Author Topic: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?  (Read 7883 times)

Artemis Quark

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Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« 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

Offline Dawn

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #1 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.
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Offline Annmarie

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #2 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. :)
« Last Edit: June 29, 2014, 10:30:49 AM by Annmarie »
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Offline ma100

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #3 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
« Last Edit: June 29, 2014, 10:30:56 AM by ma100 »

Offline Dawn

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #4 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 ;)
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Offline Annmarie

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #5 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.:)


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Offline ma100

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #6 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. ???

Offline 510bhan

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #7 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. :-[
« Last Edit: June 29, 2014, 12:37:04 PM by 510bhan »

Offline Dawn

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #8 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.
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Artemis Quark

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #9 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

Offline ma100

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #10 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.

Offline Matt Walker

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #11 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.
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Offline 510bhan

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #12 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. ::)

Offline Dawn

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #13 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.
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Offline Nick

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Re: Internalized thoughts—when to use italics?
« Reply #14 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?

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