My Writers Circle

Writing => All the Write Questions => Topic started by: Artemis Quark on June 29, 2014, 09:41:05 AM

Title: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Artemis Quark on June 29, 2014, 09:41:05 AM
I'm paying more attention to POV lately. Taking advice from comments on my writing samples critiqued in RMW and Prose Workshop. Writing in third person, especially in scenes when the MC is alone or does not want the other person to hear what she is thinking, I use italics for the internalized thoughts. This is normal convention I believe.

I've read that internalized thoughts of the MC do not always require italics. If written well, the reader should be pulled into the story to anticipate the MC's thoughts, or at least not be surprised by them. Feeling by proxy. Using italics to show the MC is thinking to herself is not always necessary. In fact, it jars the reader, interrupting the flow. Similarly, a well-written third person POV story requires fewer tags as well, e.g. She thought to herself, ... pauses the story flow a bit.

I read this stuff in a book Mrs N recommended recently. Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. She says that once the art of slipping in a characters thoughts is mastered, the reader will automatically be able to differentiate between the protagonist's inner thoughts and the narrator's voice. Excellent so far. I'm half way through it.

Opinions?

AQ
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Dawn on June 29, 2014, 09:56:27 AM
I couldn't agree more, Artemis. It is fashionable with publishing houses to scrap the Italics. A well written piece doesn't need gimmicks in my opinion. Writing in diary format (as it is all internalised thoughts) has helped me with my other stories. I do believe though that thoughts should be used only when necessary to the story - otherwise it begins to sound like Sunset Beach gone wrong ;) every word should be used for maximum effect.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Annmarie on June 29, 2014, 10:27:03 AM
Agreed. I think it's common to use italics or "he thought" in early drafts. When you're getting the story down and trying to figure out what a character thinks and feels, it's okay to take short cuts.

In later revisions, the short cuts should be deleted and the prose finessed so the reader doesn't notice the building blocks of the story, only the story itself.

 If the reader is wired into the pov character (via voice), there's no need for the author to step in, tap the reader on the shoulder and inform him the character is now thinking.

The narrative voice and the internalizations of the pov character might be close or even identical if you're deep in point of view. But psychic distance is a slightly different topic. :)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: ma100 on June 29, 2014, 10:28:18 AM
This confuses me to the point of a roundabout you can't get off.

Use narrative to show what MC is thinking. When a ten ton truck is coming at him, Shit, works for me rather than a long spiel about terror. It's on the spot reaction I feel. The truck would have annihilated him before he'd have time to think this long spiel too. :P

Cut down words and make every word count. Well that contradicts the above. :P

If your in 3rd person you are seeing things through your MC's eyes. Well yeah, and I expect he does a lot of thinking. ;D

Take my advice with a bag of salt, cos I'm already in the doghouse for my italics. ;D

Then of course there are those who will pick up on a tense switch if you omit the italics.

Can you feel I'm fighting a losing battle with myself. ;D
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Dawn on June 29, 2014, 11:04:12 AM
This confuses me to the point of a roundabout you can't get off.

Use narrative to show what MC is thinking. When a ten ton truck is coming at him, Shit, works for me rather than a long spiel about terror. It's on the spot reaction I feel. The truck would have annihilated him before he'd have time to think this long spiel too. :P

Cut down words and make every word count. Well that contradicts the above. :P Why does this contradict the above? Shit is still a thought

If your in 3rd person you are seeing things through your MC's eyes. Well yeah, and I expect he does a lot of thinking. ;D - Yes but it should still be tight writing - we don't want to hear about 'is it beans for tea' though that may be what your character is thinking.

Take my advice with a bag of salt, cos I'm already in the doghouse for my italics. ;D

Then of course there are those who will pick up on a tense switch if you omit the italics. Then it is not clever writing. JMO

Can you feel I'm fighting a losing battle with myself. ;D - No you are editing which makes you question everything you do - even your name ;)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Annmarie on June 29, 2014, 11:15:28 AM
Sh#$. (that's fine.)

Sh#$, she thought. (cut comma and everything after.)

Now I'll stop being a potty mouth.:)


Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: ma100 on June 29, 2014, 11:42:58 AM
What I was trying to get across, Dawn, is each rule contradicts the next rule. Okay my example word isn't great. :-[

Rule. Use narrative to show what MC is thinking... When one word would do in a thought, why flesh it out?
Rule. Cut down words and make tight… Well there is only one word, can't get much tighter than that, ah but it must be in narrative.
Rule. In MC's pov we should know when thinking… All well and good until another character enters the room.
Rule. Be consistent all through... Whatever way you use thoughts, swopping from italics to narrative, doesn't mean consistent to me. ???
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: 510bhan on June 29, 2014, 11:50:17 AM
When my character is on their own 'thinking', any deliberate musing is part of the narrative and not italicised. When they have a sudden thought, which surprises them, then I'd italicise it -- kind of thinking without knowing you're thinking. Ones that 'pop' into your head.

If the character is in company though, the 'thoughts' whether surprise ones or not are italicised, I suppose because they are in response to the situation [as well as silent] so are near as dammit immediate/surprise thinksies for that situation. :-[
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Dawn on June 29, 2014, 11:50:49 AM
What I was trying to get across, Dawn, is each rule contradicts the next rule. Okay my example word isn't great. :-[

Rule. Use narrative to show what MC is thinking... When one word would do in a thought, why flesh it out?
Rule. Cut down words and make tight… Well there is only one word, can't get much tighter than that, ah but it must be in narrative.
Rule. In MC's pov we should know when thinking… All well and good until another character enters the room.
Rule. Be consistent all through... Whatever way you use thoughts, swopping from italics to narrative, doesn't mean consistent to me. ???

Chuck the rule book out of the window, Ma. You will probably naturally do this stuff anyway. It's like when you first learn to drive. You think about the gears, the wheel, will that old granny step out on to the road. But after a while it just becomes natural. I have seen your work and you have nothing to worry about. You have a great way of getting close to the scene and in your characters head.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Artemis Quark on June 29, 2014, 12:35:54 PM
To all who commented so far—thanks. There is no shortage of opinions in MWC.  ;D

My takeaway is that—like so many "rules"—it depends on the situation. Therefore, I don't think it is necessary to be "consistent" by always using italics or not using them in a given story.

If the writing is really good, avoid the italics. If it isn't, like an early draft per Annmarie's comment, then make it better and eventually drop the italics.

Keep the italics only when it helps the story move forward, either by eliminating confusion or adding emphasis to a 'stated' (internally) word.

Again, it depends.  ;D

AQ
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: ma100 on June 29, 2014, 01:12:48 PM
I so wish I could Dawn, life would be simpler. I've seen the thoughts subject come up so many times and yet to pin down a definitive answer for all types of thought situations is impossible.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Matt Walker on June 29, 2014, 04:06:58 PM
AQ, I certainly think you should be consistent. If you start mixing you are likely to confuse readers. Some current novels use italicised thoughts, some don't. It seems to be on writer's/publisher's preference. Readers don't have a problem either way. Although, as thoughts are written in present tense, if your narration is in past tense then there's the possibility of thoughts and narration getting mixed up and reading awkwardly without italics.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: 510bhan on June 29, 2014, 04:11:12 PM
AQ, I certainly think you should be consistent. If you start mixing you are likely to confuse readers. Some current novels use italicised thoughts, some don't. It seems to be on writer's/publisher's preference. Readers don't have a problem either way. Although, as thoughts are written in present tense, if your narration is in past tense then there's the possibility of thoughts and narration getting mixed up and reading awkwardly without italics.


Or it can provide the prompt for the reader to realise they've entered thought territory. ::)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Dawn on June 29, 2014, 04:12:58 PM
Or it can provide the prompt for the reader to realise they've entered thought territory. ::)

And this is what we've to strive for. A seamless shift.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Nick on June 30, 2014, 04:35:54 AM
I put my thoughts on this subject into a blog post a few weeks ago: http://www.mywritingblog.com/2014/06/how-should-you-punctuate-thoughts-in.html

Personally I am against using italics for thoughts, for the reasons started in the post. Italics should be reserved for use - sparingly - for emphasis. If you are writing in viewpoint - as is the case with the vast majority of fiction nowadays - the whole text is in effect the thoughts and perceptions of the viewpoint character anyway, so there is no need for any special typographical device to indicate thoughts.

Also, it is not the case that thoughts have to be written in the present tense. In most cases they are written in past tense, like the rest of the narrative...

I opened the door. All was eerily silent, but at the end of the hall, behind a closed door, I could see a dim, flickering light. "Jim, are you in there?" No reply. Had he heard me? I raised my voice and tried again. "Jim, is that you?" Suddenly the door crashed open, and I realized with a sickening lurch why Jim hadn't answered. Shit. How was I going to talk my way out of this one?

Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: ma100 on June 30, 2014, 04:44:42 AM
But in turn, wouldn't that give more passive voice? :-\

Off to read Nick's blog.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Matt Walker on June 30, 2014, 05:01:11 AM
But Nick, isn't your example entirely narration? Wouldn't inner thoughts be

No reply. Has he heard me? (I thought)

And

I realized with a sickening lurch why Jim hadn't answered. Shit. How am I going to talk my way out of this one?


???
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Nick on June 30, 2014, 05:33:57 AM
Quote
But in turn, wouldn't that give more passive voice?

That's not passive voice, Ma. Just past tense.

Quote
But Nick, isn't your example entirely narration? Wouldn't inner thoughts be

No reply. Has he heard me? (I thought)

And

I realized with a sickening lurch why Jim hadn't answered. Shit. How am I going to talk my way out of this one?

I'm not entirely sure I understand your query, Matt. Most novels are, of course, written in the past tense, but that doesn't make them all narration. The same applies with thoughts.

Your examples sound unnatural to me. I just don't understand why you would want to switch to present tense for thoughts. I can just about accept that, very occasionally, you might want do this for special emphasis, but doing it regularly looks (and sounds) wrong to me. If your narrative is constantly switching between past and present tense, you will simply end up confusing the reader.








Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: ma100 on June 30, 2014, 05:42:43 AM
Maybe not in your example but in one of mine it would. ::)

If I'm going to die, I'm going to take that smarmy git with me.

Drew thought if he was going to die, he was going to take the smarmy git with him.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: JewelAS53 on June 30, 2014, 06:24:38 AM
I opened the door. All was eerily silent, but at the end of the hall, behind a closed door, I could see a dim, flickering light. "Jim, are you in there?" No reply. Had he heard me? I raised my voice and tried again. "Jim, is that you?" Suddenly the door crashed open, and I realized with a sickening lurch why Jim hadn't answered. Shit. How was I going to talk my way out of this one?

Quote from: Matt Walker
No reply. Has he heard me? (I thought)

And

I realized with a sickening lurch why Jim hadn't answered. Shit. How am I going to talk my way out of this one?
I think we need to credit our readers with more nouse than we do.
I like to think my grammar is pretty reasonable.
 ;) ;D

Given both options above, from Nick and Matt - both work. And to me are seamless.
I had to have a good look at the two to notice the difference. Which tells me, it really doesn't matter.
Except, perhaps, that whichever way you choose to do it, do it the same way throughout the work.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Matt Walker on June 30, 2014, 06:44:29 AM
I think either is fine, but I feel the tense swap could be confusing on occasion.

'She couldn't believe it was happening.' is past tense narration. But thoughts are like speech said internally and are written in present:

'I can't believe this is happening! I thought.' rather than 'I couldn't believe this was happening! I thought.'

When you have 'I thought' after it's obvious. However without the tag there is the potential for confusion:

I felt my skin go hot and start to crawl. I knew it was too good to be true. I can't believe this is happening!
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Nick on June 30, 2014, 06:47:36 AM
Maybe not in your example but in one of mine it would. ::)

If I'm going to die, I'm going to take that smarmy git with me.

Drew thought if he was going to die, he was going to take the smarmy git with him.

That still isn't passive voice, though. Passive voice is when you turn the object of a sentence into its subject, e.g. The explanation was given by Jill (active voice: Jill explained).

Your example looks a bit like authorial narration to me, though. If you were writing it in Drew's viewpoint, it could be:

Drew winced at the sudden sharp pain, and saw his foe's lip curl in contempt. That made up his mind - if he was going to die, he was going to take that smarmy git with him.

OR

Drew winced at the sudden pain, and saw his foe's lip curl in contempt. Dammit, he thought. If I'm going to die, I'm going to take that smarmy git with me. (present tense, but no need for italics)

To me, really, this debate is all about viewpoint. If you handle this correctly, you shouldn't need italics for thoughts.

Quote
Given both options above, from Nick and Matt - both work. And to me are seamless.
I had to have a good look at the two to notice the difference. Which tells me, it really doesn't matter.
Except, perhaps, that whichever way you choose to do it, do it the same way throughout the work.

Thanks, Julie. Personally I am still very dubious about switching to present tense for thoughts all the time (unless you are using present tense narration, of course). As in the example above, I guess it can sometimes work, though. And I remain implacably opposed to italics for thoughts!
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Nick on June 30, 2014, 06:53:30 AM
Quote
I felt my skin go hot and start to crawl. I knew it was too good to be true. I can't believe this is happening!

I agree this doesn't work, but in my view it's because of the jarring change to present tense in the last sentence. In past tense it works a little better:

I felt my skin go hot and start to crawl. I knew it was too good to be true. I couldn't believe this was happening!

Of course, it's a weak final sentence. I'd be tempted to change it to something like:

I felt my skin go hot and start to crawl. I knew it was too good to be true. I'd been deceived, and the consequences were about to make themselves apparent.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: JewelAS53 on June 30, 2014, 06:54:20 AM
I don't like italics to denote thinking. A page of italics is really hard to read - like sometimes, a chapter will be devoted to a character's dream or navel gazing, and it's all italicised. I often skip those pages. A page peppered with italics looks awful and is also hard to read.

Readers are not idiots. If the PoV writing is strong and clear, the thoughts become obvious. I take about 3 pages to get into the writer's style. I cannot imagine I am that different a reader that everyone else stumbles over which I sail?
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: ma100 on June 30, 2014, 06:57:04 AM
Then you end up with a load of he thought. To me that's telling the reader he's thinking.

 You know me and the right term, I always get bit wrong. :-[  ::)

It is Drew's viewpoint.


Drew sat as upright as possible, adrenalin pumping through his veins. If I'm going to die I'm going to take that smarmy git with me.

So what am I doing wrong, please? :-[
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Matt Walker on June 30, 2014, 07:10:48 AM
Ma, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, other than I'd put the thought in a new paragraph.

Nick, your example is fine but you've turned the internal thought into narration, haven't you?! If you look through any novel for the tag 'he thought', the preceding thought is  always written in present tense?!
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Nick on June 30, 2014, 07:13:39 AM
Quote
Drew sat as upright as possible, adrenalin pumping through his veins. If I'm going to die I'm going to take that smarmy git with me.

So what am I doing wrong, please?

Possibly we're in danger of going around in circles here. There is nothing really wrong with your example, except for the sudden switch to present tense and the fact that it's in italics. To me, it looks and reads clunkily.

Personally I would do it more like this:

Drew sat as upright as possible, adrenalin pumping through his veins. If he was going to die, he decided, he was going to take that smarmy git with him.

OR

Drew sat as upright as possible, adrenalin pumping through his veins. Dammit, he thought. If I'm going to die I'm going to take that smarmy git with me.

If you're going to switch to present tense for his thoughts, I think you need to telegraph it so that the reader knows what to expect. Otherwise, italics or no, the sudden switch to present tense is simply too jarring.

That's what I think anyway :)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Nick on June 30, 2014, 07:24:15 AM
Ma, I don't think there's anything wrong with that, other than I'd put the thought in a new paragraph.

Nick, your example is fine but you've turned the internal thought into narration, haven't you?! If you look through any novel for the tag 'he thought', the preceding thought is  always written in present tense?!

Maybe we need to agree to differ about this, Matt. But no, it's not the case that a preceding thought is always in the present tense. You could have a sentence such as, It's time to say goodbye, he thought, or you could write it, It was time to say goodbye, he thought. It all depends on the context and the viewpoint you are using.

Actually I did have a look at a couple of popular novels to see if I could find examples, but on a quick leaf-through I couldn't find any with a 'he thought' or 'she thought' in. I guess it's something authors try to avoid if possible, as this is getting into the area of telling rather than showing.

Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: 510bhan on June 30, 2014, 01:12:23 PM
I think your's is fine ,Ma --  with or without italicisation.

This is part of one of mine . . . no italics, mixed tenses and only Allanagh in scene: ??? Nobody who has read it has had a problem with it.

     Already past midnight, Uriel still needed work. She wrangled with the uncooperative animation while the laptop burned her thighs. Yeah, right, Uriel. Just. And I just need a job, just need a life, just need . . . aargh! 
     She slammed the lid shut. Pixels and sprites – bloody murder. Give me pen and paper any day. Slumped over, she rubbed her temples and released her ponytail. Nimbly, her fingers twanged the scrunchie back and forth as she plucked long brown strands from its fabric. Eurgh. For a moment she closed her eyes, in hope it might relieve their dry scratchiness.  :-[ :-\

Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Dawn on June 30, 2014, 02:30:29 PM
Ma, I think yours works well, Sio's also. I'm not quite getting why this is complicated though that could be me.

This is one of mine

The caller insisted there was a body. Her regulation heels sunk in the quagmire. ‘Great.’ Katherine scanned the embankment then glanced at her watch. ‘Are you sure this is the place, Mckay?’

‘Yes, Ma’am.’ McKay sidled down the embankment and joined the others.

I could be at home unpacking that mountain of boxes. She glanced at her watch.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: 510bhan on June 30, 2014, 02:33:00 PM
Fully understood yours too, Dawn. ::)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: JewelAS53 on June 30, 2014, 02:36:57 PM
Fully understood yours, too, Dawn
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Jo Bannister on June 30, 2014, 03:36:39 PM
‘Yes, Ma’am.’ McKay sidled down the embankment and joined the others.

I could be at home unpacking that mountain of boxes. She glanced at her watch.

I understand it too, Dawn, but I don't think it's great.  If you're wedded to it, change the sequence:

She glanced at her watch.  I could be at home, unpacking that mountain of boxes.

That way, at least you've identified who "I" is. 

I still think there are better ways of writing - this, and other offerings - so that the issue doesn't arise.

She glanced at her watch.  But what she saw was the mountain of boxes waiting at home for her to begin unpacking.

There's almost nothing you can do with words that doesn't have a valid use somewhere.  But maybe these internal debates should be kept for when there's no other way to proceed.  Apart from the problems of tense and syntax they create, they tend to have a braking effect on the flow.  The danger is that your reader is going to think (internally, of course), It's all very well telling me what she was thinking - but what did she actually do?


Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Dawn on June 30, 2014, 03:48:22 PM
I agree, Jo, it was just to show an example.  It may not be perfect but I use it to drive the story forward. We need to know she has recently moved. I agree that internalised thoughts should be only used for a reason.
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Matt Walker on June 30, 2014, 04:02:54 PM
Fully understood both of your examples.

Nick, you are right - "It was time to say goodbye, he thought." is of course acceptable. But I would offer that that too is narration because it can be rearranged thus:

He thought it was time to say goodbye.

which is narration.

It is difficult to find examples, which suggests one should try and keep them to a minimum as you and others have suggested. But I did find two examples in Justin Cronin's "The Twelve".

It was, he thought, to Nelson's credit that he didn't indulge himself with a second I-told-you-so.

This is similar to your "It was time to say goodbye, he thought" example, and I would argue that it is narration because it can be rearranged as

He thought it was to Nelson's credit that he didn't indulge himself with a second I-told-you-so.

The other example is

Amy, she thought, Amy, my sister in blood. All I ask is this. Let me be the one to kill Martinez.

This is a thought spoken internally, and as such is treated similarly to dialogue but without the speech marks. It is in present tense, and just happens to be in italics, although it needn't have been. You couldn't rearrange it as above.

Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Alice, a Country Gal on June 30, 2014, 04:18:28 PM
I understand it too, Dawn, but I don't think it's great.  If you're wedded to it, change the sequence:

She glanced at her watch.  I could be at home, unpacking that mountain of boxes.

That way, at least you've identified who "I" is. 

I still think there are better ways of writing - this, and other offerings - so that the issue doesn't arise.

She glanced at her watch.  But what she saw was the mountain of boxes waiting at home for her to begin unpacking.

There's almost nothing you can do with words that doesn't have a valid use somewhere.  But maybe these internal debates should be kept for when there's no other way to proceed.  Apart from the problems of tense and syntax they create, they tend to have a braking effect on the flow.  The danger is that your reader is going to think (internally, of course), It's all very well telling me what she was thinking - but what did she actually do?

Jo, I like the way you redid the above. It makes what she is thinking and feeling clear without any hitches for the reader.  :)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: 510bhan on June 30, 2014, 05:38:13 PM
 ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D ;D

That's part of her problem -- no release, until 'Muriel' appears. Also, in NI, 'image' and 'control' are a big deal -- lots of repressed feelings. ;) If she was an ashtray thrower, a screamer or a crockery breaker she might not have needed her alter ego. :D
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: jackevee on July 15, 2014, 09:56:22 PM
I've seen a lot of books where the Italic parts were someone's voice in the M.C.'s head. 
Also, it can totally be used for sarcasm.   ;)
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: bailish on July 23, 2014, 03:24:13 AM
"Jim, are you in there?" No reply. Had he heard me? I raised my voice and tried again.

This sounds fine to me, but I recently saw a blogpost stating that the use of rhetorical questions in writing is a newbie technique that should be avoided. The question, 'Had he heard me?', is not addressed to anyone and no answer is expected, so it is rhetorical. Anyone else agree with this rule?
Title: Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
Post by: Jo Bannister on July 23, 2014, 02:18:17 PM
It sounds OK to me, too, Bailish.  But maybe it would sound just as well without the question at all.  There's no reply - he raises his voice and asks again - obviously, he's wondering if Jim had heard him.

Maybe it's one of those little grace-notes that are fine to use occasionally but become a distraction if there are too many of them.