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Thread: To italic thoughts, or just say thoughts?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin GregThomas's Avatar
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    To italic thoughts, or just say thoughts?

    This is one thing I'm struggling with right now. Perhaps its just an author by author basis, but perhaps there is a right and wrong way to do it?

    I notice in some novels, the author will say something like,

    "John closed the door,but then stopped in his tracks, I can't believe I forgot it,"

    This italic, as if we're hearing inside the characters head is very common. I see it in a lot of the books I read, but then I see it expressed differently in others.

    "John closed the door, stopped and groaned. How on earth could he of forgotten the book?"

    I see this done a lot too, where the narrator is guiding the thoughts rather then letting the character just say the thoughts. I feel the latter is bordering on telling, rather then showing, but I see it in a lot of great fiction and can be used very effectively as it adds to the voice of the work. So I'm kinda trumped as to which way to go. Right now, I seem to just be jumping between them.

    Thoughts?
    Greg
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  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW
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    Really, it depends on how sympathetic to the character you want the reader to be.

    If you're aiming for very sympathetic, then it's alright for the character's thoughts and emotions to 'bleed' into the narration.

    If you, as narrator, want to stay objective and "Just the facts, ma'am" use italics exclusively.
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    An old, sappy, and happy one. Requiescat In Pace CACTUSWENDY's Avatar
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    Cool

    In my Greedy Tales....my MC thinks about a lot of stuff. Usually wisearse stuff. I do them in italics. What ever form you take .....do them the same all the way through. IMHO.
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  4. #4
    It's green they say FennelGiraffe's Avatar
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    Sometimes you're directly quoting the exact words the character is thinking. That is usually italicized. Some writers choose not to italicize in first person or tightly focused third person.
    Bob surveyed his empty pantry. I'm so sick of peanut butter.
    Other times you're indirectly paraphrasing the thought. That should never be italicized.
    Bob surveyed his empty pantry. He was so sick of peanut butter.
    In a science fiction novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will use this to figure out the level of technology in the society.

    In a mystery novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand that one of those objects is a clue.

    In a literary novel, if I describe what's on a desk, the reader will understand it to be a metaphor for the protagonist's mental state.
    - James D. Macdonald, discussing Reading Protocols, 6 Apr 2009

  5. #5
    Scribbler SuperModerator dpaterso's Avatar
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    Yeah, whatever way you want to do it is okay.

    I try to save italicized thought for a rainy day, to make a punchy point at a dramatic moment, rather than overuse it. The other 99 percent of the time, inner thought narration does the biz.

    "How would your favorite authors do it?" is always a good pointer in the right direction for questions like these.

    Quote Originally Posted by GregThomas View Post
    "John closed the door, stopped and groaned. How on earth could he of forgotten the book?"
    Minor typo, have forgotten not of forgotten (tho' I appreciate this was probably just a quick example)

    -Derek
    Last edited by dpaterso; 04-06-2011 at 12:12 PM.
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    Your Genial Uncle Absolute Sage James D. Macdonald's Avatar
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    Some of your academic theorists have minor subdivisions of third person to describe the difference between thoughts in italics, thoughts in roman set off by "he thought," and thoughts in roman that aren't set off at all.

    Ignore all of those distinctions.

    The rules are these:

    Don't confuse the readers.
    Choose the one that sounds right to you.
    Be consistent.

  7. #7
    Caped Codder jaksen's Avatar
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    Yeah, be consistent is the rule.

    I use italics for other things, like a letter someone is reading, or a flashback. So, when my MC or other important character is thinking, I just find another way to show it.
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    I never italicize thoughts, it attracts too much attention to the thought. And, if your writing voice is clear, thoughts are distinctive from narrative.

  9. #9
    I should be writing PulpDogg's Avatar
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    Isn't it also common to denote thoughts in single quotation marks?

    As in ... 'How did I forget this'

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
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    I always italicise thoughts. I get confused when they have single quotations in books. I have to keep reminding myself whilst reading that the character is not saying but thinking it, takes me out of the story.

  11. #11
    New kid, be gentle! PinkAmy's Avatar
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    I use italic thoughts in my memoir. The thoughts are written in present tense, the MS in past tense. I use this more in the beginning of the book, to illustrate when I have difficulty speaking and conceptualizing situations. As I grow and learn to use my voice, there are less thoughts and they only exist in very tense scenes. It works for my MS, although I needed several drafts to get the balance right.

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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW bonitakale's Avatar
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    I go for italicizing direct thought (whatever would be in quotes if it were said aloud) and not italicizing reported thought. But you can use both for the same character in the same book.

    How could he have been so stupid? I just wasn't thinking. She'll hate me forever, now.

  14. #14
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Be consistent.

    But if it's already in the character's POV, "he thought" is filtering. IMHO, you either indirectly tell us the thought or reveal direct thoughts.

    Indirect thought:
    He went to the party and thought no one would notice him.

    Direct thought.
    He went to the party. No one would notice me.

    Not only that... you just cut two words out of your manuscript by eliminating "he thought."

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  15. #15
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigEasy View Post
    Isn't it also common to denote thoughts in single quotation marks?

    As in ... 'How did I forget this'
    I'm not saying it's never been done, but I've never seen it in published books before, and I read a lot.

    For me, it would be too confusing.
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  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW heza's Avatar
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    I still like this thread:

    http://absolutewrite.com/forums/show...31#post3098331

    There's a debate providing examples with subtle differences in nuance you might consider when deciding which to use where.
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  17. #17
    writer of spec fic Saul Tanpepper's Avatar
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    This is another style question and, as with style issues, the key is being consistent. We do seem to be moving away from italics. I personally like them. There's always the question of whether they're easily attributed:

    You have got to be kidding me, John thought.
    vs
    You have got to be kidding me, John thought.

    Internal dialogue should not be enclosed by qutations marks:
    "You wrote this book? You have got to be kidding me."
    vs
    "You wrote this book?" You have got to be kidding me.

    The first example here indicates the second sentence is spoken with emphasis, whereas in the second example it's thought.

  18. #18
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    Okay, this is from the draft of my second novel. The chapter it's lifted from is third person limited, the character's name is Anouk. She's waiting for Katla, who's coming over for lunch at 13.00 hours. Can you identify the direct thoughts?

    Five minutes past one.


    Well, either Katla wasn’t punctual, or she thought being on time was impolite.


    She felt a bit queasy and looked out the kitchen window. Newk and Baaba pawed at the smooth glass and meowed, though the drizzling rain didn’t touch the window sill.


    She needed to pee.


    Christ.


    She looked at the clock. Six past one.


    Anouk hurried down the hallway to the toilet and sat down.


    The door bell rang.


    Fuckfuckfuck.


    The urge to pee was unstoppable. She wadded up some toilet paper while she urinated.


    The bell rang again.


    Fuuuuuuuck. Pleasepleaseplease. Don’t be impatient.


    Quickly she wiped herself, flushed the toilet, and was about to storm to the front door when she realized that she couldn’t shake hands. The bell rang for a third time as she rinsed her hands and took the towel with her to the front door.


    Katla combed her fingers through her tousled hair, probably from the helmet in her hand. Her bright blue eyes glittered with amusement, as if she could guess why Anouk was late to the door. “Hi.”

  19. #19
    Real Men Have Gills OpheliaRevived's Avatar
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    Single quotes are usually denoting someone speaking while quoting someone else, like: "So John says to me: 'That dress is hideous!'. What the hell, right?"
    Last edited by OpheliaRevived; 04-06-2011 at 08:42 PM.
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  20. #20
    I'm an excellent poofreader. Astronomer's Avatar
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    I usually have the narrator express the thought (How on earth could he of forgotten the book?), but I will switch to italics on very rare occasions when I want to increase narrative intimacy.

    No, it's not consistent. But increasing narrative intimacy in this manner helps me to build tension at critical parts of the story. I don't think I'm confusing the reader, but I'm always open to being convinced otherwise.

    Even so, far wiser members than I have advised consistency, so that would be the best advice to follow.

  21. #21
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    You have got to be kidding me, John thought.
    vs
    You have got to be kidding me, John thought.
    For me, if you're going to do the "he thought" you don't need to italicize the actual thought. And IMHO, just italicize and cut "he thought" already. It's unnecessary.

    But anyway, it is a style issue. Whatever you choose, just be consistent.

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  22. #22
    ~Charity~ writingismypassion's Avatar
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    For my own writing it depends on which POV I am using. In first person, I italicize. In third, I don't. Just my preference.

  23. #23
    Sheriff Bullwinkle the Poet says: RJK's Avatar
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    Although many people say it's redundant to italicize thoughts if you add the "he thought" tag. I think, for consistency's sake, it looks better to italicize all direct thoughts, whether you add a tag or not.

    Yes, I agree that readers are smart and they get it without the need of italics, but as I'm reading, I automatically associated italics with thought, without having to give it any additional thought, thus not taking me out of the story. And that's the goal, isn't it?

  24. #24
    Fear the Death Ray maestrowork's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RJK View Post
    Although many people say it's redundant to italicize thoughts if you add the "he thought" tag. I think, for consistency's sake, it looks better to italicize all direct thoughts, whether you add a tag or not.

    Yes, I agree that readers are smart and they get it without the need of italics, but as I'm reading, I automatically associated italics with thought, without having to give it any additional thought, thus not taking me out of the story. And that's the goal, isn't it?
    For me, it's not the italics that is redundant, but the "he thought." The following sentence is perfectly fine:


    He arrived at the party a little after ten. This is such a great event,he thought. He went straight to the bar.

    I didn't want to work. It was as simple as that. I distrusted work, disliked it. I thought it was a very bad thing that the human race had unfortunately invented for itself.
    -- Agatha Christie





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  25. #25
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin GregThomas's Avatar
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    I am currently reading King's "Under the Dome", and I see in this work, most, if not all, of the thoughts are expressed through King's voice. He will often say things like, "the stupid lesbian cop showed up again. John groaned and sat down." although he's just showing a scene to you, but by injecting POV into the imagery, i.e calling the cop a stupid lesbian, you get the immediate sense, that its the thoughts of the character.

    I was a big italiics user. I'm a big fan of the game of thrones series, and Martin uses it all the time. So if the majority of you guys replies say its about consistency, I guess its about using both in different projects to see which ones fits best.

    thanks for the replies.
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