How to Use Interior Thoughts – Part 2

In part 1, we looked at how writers could engage the reader by using interior thoughts and how they help the reader to connect with your characters on a deeper level.
But how should a writer convey those internal thoughts?
It’s a question every writer asks, and there seems to be a lot of conflicting advice. And because it’s fiction writing, there is nothing really set in stone, other than common sense and guidelines.
Should you use Italics or underlines? What about capitals? What about quotation marks? There are no hard and fast rules – just accepted conventions and guidelines.
The idea with interior monologue is that it is not actual dialogue, so let’s discount the use of quotations straight away. It’s important to remember that interior thoughts have to stand out against the rest of the dialogue and narrative, so that the reader is immediately aware of the difference and recognises that your character is thinking to him or herself.  It is a visual signal.
If you use quotations marks, the reader will not notice the difference between actual dialogue and interior dialogue, so don’t use them. Internal thoughts can be conveyed in the present tense, even when within a past tense story, because thoughts, like dialogue, are present tense.
Avoid using capital letters, too, because they can appear loud and intrusive, as though you are shouting at your reader. Capitals are a bit much.
There are two main accepted ways to present internal thoughts - Italics with dialogue tags and first person narrative:
Italics and Dialogue Tags
By far the most popular choice for writers is italics. (You will notice that traditionally published makes use of italics to convey internal thoughts, too, especially for third-person POV). It’s also less intrusive than using capitals.
Italics are a good visual signal to the reader once you have identified whose thoughts they are, and can be used on their own, but they can be used with dialogue, or thought, tags (he said/she said etc.), which tells the reader who is speaking, for example:-
1. Joel knew there just wasn’t enough cash. Dammit…
2. Dammit, Joel thought, there aint enough cash
In example No. 1 it is clear from the narrative that Joel is thinking to himself, and the use of ‘dammit’ in italics signifies this and clearly shows the reader what he is feeling.
In example No. 2, the dialogue/thought tag ‘he thought’ is used within the internal thoughts, to show the reader Joel’s inner feelings.
When you’ve made it clear whose thoughts they are, you don’t need to use he thought/she thought again, because it will be quite clear to the reader that the italics signify that character’s thoughts.
First Person Narrative
The other way to show internal thought is the use of first person POV. By virtue of your story being first person, there is no real need for italics to show your character’s thoughts, for example:-
I checked my pockets for the money and immediately my stomach sank to my feet. Dammit, don’t tell me I lost it…
It’s clear from the example that the reader can tell the difference between the narrative and the internal thought.
Internal thoughts should always be from your point of view character in any chapter or scene. Don’t go from one character to another during scenes otherwise the narrative will become unreadable, and don’t show every little inconsequential thought. Only the important stuff counts.
To summarise, internal thoughts can do the following:

  • Immediacy & connection with the reader
  • Help the reader become privy to character’s thoughts
  • Help divulge information & move the story forward
  • Helps to advance the plot or build character
  • Reveals deeper emotions and feelings
  • Helps reveal motivations and conflicts
  • Helps slow the pace

However you choose to show your internal character thoughts, always be consistent. The reader will appreciate it.

Next week: How do you create character motives?


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