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Should I use first-person thoughts or third-person if it's a third-person story?

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  1. Lacy

    Lacy New Member

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    Should characters' thoughts be in third-person or first person?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lacy, Sep 18, 2020.

    So I'm writing a book and have a slight issue. I typically write my characters' thoughts like this:


    'Slightly surprised at the note of bitterness in his thoughts, Benjamin frowned to himself and glanced back at Frederick's letter.

    Was he really jealous of Harlin? He wasn't entirely certain.

    Yes, it was true that he was always in his best friend's shadow, but Frederick Harlin was worth ten of him. He was noble, generous, brave and handsome.'


    I use third-person all the time and italics. But, the thing is, multiple readers have suggested I write my characters' thoughts like this:


    'Slightly surprised at the note of bitterness in his thoughts, Benjamin frowned to himself and glanced back at Frederick's letter.

    Could I really be jealous of Harlin? He wasn't entirely certain.

    Yes, it was true that he was always in his best friend's shadow, but Frederick Harlin was worth ten of him. He was noble, generous, brave and handsome.'


    Apparently, the new way is more direct but, to me, it just feels jarring. I prefer my way, with the third-person perspective... Am I allowed to do that? Should I listen to my readers or follow my own instincts?

    Please help! Thanks :)

    (Also, I'm very new to this site, so I apologise in advance if I've made any mistakes)
     
  2. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I like to do it more like this:

    But I think there are popular books that do it in different styles. It's whatever, especially if you know for sure that some popular writers use the same conventions.
     
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  3. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    I've seen both...I think I prefer the first of your examples though. The first person is, as you say, more jarring. The other thing is if you don't use italics, the second way doesn't really work.
     
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  4. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    I prefer the second version. In the first, (without the italics) the use of 'was he' implies that this is the narrator narrating. A character's actual thought would always be in first-person 'could I', otherwise it's reported thoughts and therefore narration. I would treat thoughts much like speech but without the quotation marks.
     
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  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I don't have a problem with either of these, to be honest.

    However, do keep in mind that italicised thoughts in first person means these are the exact words that character is thinking. If you don't picture them saying those exact words to themselves, but instead they are just experiencing the general notion, probably best to stick with the third-person iteration.

    But either of them works, and neither is wrong.

    I would pay attention to what your beta readers have told you, though. See if you can get them to explain why they have such a strong reaction.
     
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  6. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    My understanding is that italics indicate direct thought, and should be treated as if the character was saying those exact words in their head. So in the first example he would be referring to himself in third person, which is unlikely.

    I'd either drop the italics in the first example or go with the second as is.
     
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  7. Lacy

    Lacy New Member

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    Thank you so much for your suggestions!
     
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  8. Lacy

    Lacy New Member

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    Thank you! This was really helpful
     
  9. Lacy

    Lacy New Member

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    Thanks - I've just asked a couple of the beta readers to explain their thought process to me, so that should help me to decide in an unbiased way. I'm thinking of sticking with third-person but removing the italics... Do you think that would work?
     
  10. Lacy

    Lacy New Member

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    Thank you for the suggestions; that's pretty much what I've decided to do :)
     
  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    You'll find people who really detest italics for thoughts. I'm not one of them, unless the italics are over-used and call undue attention to themselves. If every paragraph or two has an italicized thought, that might be distracting. However, when used sparingly, italicized thoughts can work really well.

    It's hard to form an opinon on the basis of such a short snippet. But there is no reason you can't experiment, and try out different methods of conveying the thoughts.

    The thing to strive for, I reckon, is to insert the thoughts without your readers being aware of your method. They should be glued to the story, and not wondering whether that IS a thought or not, or being unsure who is thinking it—or realising 'geez, I'm getting SO fed up with all these italics!'
     
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  12. Lacy

    Lacy New Member

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    I have to say, I probably do use italics more often than I should. The problem is, Benjamin (the main character) is always thinking and analysing his own actions, so there's a lot of thoughts involved. But I'm working on ways of 'slimming down' on the italics... Indirect thoughts, balanced out with direct ones, seems to be the best option at the moment.
     
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  13. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    The thing about it is that most people (not everyone) have an "inner voice." That is where they can literally hear themselves narrate inside their own head. Those of us with it, can literally have an argument with ourselves in complete sentences in our own head. And when people have that inner voice, it narrates in first person.
     
  14. montecarlo

    montecarlo Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't mind either way, personally, and I think you've seen some advice here that shows there's very much a preference element to it. I don't think it'll make or break your writing. If you have a good story and have enthralled the reader, they won't mind what you pick.

    I do want to bring up there is another option, which is second person, useful for when a character is beating up on himself/herself.

    Of course you're jealous of Harlin. Why wouldn't you be? He's noble, generous, brave, and handsome, and you won't amount to a hill of beans in this world.
     
  15. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    The first example isn’t a direct thought and shouldn’t be italicized. It’s otherwise fine. The second example is fine as-is.
     
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  16. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    What @TheOtherPromise said. That is your real problem.
     
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