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Thoughts in writing - how to handle them!

Ernest Bywater

G'day People,

I just started reading a story and immediately ran into some issues with how the story presents. It's because the main character often has thoughts stated as dialogue and the dialogue tag is in the middle or the end of the thought and not the start. The author uses the double quotes for both dialogue and thought and the late tags makes me think he's talking until I get to the tag, and that puts a different perspective on the scene part way through.

In my stories I try hard to differentiate the thoughts from the dialogue and the narrative. Now I do it by having the thoughts in single quotes and italics to who the thought as against spoken dialogue in double quotes and normal text. Example:

Fred said, "OK, Boss, I'll do as you say," while thinking, 'What a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time!'

How do you handle the thoughts within a story?

cayosan57

@Ernest Bywater

Fred said, "OK, Boss, I'll do as you say," while thinking, 'What a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time!'

My take would be:
"OK, Boss, I'll do as you say," while thinking that it was a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste my time!

I wouldn't go for the separate quoted thought - IN THIS CASE. However, I also have no problem with how you've done it, as long as it's consistent throughout your writing.

That's my opinion, of course. I prefer consistency.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

I put thoughts in italics (without the single quotes).

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@cayosan57


"OK, Boss, I'll do as you say," while thinking that it was a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste my time!


Without the comma after "thinking," you wouldn't put his thoughts in italics. Without the comma, it's not internal dialogue. Without the comma, the narrator is simply telling the reader what he was thinking while speaking the dialogue.

EDIT: btw, you can't see it in the quoted text because it italicized all of it.

Dominions Son
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

I use the single quote method.

Ernest Bywater

@cayosan57

and that makes it a part of the narrative as against a specific thought by the person. However, such a conversion to narrative wouldn't work in every case and I was asking about the process not the specific example which I made up on the spot.

Crumbly Writer

In general, thoughts should be either italics or single quotes, and it doesn't seem to matter which (unless you're following a specific style guide). You wouldn't use both, though.

I did use both in a story about telepathy, to ensure the readers knew it was a 'spoken thought', as opposed to either spoken dialogue or internal thoughts. I based that decisions on the current trends in telepathy stories at the time. They seemed to have reached a consensus, at least on SOL, at the time.

However, before you head down this road, you've got to decide whether this qualifies as 'head hopping' or not. Head hopping is when the story hops from one person's head to another, revealing thoughts the narrator would have no way of knowing.

That's fine if you're using an omniscient narrator in 3rd person (i.e. the narrator knows everything), but in 1st person, or 3rd as conveyed by a specific character, it's bad form.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

That's fine if you're using an omniscient narrator in 3rd person


When writing in omniscient, you cannot hear any character's thoughts. So you would never put them in italics or single quotes. Only the omniscient narrator can tell you what they're thinking. Anything else is head-hopping.

Btw, you can have a 1st-person omniscient narrator. That was new to me, but "The Book Thief" has a 1st-person omniscient narrator -- Death.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

When writing in omniscient, you cannot hear any character's thoughts. So you would never put them in italics or single quotes. Only the omniscient narrator can tell you what they're thinking. Anything else is head-hopping.


But if the omniscient narrator is passing on their thoughts exactly, would it not qualify a a quotation, requiring quotes? For that matter, the omniscient narrator is telling you what the character's said in the same way he would be telling you what they thought.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Btw, you can have a 1st-person omniscient narrator. That was new to me, but "The Book Thief" has a 1st-person omniscient narrator -- Death.

Hey, in writing, you can do anything you want--as long as you can get away with it! For most of us, we follow rules so we don't stumble over things.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

When writing in omniscient, you cannot hear any character's thoughts. So you would never put them in italics or single quotes. Only the omniscient narrator can tell you what they're thinking. Anything else is head-hopping.

Actually, as another alternative, I've written a story in omniscient narrator who was actually one of the characters recounting what happened. (The unspoken assumption being that she was told what everyone thought at the time.) There are as many variation on any rule as there are authors.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Dominions Son


But if the omniscient narrator is passing on their thoughts exactly, would it not qualify a a quotation, requiring quotes? For that matter, the omniscient narrator is telling you what the character's said in the same way he would be telling you what they thought.


When dialogue is in quotes, the narrator isn't telling you what the character said. The character is saying it. It's okay to do that because it's spoken out loud and the reader doesn't have to get into the character's head.

But since the reader can't get into a character's head in omniscient (if he does it's head-hopping), the narrator has to tell the reader what the character is thinking.

Here's a good article that explains it using Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea."

http://thewritepractice.com/head-hopping-and-hemingway/

Replies:   Chris Podhola
garymrssn

I think it would be much simpler if stories were written in mathematics instead of this "God Awful" English with its constantly evolving rules.
On second thought; Does anyone know an equation for satire?

Replies:   aubie56
aubie56

@garymrssn

Take practically any equation from thermodynamics.

-- aubie56

Crumbly Writer

@aubie56

Does incest sound any better in French? Do Do-Overs read any better in Danish?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Do Do-Overs read any better in Danish?


Only if it's an Apple Danish.

Replies:   tppm
richardshagrin

@aubie56

The three laws of thermodynamics talk about entropy and other states of the universe, but in the final analysis they say:
1) You can't win.
2) You can't break-even.
3) You can't get out of the game.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

3) You can't get out of the game.

Sure you can. Sooner or later, we all get out of the game, though we fight it to the bitter end.

Replies:   Dominions Son
tppm

@Ernest Bywater

No, that's turn overs

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

Sure you can. Sooner or later, we all get out of the game, though we fight it to the bitter end.


But how do you know the game ends there?

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  tppm
Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

Sure you can. Sooner or later, we all get out of the game, though we fight it to the bitter end.
-------
But how do you know the game ends there?

If the game board changes, it's officially a new game! After all, you can't play "Shoots & Ladders" without the Shoots and associated Ladders.

Replies:   Joe_Bondi_Beach
Joe_Bondi_Beach

@Crumbly Writer

After all, you can't play "Shoots & Ladders" without the Shoots and associated Ladders.


I like it. A first-person shooter version of "Chutes and Ladders"!

tppm

@Dominions Son

But how do you know the game ends there?


It doesn't, we're just taken out of it. I'm not sure the game will end with the heat death of the universe.

Ernest Bywater

G'day All,

I tend to write in either the third person omniscient, in which case it is valid to have the narrator know what people are thinking, but you need to split it out the same as if different people's dialogue. Or first person, in which case the narrators thoughts are also available for use. After reading the comments here and thinking about it, I've decided to just use italics and treat it like a section of dialogue in italics and no quotation marks at all. Will adjust older stories when i next have to fix something in them.

here's an example from a current work in progress where I'm using present tense 3rd person omni:

A few seconds later he's thinking, Was that the drones we shot and blew up? Now he's not so sure of that because of the abort command. He thought it was a test, but the explosion now has him wondering about what did happen. Whatever went off did go in a big way, he's not seen anything make such a large fireball so quick before. Even so, there should be something still on fire, and he can't see a flame anywhere.

end quote

As you can see, I'm using a thought tag the same as I'd use a dialogue tag to let people know what's going on. I think this makes it show as different to normal dialogue but not standout too much.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

In omniscient, you never put the character's thoughts in italics (that's head-hopping). When they're in italics, you're inside the character's head (what he's thinking). The omniscient narrator can tell you what the character is thinking, but you don't hear the character's thoughts directly. When the narrator tells you the character's thoughts, it's the narrator speaking (through narrative), not the character thinking.

In first-person, most of the 1st-person narrator's thoughts are in narrative and therefore not in italics. You only italicize his thoughts when you want to emphasize them. For example (using present tense since that's what you write in):

I walk into the dark room and stop to listen. Where is everyone? When I turn on the light, everyone yells, "Surprise."

I think it's clearer when writing in past tense, as in:

I walked into the dark room and stopped to listen. Where was everyone? When I turned on the light, everyone yelled, "Surprise."

If the question was an internal thought in italics, it would be in present tense. But as the same thought in the narrative, it's in past tense.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Switch,

I'll disagree with you about how I can present the thoughts. Since I write in present tense, be the thought his thought or a disinterested narrative account of the thought, it won't change how it's worded because both are present tense. The advantage of using the italics is it shows it to be a thought. And since the thought is shown as being done by the same person whose actions I'm describing in that paragraph it's not head hopping. I could have the person constantly talking to themselves and show it as normal dialogue, but that's not how most people behave, and using the italics lets me show it isn't normal dialogue or normal narrative.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Parthenogenesis

@Ernest Bywater

You guys are making horse puree out of something that's quite straightforward.

Fred said, "OK, Boss, I'll do as you say." Gawd, he thought, what a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time.

Go read a bunch of books from the library and see how established authors handle a narrator's thoughts.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater  Grant
Ernest Bywater

@Parthenogenesis

I've done that, and there are many ways print authors do it; from using angle brackets < > through italics, single quotes, curly brackets { }, nothing, to mixtures of all of the above.

The main aim is to use something that makes it easier for the reader to be aware of what's happening, which is why dialogue is differentiated from narrative etc.

Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

Ernest, my goal is not to convince you one way or the other. I've passed along this article in the past on omniscient and head-hopping.

http://thewritepractice.com/head-hopping-and-hemingway/

Parthenogenesis, your example would be for omniscient. If it was written like that in 3rd-person limited, the thought would be in italics.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Switch,

I read that article earlier, the same day you posted it up near the start of the thread. I see that as being the opinion of the article writer. I've looked for a good definition of head hopping and the best I've found is this:

"Head-hopping" is the practice of switching point-of-view characters within a single scene.

and another is:

To be head hopping, a passage needs to meet two criteria:

(1) The viewpoint shifts between characters without a proper transition (e.g. a scene break).
(2) The thoughts/feelings of the characters are given in their voices rather than in the author's voice.

while a third is:

Head-hopping is what happens to the reader when a writer suddenly changes viewpoint character or POV.

I like this article:

https://authorshelpingauthors.wordpress.com/writing-2/point-of-view-and-head-hopping/

All the above quotes etc are by different professional editors.

The one common theme is: there are issues if you have things about or by two different characters in the same paragraph. If it's all the one character, then it isn't head hopping. And the narrator isn't a character. Another point many make is about the problems raised with using third person limited making many aspects of narrative work not possible, and I think (i.e. personal opinion) the majority of cases of narrative head hopping occur in stories using 3rd limited.

To me, the key points are to have the story easy flowing, make sense, and easy for the reader to tell the different parts of the story - dialogue, narrative, quote, notes, thoughts - and the best way to do that is with formating that makes it through the various presentation formats.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


"Head-hopping" is the practice of switching point-of-view characters within a single scene.


Exactly.


To be head hopping, a passage needs to meet two criteria:

(1) The viewpoint shifts between characters without a proper transition (e.g. a scene break).

(2) The thoughts/feelings of the characters are given in their voices rather than in the author's voice.


(1) is saying the same thing as the previous one.

(2) don't know what they mean by this.


while a third is:

Head-hopping is what happens to the reader when a writer suddenly changes viewpoint character or POV.


Again, this is saying the same thing in a different way. All it means is, within a scene, you can only be in one character's head. In 1st-person, it's the 1st-person narrator. In omniscient, it's the omniscient narrator. In 3rd-person limited, it's the POV character for the scene.


The one common theme is: there are issues if you have things about or by two different characters in the same paragraph.


Scene, not paragraph.


If it's all the one character, then it isn't head hopping. And the narrator isn't a character.


That's the point. The omniscient narrator is a character. Not a character in the story, but a godlike character that's telling the story. It's the narrator's voice you hear.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Switch,

I'm not sure what some of them were trying to say, either. What it did point out was even the professional editors could really agree on what the definition of head hopping was or how it worked.

A scene has man paragraphs and it can switch back and forth between the characters. A typical scene will have a number of people doing actions and / or talking, and most of the time you have separate paragraphs for each person as it switches between them.

The narrator is not a character but the person recounting the story.

The one universal thing they do seem to agree on is: head hopping when using a 3rd person limited or first person narrator is a big no-no. A few think you can get away with it when you have a 3rd person omni. However, in my opinion, if you're using 3rd person omni and have the thoughts, actions, and dialogue of a paragraph all being done by the same story character it isn't head hopping because you're staying in the one head for it all.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Ernest Bywater

A scene has man[y] paragraphs and it can switch back and forth between the characters. A typical scene will have a number of people doing actions and / or talking, and most of the time you have separate paragraphs for each person as it switches between them.


The POV cannot switch back and forth between characters within a scene. A scene is told from a single POV.

That means you can only get into the thoughts of the POV character.

The narrator is not a character but the person recounting the story.


Granted, the omniscient narrator is not generally a character in the story.

It's not whether the omniscient narrator is a character in the story. The point is, it's the POV "character." And head-hopping is all about POV. When you jump from one POV to another within a scene, that's head-hopping.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

head-hopping is all about POV. When you jump from one POV to another within a scene, that's head-hopping.

You can quote whatever rules you want, as long as you're telling a story, and the story needs to reflect the main character's thoughts (ex. they're sneaking up on the bad guys and realizes he's outgunned), then you've got to show the thoughts taking process. If it's an easy situation (like the one I just listed) then you can avoid it by showing it, but if a character's thoughts are more complex, you'll get some head-hopping. However, that won't kill a story. They key is to limit it, keep it reasonable, and make it easy to follow.

I generally use 'head-hopping' about one to three times per book (I average 20 chapters per book). I don't think that will get many tossing the book in disgust. The problem is when you confuse the readers.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
richardshagrin

This sounds like a reason for the hero not to think but just react.

aubie56
Updated:

I have the strongest feeling that I don't understand what this discussion is all about. What's wrong with head-hopping if it does not confuse the reader? A story might have two opposing super tyrants who don't trust anyone, so they keep their strategy to themselves, only revealing items to others on a need-to-know basis. This would probably make a very dull story if the reader doesn't know what each major plan is, at least in outline, if not in detail.

But the tyrants don't share their great plans with anyone, so the only way for the reader to know what is going on is to be privy to the minds and thoughts of each tyrant. Now, wouldn't that be accomplished only by head-hopping? How else could that be done, considering that the tyrants do not trust ANYONE?

Like a lot of other hard and fast rules, I think that the absolute ban on head-hopping was dreamed up by some academician who was trying to come up with the next day's lesson while suffering from a massive hangover! Of course, this does imply that the author has enough skill to bring it off.

Ernest Bywater

@aubie56

G'day Aubie,

One of the problems with head hopping is the fact there seems to be no universal definition of it or how it works, so I can understand why people get confused. It's also why I don't think showing thoughts in a 3rd person omni POV to be head hopping.

There are a few stories on SOL where classic head hopping is obvious - in the ones I'm thinking of the story is told in the 1st person and the characters thoughts are shown, then the author switches to another character while still using the 1st person and shows their thoughts. In the better versions they have clear breaks and stay with the one character for a fair period. I use that option in Rough Diamond to show some action away from the main character and have the changes as different chapters in the book (NB: my book chapters aren't the same as the SOL chapters which often have several book chapters in a single post).

With the 3rd person omni narrator they know everything so it's valid to have them show a character's thoughts in a paragraph or section focused on that character. Since the narrator's point of view doesn't change when showing the thoughts of another character in a different paragraph, I don't see this as head hopping. Which is why I'm now tending to regard the definition by one professional editor as the best, which is:

Head-hopping is what happens to the reader when a writer suddenly changes viewpoint character or POV.

This shows changing POV between characters in a 1st person is clearly head hopping because the POV changes, while staying with a 3rd person omni can't be head hopping because the POV doesn't change.

Switch and I disagree on this because he sees the narrator as another character, while I see the narrator as simply the voice relating the story. Two different perspective on the situation.

Hope that helps clear up a little of the confusion.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

Switch and I disagree on this because he sees the narrator as another character, while I see the narrator as simply the voice relating the story. Two different perspective on the situation.

I think your disagreement is due to the 3rd person omni stories you write. Some people write it in the manner of an old school fireside chat, while others write it as a character writing about their own experiences. Each tends to project that mindset onto other authors' approaches.

But I agree, a nice compromise is: head-hopping won't kill a story, but you need to minimize it because it can cause problems.

Crumbly Writer

It's funny this came up now, as I'm revising a story where I do this. It's a story I started a long time ago (almost two years ago), so it's not as clean as my newer stories (i.e. I probably wouldn't use it now) but here's an example of using head-hopping in a story without italicized thoughts.

Returning to his bedroom, he considered his situation as he finished dressing. No, a phone call wouldn't work. He'd need to talk to his bosses one-on-one for them to take him seriously. What's more, if he called and told them he was still here, they'd undoubtedly panic and send an emergency helicopter for him. That, in turn, would alert the entire country that he was still alive, which wasn't a smart move. They needed to figure out how to present this to the public, and they needed an explanation in order to do that. No, he'd need to travel on his own to Cape Canaveral. Only he had no money, no credit cards and no ID.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Without the expectation of some of it being thoughts (in this case given by your comment before it) I'd find it a bit confusing if it was all the same as the narrative. Without some way to show the thought different to the narrative it's hard to tell which is which - and that leads to reader confusion. I do like the position he's in, it has so much potential.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Ernest Bywater

It's an interesting scene, one man, alone in an empty house, trying to figure out what's going on. He can only talk out loud to himself for so long.

The scene laid out comes after he's established his position, so when he begins lamenting the implications, it's clear what he's wrestling with. In this case, it's not a 'he thought this' moment with actual thoughts, word-for-word in quotes. Instead it's what he'd figured out, expressed in narrative form (i.e. the narrator didn't know what he was thinking, so is formulating it after the fact (3rd person omni). They aren't thoughts, instead they're a description of the situation he's considering.

I'll have to consider whether it's too much or not. As I said, if I were writing it now, I'd probably do it differently.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

You can quote whatever rules you want, as long as you're telling a story, and the story needs to reflect the main character's thoughts (ex. they're sneaking up on the bad guys and realizes he's outgunned), then you've got to show the thoughts taking process.


Actually, that's not true. But that's not the point. I was defining what head-hopping is, not that an author must avoid it. My most popular story is filled with head-hopping.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@aubie56


But the tyrants don't share their great plans with anyone, so the only way for the reader to know what is going on is to be privy to the minds and thoughts of each tyrant. Now, wouldn't that be accomplished only by head-hopping? How else could that be done, considering that the tyrants do not trust ANYONE?


Two ways. One is to have an omniscient narrator tell the reader. The other is to have multiple scenes in 3rd-person limited, one from one of the character's POV and the other from the other one's.

Grant

@Parthenogenesis

You guys are making horse puree out of something that's quite straightforward.

Fred said, "OK, Boss, I'll do as you say." Gawd, he thought, what a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time.

And that actually makes it difficult to follow what is thought.

either
Gawd, he thought, what a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time.

or
'Gawd', he thought, 'what a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time'.

would make it so much easier.
Italics is my preference, but the single quotes would be ok.
The important thing is to pick a style, and stick with it the whole way through.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Parthenogenesis

@Switch Blayde

My example is for third person, whether limited or omniscient.

There are no rules for how you indicate thought. All you have to do is be consistent with whatever your stylistic choice is.

All I'm saying is that you don't need to do anything special with a narrator's thoughts, first person or third.

Again, I urge you to read the works of some established authors to see how they handled a narrator's thoughts. You're not going to find a lot of italics or brackets.

Dominions Son

@Parthenogenesis

All I'm saying is that you don't need to do anything special with a narrator's thoughts, first person or third.


In third person omniscient, it isn't the narrator's thoughts we are talking about.

Switch Blayde

@Parthenogenesis

My example is for third person, whether limited or omniscient.


There is a difference between omniscient and third limited. When talking about head-hopping, the distinction is important.

In third limited, the rules are the same as with 1st-person. You can only tell the reader what the POV character knows (and he can't know the thoughts of another character in that scene). So you can only show the POV character's thoughts, either as part of the narrative (no italics) or as internal dialogue (italics).

But in omniscient, the godlike narrator knows all and can tell what's going on in everyone's mind. But it's the job of the omniscient narrator to provide that information. You can't have internal dialogue at all -- you can't hear what any character is thinking. The omniscient narrator has to tell you what they're thinking.

It's easy to get right in omniscient. Simply tell the reader the character's thoughts rather than show them as internal dialogue.

So you could write:

John looked at Sue and wondered if she liked him. He didn't know it, but Sue was hoping he would kiss her.

It would be head-hopping in omniscient if you wrote:

Does she like me? John thought. He didn't know it, but Sue was hoping he would kiss her.

The reason the second one is considered head-hopping is because you're hopping between two POVs, John and the omniscient narrator.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

@Grant

And that actually makes it difficult to follow what is thought.

Technically, it doesn't make it difficult to follow, however, it's redundant, and it makes it awkward, which is a different issue. Essentially, if the italics tells the readers it's a thought, then why repeat it with an unnecessary dialogue tag?

Parthenogenesis, I agree with Ernest (?) when he says that many times, the 'narrator' is not a recognized character and that a character's thoughts are simply his thoughts.

I've written stories was the narrator was a specific character, and others where he was simply an 'unknown, authoritative voice'. There's a big difference between the two. If your narrator has a specific voice/opinion about the story, then he becomes another character. However, if he simply observes what happens/happened-in-the-past, then he's not (or he's snot!).

Replies:   Grant  Ernest Bywater
Grant
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


Technically, it doesn't make it difficult to follow, however, it's redundant, and it makes it awkward, which is a different issue. Essentially, if the italics tells the readers it's a thought, then why repeat it with an unnecessary dialogue tag?


Not sure I understand what you are saying.

I was quoting what Parthenogenisis had posted

Fred said, "OK, Boss, I'll do as you say." Gawd, he thought, what a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time.

To me the lack of italics or quotes on the thoughts makes it difficult to follow.

What I posted was 2 different ways of saying the same thing. I was not suggesting you need to post the same thing twice, once in italics & once with quotes. Hence the either & or preceding the examples I posted.

Ernest Bywater

@Switch Blayde

Switch,

In 3rd omni it's possible for the narrator to relate the thoughts of a character so there's no reason why they can't do so. Thus it makes sense to show the actual thought in a different way to normal narrative. We disagree on this point due to having a different definition of what constitutes head hopping, so I guess we'll agree to disagree and each go his own way on it.

I started this thread to find out how others do it because the print authors use multiple methods. Due to the comments made I've decide how I'll handle it now.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

CW,

I don't think the tags are any more redundant than dialogue tags as they do the exact same job. Also, italics is used for a few other things as well (like quotations and names of books etc.), so it helps to clarify the current usage.

Ernest

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


I don't think the tags are any more redundant than dialogue tags as they do the exact same job. Also, italics is used for a few other things as well (like quotations and names of books etc.), so it helps to clarify the current usage.


There's another reason for having the "he thought," at least once. It's to notify the reader of the convention you follow. So from that point on he knows the italics are internal dialogue (or whatever convention you use).

And sometimes it just emphasizes the thought by saying "he thought."

And, finally, sometimes you add action to it, as in: I hate that bastard! he thought while slamming his hand on the table.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

And, finally, sometimes you add action to it, as in: I hate that bastard! he thought while slamming his hand on the table.

Or:

He slammed his hand on the table, scowling at the image of his nemesis, his lip curling."

Most of the time, you don't need explicit thoughts (of your characters) expressed on paper.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

Most of the time, you don't need explicit thoughts (of your characters) expressed on paper.


True, but sometimes it makes it easier to get a point or two across. It's not something I've done a lot of in the past, but a current work in progress does have more direct thoughts in it than all my previous stories together. I find, for this story, it helps with the flow of the story.

Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Most of the time, you don't need explicit thoughts (of your characters) expressed on paper.


I rarely use internal dialogue now that I understand POV.

When I used to head-hop by showing multiple characters' thoughts, I had to use internal dialogue. But now that I know that the only thoughts can be the POV character's (not omniscient) I rarely italicize them. I sometimes do it for emphasis. And since I write in past tense, the thoughts are written in past tense like an earlier example.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I agree, most writers shouldn't have extensive internal dialogues, but as you say, adding an occasional thought can help drive a point home. The key is, you get the maximum benefit from a minimal effort. Use the technique only when it has the maximum effect.

Perv Otaku

@Switch Blayde

I walked into the dark room and stopped to listen. Where was everyone? When I turned on the light, everyone yelled, "Surprise."

I do much the same thing, even in third person.
"He walked into the dark room and stopped to listen. Where was everyone? When he turned on the light, everyone yelled, "Surprise."
When I started writing I did things this way without even stopping to think about it. It seems rather cleaner than having to append "he thought" to things.

As an experiment, I wrote a fanfic (that I will be publishing here in the near future) of some popular comic book characters as if it were a comic book script. No introspection, a lot of action visuals, and internal monologues in quotes and with "she thought" all over the place. It's effective but rather weird to write and read that way, so I'm glad it was a rather short story.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Perv Otaku

When I started writing I did things this way without even stopping to think about it. It seems rather cleaner than having to append "he thought" to things.

It's the easiest technique, but as you gain experience in writing, learning different techniques, you discover better ways of expressing the same concepts. This method (writing what characters are thinking) isn't 'wrong', it's just that there are more consistent technique so you maintain the established perspective.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

Where a character's thoughts being expressed is being better than a narrative item is when the character is having an unusual internal dialogue due to concerns about a situation or conflicting ideas on a situation, it shows better as his thoughts than a standard narrative. It also offers more scope to display something about the situation or the character. Here's some examples from my current work in progress, and almost all of the thought segments in what is 21,000 words of a what should be a story of about 50,000 words, or more. There isn't much need for more in what I plan, at this stage, but that may change.

..............

A few seconds later he's thinking, Was that the drones we shot and blew up? Now he's not so sure of that because of the abort command. He thought it was a test, but the explosion now has him wondering about what did happen.

..................

While they're moving off to the north-east Will thinks, They look like they belong in a film set in the mid 1800s. Modern Indians all use saddles now and dress in normal work clothes, except when putting on a show for people. I wonder what sighting that group means.

..............

Stunned at the sight before him, he puts the monocular to his eye and has a very good look around the area. Below is a stream with a hut, a barn, a fenced corral, a group of about twenty-five Indians attacking the hut, with one Indian on a slight rise waving direction with a short spear. It looks just like the Indian attacks on ranchers he's seen in many of the western films, except there are no cameras around, no make-up van, no food van, and no cars of any sort. He studies the scene for a moment, then moves to a better position to fire from.

While taking aim, he thinks, With nothing else to indicate otherwise, I'll assume I'm watching an Indian attack on a rancher and act to end it. This rifle is a twenty-two firing subsonic hollow-points, and intended to help me hunt small animals, but it has the range needed here. First, the guy in charge of the attack, then the three in the stream gully.

..................

While leading the horses to the hut Will thinks about what he's seen and the gear he just collected, Percussion cap revolvers and rifles along with standard frontier type clothing and behaviour. I wonder if I've been thrown back in time to the mid 1800's somehow?

....................

In each case the narrative paints the picture and he thinks about what the situation is to add something more to the scene. It's kind of like he's talking to himself, but it's an internal dialogue.

edit for typo

Chris Podhola
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater


Fred said, "OK, Boss, I'll do as you say," while thinking, 'What a bloody idiotic way to do this and waste the time!'


I haven't read all of the replies in this thread, so I don't know for sure that I'm not repeating other comments, but weighing in could be a little bit of fun here.

Dialog, whether spoken aloud or relayed in thought is just as much about defining character as it is about letting your character's talk or think. Here is how I would handle this bit of dialog and thought, while at the same time, expanding this character's definition.

Fred slapped his first two fingers to his forehead in salute, bringing his body stiff. "Okay, boss," he said. Bloody waste of time, idiot. He turned from his boss, doubling the space in between steps as he walked to the door. He could feel the the shadow of a middle finger cast upon his back. He'd given enough of of his own to know it was there.

If I've already identified the character who's speaking within a paragraph and I've taken the time to identify that he/she is speaking with quotes, I don't feel the need to specify that italics means thought. As long as I'm confident that the reader will know who is doing the thinking, I feel assured that he will understand that the wording in italics will mean that he is thinking those words as opposed to speaking them.

On top of this, I try to differentiate dialog from character to character where possible. In this example, I've shortened the original text because it seemed too wordy to me and by doing so, I feel it makes the commentary a little punchier, mixing and matching behaviors with action and inner dialog.

Chris Podhola

@Switch Blayde

But since the reader can't get into a character's head in omniscient (if he does it's head-hopping), the narrator has to tell the reader what the character is thinking.


I find this comment strange. Omniscient is one of the POV's where (if done properly) you CAN get away delving into a character's thought and even get away with delving into multiple character's thoughts at the same time. In fact, the article you've linked to expressly states this, and yet, your comment refutes it.

Very strange.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Chris Podhola


Omniscient is one of the POV's where (if done properly) you CAN get away delving into a character's thought and even get away with delving into multiple character's thoughts at the same time. In fact, the article you've linked to expressly states this, and yet, your comment refutes it.


Read the article again. I don't think you understood it.

In omniscient, you only have one POV -- the omniscient narrator's.

The omniscient narrator tells the reader what each character is thinking. But it's the narrator passing those thoughts along. You don't have direct internal dialogue (thoughts) from any character.

COPIED FROM THE ARTICLE:


Do you see how the narrator hops from the thoughts of one character or even groups of characters to another? Some might mistakenly call this head hopping. However, this is actually an example third-person omniscient point of view. Hemingway's omniscient narrator can peer into anyone's mind at will, as opposed to a third-person limited narrator, who would be confined to the thoughts of one character per scene.

This is why Hemingway technically isn't breaking the rules in The Old Man and the Sea. More importantly, though, it doesn't break the spirit of the rule because this narration doesn't seem awkward or jarring. The narrator is firmly in control of the scene. We aren't actually in any of these character's heads. We're in the narrator's, and he is taking us on a tour through the thoughts and feelings of the characters.


ADDED THIS PART WITH EDIT AFTERWARDS:

I thought I could underline within the quote. The forum software didn't allow it. I was trying to underline:

We aren't actually in any of these character's heads. We're in the narrator's, and he is taking us on a tour through the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I understand it perfectly. By very definition: Knowing everything, omniscient POV does permit narrating a character's inner thoughts. If it didn't the definition wouldn't be omniscient, it would be less than 'knowing everything'.


In omniscient, you only have one POV -- the omniscient narrator's.


Incorrect again. By definition omniscient is all encompassing and can come from any perspective, because that is what omniscient means. Omniscient knows everything.


Hemingway's omniscient narrator can peer into anyone's mind at will, as opposed to a third-person limited narrator, who would be confined to the thoughts of one character per scene.


This quote does correctly define omniscient. It specifically says that omniscient can peer into anyone's mind at will as OPPOSED to a third person narration which cannot.

You are not limited from character's thoughts in omniscient POV

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Chris Podhola

I'm not going to argue with you. Believe what you want, but don't say I'm wrong. I'm right!


Knowing everything, omniscient POV does permit narrating a character's inner thoughts


What I said was you can't have internal dialogue in omniscient. That's the stuff you put in italics. So don't say you can.


You are not limited from character's thoughts in omniscient POV


Again, don't misquote me. You ARE limited. To cannot get into any character's head. ONLY the narrator can tell you what they're thinking or feeling.

I suggest you study up on omniscient before telling others they're wrong.

Also study up on POV, as in the point of view character for the scene. In 1st or 3rd-limited a scene is told from the POV character's perspective. That's what POV means in fiction. Not an omniscient narrator telling you how a character perceives something.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


What I said was you can't have internal dialogue in omniscient. That's the stuff you put in italics. So don't say you can.


Maybe I am misunderstanding what you mean by this. To clarify your meaning, how could the phrase, 'he thought' or 'she thought' ever be used in fiction if not through omniscience?

If the characters themselves were telling their thoughts wouldn't they state it as 'I' thought?

I ask because the word 'limited' in 3rd limited refers to the degree that omniscience is expressed.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Chris Podhola

To clarify your meaning, how could the phrase, 'he thought' or 'she thought' ever be used in fiction if not through omniscience?


"I thought" and "he thought" are used in 1st- and 3rd-person limited, respectively. It has nothing to do with omniscient. In fact, it's not allowed in omniscient.

I hate him, she thought.
I hate him, I thought.

Those are examples of internal dialogue (thoughts), 3rd- and 1st-person, respectively. That's what you can't have in omniscient because you can't get into any character's head (directly).

In omniscient, the omniscient narrator would tell the reader: She hated him.

I ask because the word 'limited' in 3rd limited refers to the degree that omniscience is expressed.


"Limited" means it's not omniscient. In limited, each scene is from a single character's point of view (the POV character for that scene). Just like in 1st, you can only tell the reader what that character sees, hears, smells, etc. And you can get into only that character's thoughts, either through internal dialogue (using italics) or through narrative. It's usually done through narrative.

Omniscient is a different beast. People think it's easy to write in omniscient because the godlike narrator knows all. But the mistake they make is they think of the author as the know-it-all and can do whatever he wants.

There are rules for omniscient, and one is you can't have internal dialogue. True, the narrator can tell the reader what any character is thinking (or feeling), but you can't get into the character's head directly. Doing that, as shown in the article, is head-hopping.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


"Limited" means it's not omniscient. In limited, each scene is from a single character's point of view (the POV character for that scene). Just like in 1st, you can only tell the reader what that character sees, hears, smells, etc. And you can get into only that character's thoughts, either through internal dialogue (using italics) or through narrative. It's usually done through narrative.


Unfortunately, I don't think we're ever going to come to a consensus on this. Your interpretation of omniscient and third person are completely different than mine. (Third person limited is still omniscient, it is just limited to one character's perspective). It is impossible for any third person to describe the inner thoughts of another person unless they are omniscient. I could not tell a story about you, fictional or non fictional, and describe your inner thoughts to readers without being omniscient and therefor privy to your thoughts.

You say I should study up on POV before offering my opinions. I have studied them and even went back to make sure I wasn't being a retard here today. Yet, I still see nothing to support the claims you are making. No matter where I look, I cannot substantiate your claims.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Chris Podhola

I could not tell a story about you, fictional or non fictional, and describe your inner thoughts to readers without being omniscient and therefor privy to your thoughts.


That's the confusion. You're thinking of the author as being the godlike omniscient narrator. It's not the author. The author is simply writing the words.

In 1st-person, when the author writes:

I knew he would cheat on me.

the author is writing the words of the 1st-person narrating character. The same would be if the author wrote:

"John cheated on me," I said.
or
John cheated on me, I thought.

Replace the "I" with "she" and it's 3rd-person limited.

So that's how the reader hears the words of the character and is privy to their internal thoughts.

Now what other characters say can only be written if the POV character can hear it. Since a person can't read someone's mind, the other character's thoughts cannot be shown to the reader.

So you can write (Sue is the POV character in 3rd-person limited):

"John, where are you going?" Sue said.

"Just out."

Sue narrowed her eyes. What the hell does that mean? she thought.


In omniscient, it would be written something like:

"John, where are you going?" Sue said.

"Just out."

Sue narrowed her eyes and wondered what the hell that meant.


And in omniscient, you could even add John's thoughts, as in:

"John, where are you going?" Sue said.

"Just out."

When Sue narrowed her eyes and wondered what the hell that meant, John was praying she wouldn't ask any more questions.

Chris Podhola
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

I definitely feel like I understand what you are saying now. Thanks for taking the time to clarify. It no longer sounds 'strange' to me. lol

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Chris Podhola

My pleasure.

For me, POV is the most difficult aspect of writing fiction.

Replies:   Chris Podhola
Chris Podhola

@Switch Blayde

Yeah, well, you've definitely given me a few things to ponder and I will have to do even more research. Thanks ... lol (As if I didn't have enough on my plate, ha ha).

I definitely agree with your breakdown of how to write inner thought and also how it should be narrated. No more than one perspective at a time should be given etc.

The things I need to delve deeper into are the definitions and things like that. The way you were stating it in the beginning threw me for a loop.

Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

Now what other characters say can only be written if the POV character can hear it. Since a person can't read someone's mind, the other character's thoughts cannot be shown to the reader.

I beg to differ on this point, but only in limited circumstances. I often write 3rd Omni from the POV of a character in the future. In that case, they know what the characters thought, only because they were told by the characters themselves.

However, I'd also like to state that 'showing thoughts', while effective, is a short cut. It's more efficient to show what authors think by how they respond. You can get away with head-hopping, even though it's not proper, but you can only get away with it a limited number of times. So if you chose to head-hop, limit to only the most essential instances, rather than as a short-cut.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

I beg to differ on this point, but only in limited circumstances. I often write 3rd Omni from the POV of a character in the future. In that case, they know what the characters thought, only because they were told by the characters themselves.


First of all, if it's omni the omni narrator knows all so there's nothing to beg to differ.

If it's not omni, as long as the character knows something, it doesn't break the rule. So in your case if they know the future, it's legit to tell the reader. In Stephen King's "The Green Mile," the narrator is relaying a story that happened in the past so he would say something like, "I found out later after reading the report..." I thought that was poor writing on King's part, btw.

And of course in the erotica mind control world, the character with mind control powers can read other people's minds.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

And of course in the erotica mind control world, the character with mind control powers can read other people's minds.


This is not strictly true. While a telepathic mind controller would know what other people are thinking, there are a number of other ways to do mind control that don't make the controller a mind reader.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Dominions Son

This is not strictly true. While a telepathic mind controller would know what other people are thinking, there are a number of other ways to do mind control that don't make the controller a mind reader.


True. I was just showing an example of when the non-omni POV character would know another character's thoughts.

I once wrote a mind control story where the only way the reader knew the character was making someone do something was to show that character doing it and maybe show confusion on their part.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

OK, Everybody, thanks for your comments and thoughts on showing thoughts in a story. Some things have been raised which I agree with, and some I disagree with. However, due to the posts before it, back on Sept 9 I posted my decision on how to handle this, which breaks down to:

The same as dialogue but with a thought tag, no quotations marks and in italics.

In my opinion it's possible for having a 3rd person omni narrator to include a person's thoughts in much the same way they'd be talking to themselves, but it's not something you want to do a lot of and should be reserved for important or critical thoughts if shown this way. The less important ones can be simple narrative statements about his thoughts.

typo edit

Perv Otaku

Doesn't matter how you do it as long as it's consistent, reads well, and gets the intended meaning across clearly.

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@Perv Otaku

I'm not even sure it has to be consistent. Reads well and clear meaning are the important issues. Of those two, I can't tell which is the more important. If I have to vote, clear meaning may win by a very slim margin.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer  Grant
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

I'm not even sure it has to be consistent.

Absolutely NOT!

There's a certain social contract between author and reader, and it's based upon trust. Whenever you start a new book, the first several chapters (unless poorly written) are given a certain clearance for the author to build their world. You can claim all kinds of weird science, or weird social constructs, or even the end of the known world, but after that period, you'd better stick to the rules you've defined for that universe, or else the reader will feel betrayed.

It's also in this 'get to know you' phase, that you define yourself as an author. You can pick whatever style you want (since few readers know the difference anyway). You can write it in British or American English, and most readers will accept it as the way you write. But, if you break the pact with your readers, and switch from American to British English mid-way through the story, they'll throw the book away and consider you an idiot.

Consistency is essential for this pact of trust between author and reader. Assuming you've got a decent story, readers will accept the American serial comma, but they'll reject if you alternately switch between the American and the Oxford commas.

Richard, as far as 'reads well' and 'clear meaning', those are essentially the same thing. A badly phrased or written book won't read well. I suspect you meant, a great story. And yes, a great story, or a lot of action will buy you a lot of leniency. However, an impenetrable sentence will rip a reader out of a story, and it'll take a while to get back into it. If you pull that trick four or five times, the reader will give up on you.

Grant

@richardshagrin

If I have to vote, clear meaning may win by a very slim margin.

And being consistent helps greatly with that.
Pick a style & use it; don't use more than one style in a story.

richardshagrin
Updated:

I thought I was talking about how to show thoughts. If you use italics somewhere and quotes somewhere else, and say he thought somewhere else without either italics or quotes readers will probably understand its not spoken dialog, and even if they think the character is speaking his thoughts, no great harm done, as long as the story moves along, is understandable to the reader, and either the action, sex or violence grips the reader and motivates him to keep reading to the end.

Consistency matters for other issues in writing than just how thoughts are shown. But I am pretty sure I didn't say consistency doesn't matter in those issues. However, somebody famous said "A foolish constancy is a hobgoblin of little minds."
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

as far as 'reads well' and 'clear meaning', those are essentially the same thing.


CW, usually this statement is correct, however, I've seen many cases where the meaning is clear but it doesn't read well. Often because the author used language in a way to show off how smart they are or takes 1,000 words to describe something that could've been done in 50 words. In both cases the meaning was clear but they didn't read well.

Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

as far as 'reads well' and 'clear meaning', those are essentially the same thing.


I have to disagree with this. 'Clear meaning' is a necessary condition for 'reads well' but it is possible to have a story with clear meaning that does not read well.

Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

I thought I was talking about how to show thoughts. If you use italics somewhere and quotes somewhere else, and say he thought somewhere else without either italics or quotes readers will probably understand its not spoken dialog, and even if they think the character is speaking his thoughts, no great harm done, as long as the story moves along, is understandable to the reader, and either the action, sex or violence grips the reader and motivates him to keep reading to the end.

Again, I think this goes back to the relationship between author and reader, and the trust you develop in the first few chapters of a story, where you set up what the reader can expect for the rest of the story. If you start off using one technique to show thoughts (like using italics), then they'll recognize it the next time they see it, and recognize it as one of your signature techniques. If you then switch to another technique (say single quotes), then they have to stop and figure out what the single quotes mean. Inconsistency strikes at the trust that readers feel in how authors tell a story.

I've flaunted a lot of rules in my time, but I try to be consistent. Sometimes you can't (like I've never been a big fan of the Oxford serial comma, but I'll have to use it any time the meaning might be in doubt).

To all, yes, yes. I concede I was wrong. While 'clear meaning' is essential for 'reads well', you can have a clearly written boring story.

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