1. CodeZone
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    CodeZone New Member

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    Using Italics for characters thoughts?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CodeZone, Aug 9, 2013.

    I’m thinking that I want to use italics to show what my protagonist is thinking since he isn't always around a lot of people and dialogue might be sparse at times so I want to break the story up with his thoughts. What are the general rules for this? Can I use this whenever I feel like it or should it be consistent? Do I have to say thinks like “thought bob” after the italics? Should I avoid using italics for this? Reasons? If I use them can I do it for multiple characters? Is that confusing? My thought is it might be useful for the antagonist in my novel as well. Also I'm writing a novel and also separate short stories or chronicles as well. Is it something I should use in the one but not the other?

    Here is an example:

    “W-w-why?” She stuttered which startled him from his trance. Kei opened his mouth to respond but paused as he thought. Why indeed? This is my first step to leaving the life of a street rat behind! As he had told himself a hundred times. But he knew this was a lie and lying to someone who had just been through such trauma didn't feel right. Although he noted that assassinating someone who had never done anything to him good or bad didn't bother him at all.

    Thanks for any help in advance! I'm excited to start my first novel and I just want to understand a few basic writing do's and do not's before I get too far.

    P.S. I'm an avid reader and I know my grammar and writing isn't very good as it's been a long time since I've written anything, but I have a lot of good ideas! I just need to figure out how to get them out sounding the way they do in my head.
     
  2. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Hi CodeZone, this comes up quite often. If you are submitting to a publisher all the thoughts of your characters should be in "quotes" because thoughts are like speech (the same for texts, letters, etc). You will have noticed that many novels have thoughts in italics and people are used to reading thoughts like that (I have not published myself, but apparently it is the editor/publisher who make the decision about how to display thoughts - if you are submitting put them in quotes)

    If you are self-publishing or blogging, it is up to you.

    EDIT:

    I tend to avoid thoughts (he thought, etc). As my stories are written from one particular viewpoint (i.e. I am in the head of one character at a time) I express the thoughts as part of the narrative.

    Using your example.“W-w-why?” She stuttered which startled him from his trance. Kei opened his mouth to respond. Why indeed? This was his first step to leaving the life of a street rat behind. But he knew this was a lie and lying to someone who had just been through such trauma didn't feel right. Although he noted that assassinating someone who had never done anything to him good or bad didn't bother him at all.

    I write like that because I enjoy reading it, it is a question of experimenting and finding your own style
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There was a big thread about this a while ago.
    If you've read Stephen King, you've probably noticed he italicizes thoughts. Some don't. It can get distracting if done too much and it gets annoying if there're huge chunks of italics.
    In the manuscript that you'll offer to a publisher/agent, you should underline whaetever you think should be in italics.
     
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If you use quotes for untagged thoughts, they get mixed up with dialogue. How do you differentiate? Especially, if a character is speaking one thing and thinking something else at the same time. What an unnecessary palaver. I don't know what the big hee-haw is about putting thoughts in italics, actually. It's a neat, elegant and modern way to do it—for short sentences or partial sentences—and so many authors DO use this device that it hardly merits being argued against. Any manuscript you submit for publication will have its own rules anyway, so I'd say just write the way you want, and adjust later.
     
  5. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm not sure where you are getting this from. Thoughts never go in quotes according to all the style guides.

    Italics for thoughts?

    Italics for thoughts are optional. Some who profess the older standard convention have a cow over it, but it's become an acceptable convention and is frequently used by both published authors and current experts in the field.

    I cited numerous sources on the subject in the above thread, starting on page 5.
     
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  6. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Traditionally quotes went around thoughts.

    "No, they didn't," thought Ginger. "He really doesn't know what he is talking about."

    Many style guides now advice against it because it confuses readers.

    This is nonsense. I read in English and French and in French most of the time they don't use quotation marks they use a hyphen and don't have anything to tell you when the speech has ended. But it isn't confusing once you get into the swing of it
    - What are you saying? John shifted uncomfortably in his chair. I really don't understand what you are trying to say.
    Trainspotting is a good English language example of this method.*

    Here is one, of many, sites that says you can use both. http://data.grammarbook.com/blog/quotation-marks/internal-dialogue-italics-or-quotes/

    I personally don't use quotes or italics. I hate the "he thought" tag, but that is personal preference.

    *edit: or Scottish, perhaps I should say. ;)
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Interesting. Now I'm going to have to go review everything again.

    However, how would the reader possibly know one is thinking vs speaking out loud if you use quotes for both? It seems tedious to constantly use tags to make it clear.
     
  8. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    That is probably why a lot of style guides now say don't use quotes. Perhaps our characters think more than they did in the past!
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Random blog source
    Random Google answer #2
    The Controversial Topic of Italicized Text
    My research from the other thread:
    "The Novel Writer's Toolkit, A guide to writing great fiction and getting it published" by Bob Mayer; 2003. From the intro: Mayer has 26 published novels listed in his credits under his name and two pen names, Robert Doherty and Greg Donegan. He's had numerous best sellers and more than 2 million books in print. Here's his webpage.

    Page 126 #3:

    "Writing Fiction A Guide to Narrative Craft," 8th Ed., Janet Burroway, FL State University, et al., 2011

    Page 87 Building Character; Format and Style:
    From Janet Burroway's web page bio:
    See this post as well for more citations.


    So far, your source is the only one I can find suggesting using quotes unless one uses italics.


    Sorry, not trying to beat any horses, dead or alive, I just tend to check on things when my memory is involved since it is clearly unreliable from time to time.
     
  10. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    I am happy to stand corrected. In fact the great wisdom that is [MENTION=1349]Cogito[/MENTION] states:
    See his blog http://www.writingforums.org/blog.php?b=294

    So ignore everything I said before, 'cause he knows more than me!
     
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  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Come to think of it, since most novels I read italicize thoughts, it's actually kind of disorienting to read something in which they are not in italics. Maybe genres like fantasy/urban fantasy kind of like... italicize more?
     
  12. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    It does seem to be more standard now, in novels. Even though Cog says in his article:
     
  13. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe we read different novels :D I'm thinking Stephen King, Joe Abercrombie... I think Brent Weeks too.
     
  14. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Brit looked at [MENTION=53403]KaTrian[/MENTION]. Stephen King could write thoughts in Comic Sans, he thought.And it would still sell.
     
  15. Steve Day
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    Steve Day Senior Member

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    This dates from the time of typewritten manuscripts. There were no italic keys. Some older editors still prefer it, just as some proofreaders still use the various marks for setting hot type.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    First I was thinking about that, but... I don't think it works that way, since he isn't the only one.

    As for the underlining thing, I've wondered about the non-sensical need to have them underlined in the ms, but the last I checked, which was, admittedly, like a year ago, many agents and publishers still requested it.
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My guess is simply that it stands out more than actual italicized text. Imagine you're the person tasked to 'translate' that manuscript into whatever computer system they use. Imagine you have a devil's dozen manuscripts to get done before Friday and it's Wednesday afternoon. I could very easily see a human eye not seeing italics where underlined text would stand out, or not noticing when the scanning software doesn't pick it up, or translates an italicized l into a foreword slash. Try using Adobe Acrobat's character recognition function when text is italicized or in an unusual font. It's fun, I promise. ;) I'm sure publishers have much better software, but I doubt it's perfect.
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. There are many novels on the shelves that present thoughts in italics, particularly within fantasy (though not limited to that). This includes first novels, so it isn't just established authors doing it. I don't do it in my own writing, though it doesn't bother me when I'm reading. The idea that it simply can't be done can be proven false empirically by taking a detour through your local bookstore :)
     
  19. CodeZone
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    CodeZone New Member

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    Thanks for the awesome responses! It sounds like italics are becoming an accepted form of conveying thoughts in fantasy at least. I'm not too worried about what old school writing preferences were as I'm more concerned with making an enjoyable and easy to read novel. I know I enjoy it personally when Stephen King, Joe Abrcrombie and the like do it. I instantly know it's speech and as someone said further up (I cant see who as I'm writing this on my phone at work) it looks neat and I never get it confused with thinking its part the narrative.

    The underline for publishers tact is a good tip for the ms. I didn't know that but it makes sense as it would be more visible to them.

    A follow up question would be using writing thoughts for other characters. I assume this is frowned upon in the same chapter as it would be confusing. Is it something I can do if I give characters their own separate chapters? Or possibly using a break line between different characters in the same chapter? I'm trying to bring more life to my other characters and let my readers understand them better. It seems like it might just simpler to just use the protagonist's thoughts and have the readers assume the others thoughts from their actions but I feel like other characters could give a very different thought perspective. Just curious as to of there is a smooth way to so this or if it's something I should shy away from for now?

    Thanks again!
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you want to show the thoughts of multiple characters in the same scene, you can adopt an omniscient POV. That can be tricky to pull off, and to be honest I wouldn't do it by showing internal monologue directly in italics, but instead by having the omniscient narrator present them. An omniscient narrator, unless done very well, will put off a lot of readers in my opinion.
     
  21. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Hi, there are numerous articles on Headhopping - google it. As a general rule for beginners it is good to stay in one characters head per chapter (or at least have a line break between character head changes). Some genres encourage head hopping (romance is one; in the same chapter/section, because it is important to know what both people are thinking). As a general rule; never head hop in the same paragraph, start a new paragraph for another person's thoughts (just as you would for speech).

    I prefer to write and read stories with one persons view point, but I also read stories where people head hop (I notice it more now I write, and it bothers me slightly, but I continue reading anyway*).

    *edit; if it is a well written story. Crime writers do it occasionally. I have caught Ian Rankin do it a few times; there we are in Rebus' head and then all of a sudden we slip into another characters head just at the end of a chapter.
     
  22. BritInFrance
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    Yeah, I was just joking about. Italics are kind of standard in a lot of books that I read. However, I prefer thoughts to be integrated into the text (and I am sure I first noticed Stephen Kind doing this). What I mean is the narrator is clearly coming through (even if it is third person).
    e.g.

    Jimmy looked at Mike. Why was he such a dork? Had he always been like that? Jimmy remembered he used to think Mike was kinda cool.

    Example over.

    Why do you need to put thoughts in italics? And, if you have a clear view point, why do you have to put "Jimmy thought" after his thought. Who else is it going to be?
     
  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    While I can't emphasize enough, italics for thoughts are [highlight]optional[/highlight], the idea they are never needed implies one's preference is flawed. And that simply isn't true.

    In my book the narration is first person, past tense. Thoughts and spoken dialogue are present tense and I prefer the clarity putting internal dialogue in italics provides the reader. I think it's better than confusing the reader who sees the narrator's POV in past tense relating a story while the narrator's direct thoughts are in present tense.

    There are indeed many times direct thoughts are clear without the italics, and it may even be that such thoughts are possibly clear without the italics all the time. But the idea using them means a writer is less skilled is frankly an unsupportable assertion. So hopefully you are not making that assertion and I'm just misreading your comments.
     
  24. BritInFrance
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    I am not saying that (but I hesitate to say you are misreading it, because I hate blaming the reader - it is usually the fault of the writer for not making themselves clear).

    My personal preference (which I think I said) is to have thoughts imbedded in the text. I have a personal thing against "he thought, she thought" tags, but it doesn't bother me and many of my favourite writers use them (and they are published, and I am not) and I read their stories and enjoy them.

    I hope that I have made myself clearer ;)
     
  25. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not your fault, my defensiveness on the subject comes from the multiple comments in the longer thread that claimed, without a supportable case, that using the italics was not only absolutely wrong but lazy and slipshod.

    Despite the fact the convention of using italics is widespread and used by many respected authors, here are some quotes from the thread:
    There are dozens more posts insulting writers who choose to use italics for thoughts and asserting italics for thoughts were absolutely wrong.


    And this false claim was refuted by multiple people in the thread:
    I cited several specific authoritative references. Rather than admit the convention was changing, the person who said that doubled down and dismissed the sources. He claimed Janet Burroway was not an authoritative source because he hadn't heard of her. I posted a quote from her bio in post #9 above. She is a well known authority on writing style (conventions) that is highly acclaimed and often cited.

    Other people cited authoritative sources and those were also dismissed for arbitrary reasons.

    Then people supporting their cases for italics with multiple citations of sources and respected authors who use the convention were badgered as arguing for the sake of arguing and arguing with an agenda. (Oh the irony in that one. :rolleyes:)



    So I was just seeking clarity on your position but it wasn't necessarily how your post came across. ;)
     

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