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Thread: How do I punctuate a character's thoughts?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin weaselheart's Avatar
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    How do I punctuate a character's thoughts?

    I keep writing sentences that have the form:

    What's that he wondered

    I don't want to use italics, and I do want to use quote marks (sorry). But I can't work out how. Could somebody please advise me. Is it:

    A. "What's that," he wondered.
    B. "What's that?" he wondered.
    C. "What's that," he wondered?
    D. "What's that?" He wondered.

    ... or something else entirely?

  2. #2
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    You're determined to use quotes? Then use the same style you'd use for speech. In this case, the second example.

    How are you going to differentiate unspoken from spoken thoughts?

  3. #3
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin weaselheart's Avatar
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    Excellent. Thank you

    Quote Originally Posted by dawinsor View Post
    How are you going to differentiate unspoken from spoken thoughts?
    By using single-quotes and words like thought and wondered. That's a great question, though, which makes me wonder if I'm going about it wrong. Hmmm.

  4. #4
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    Consider doing this:

    Pick your three favorite novels off your shelf.

    Pick one page from each.

    Look at every instance of speech or thought. Remember that some thoughts won't have "he thought" after them, just as some speech won't have "he said."

    See how these writers punctuated speech and thought. Because these are your favorite books, you know that whatever these writers did worked well for you as a reader. As a matter of fact, it probably worked so smoothly that you didn't even notice until you deliberately looked for it. You should be able to find a pattern that you can work with.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW
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    Jane Austen uses speech-like punctuation and "she thought" now and then. The same grammar and punctuation rules as with dialogue apply. Most modern authors don't-- it's fairly common to italicize instead of to quote, even more common to work it in a different way.
    Tara.

  6. #6
    Worst song played on ugliest guitar Libbie's Avatar
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    It's perfectly acceptable to show thoughts in quotes or by using other text distinctions (italics seems to be the vogue for the past fifty years or so.) However, I'd avoid using single quotes for one form and double for another. That could get confusing. Just set off thoughts by tagging them as thoughts, if you don't want to use italics.

    The nice thing about italics is that you don't necessarily have to tag it. You can just have what's that? and the reader will understand that the POV character is having a silent monologue.

  7. #7
    The cake is a lie. But still cake. shaldna's Avatar
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    Inner thoughts are not shown in quotation marks because they are only used for dialogue.

    Inner thoughts are shown as follows:

    That's what you think, James thought.
    TORCHWOOD - where the slash is canon

    Yes, I read Twilight. Yes, I hate it. No, I don't have to give you a reason why.


    Here be snark : www.clairewriteswords.wordpress.com

  8. #8
    Loves interplanetary chaos. Brutal Mustang's Avatar
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    Most, if not all, of your character's thoughts can go in your narration, freeing up your quotation for speech, and your italics for speech inflection.

    Example: George had been driving down the gravel road for ten minutes, when something big darted past his headlights. What was that? Livestock? No, couldn't be. Not unless someone had dyed one of his cows phosphorous green. Dammit, why had he left his flashlight back on the porch?
    "And enough with the metaphors, alright? That's an order." -James T. Kirk

  9. #9
    Needs More Hands.... Fallen's Avatar
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    'I'm dreaming,' thought Richard, 'that's clear. When I went to be, my hands were not made of egg shells;'

    Charles Dickes, The Old curiosity Shop, ch. 4
    'You think too much, old man,' he said aloud.
    But you enoyed killing the dentuso, he thought.

    Ernest Heemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, p. 91
    ...You loved him when he was alive and you you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?

    Ernest Heemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, p. 91
    Dickenson uses Direct thought with quotation marks, Hemmingway, in the second, direct thought without speech marks. The third Hemmingway example shows Free Indiret thought with no tags (he said etc).

    Thing is, each author chose that way to get across a point. (according to Mick Short's, Exploring The LanguageOf Poems, Plays and Prose...).Dickens character is thinking 'outloud' to show him coming out of a dream state, in Hemingway, direct thought shows reflective intelligence, direct speech 'you think too much' shows another more brusque side to the character.

    You can argue these novels are classic, but the point is the same. The choice on presentation is usually made to serve a purpose. But that choice is there and its yours, just choose wisely.

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