insulting someone is not by definition part of the ad hominem fallacy. Drawing the conclusion (erroneous or not) that an author is lazy because he italicizes text is not fallacious in that particular sense. The ad hominem fallacy only comes into play when the arguer takes something unrelated to their opponent's argument and uses that to refute it. For example, were someone to say: You're lazy, so your opinion on italicized sentences is obviously wrong! - that would be an example of the fallacy.
     

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