Monday, April 28, 2008

Thoughts in italics?

I'm just tossing this out there to see if there's any consensus.

How do you render thought in the POV character's narration? That is:

Hailey gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting and said, "Very, uh, modern. And impressive." (She thought, My kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint.) But she couldn't say that out loud, not with Jim beaming so proudly.

Now that part in parentheses (I put in the parentheses) -- that's her thought. So would you put it in italics? Would you have a "thought tag" like "she thought" or "she mused"? Would you do italics if you had a quote tag?
Alicia

17 comments:

Kate St. James said...

I never use italics if I use "she thought," "she mused," yada. I DO use italics for first person internal thoughts that don't use tags. I don't use italics for third person thoughts that don't use tags, either. Sometimes it's debatable whether the thought is first person or third, because it's so short. In that case, I go by feeling. Do *I* think it's first person. If so, I use italics. Sometimes I can't get it past the copyeditor, though. :)

jjdebenedictis said...

I use italics for the bit you put in parentheses.

pjd said...

I agree with Kate. To your previous post about hard-and-fast rules, the use of italics to delineate thought, particularly in third person, depends entirely on context (IMHO).

The way you've structured your example, with the thought sandwiched between dialog and the final sentence, I would write it as you did, with the tag but without italics.

I might use italics if it were structured differently, though. For example:

Haily gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting. My kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint. But look at Jim beaming. "Very, uh, modern. And impressive."

Ian Thomas Healy said...

I'd also use the italics without a tag. They key a reader into understanding this is something different.

I do the same thing (and I may be wrong for doing so, but I'll find out when an editor beats me with her style manual) when I have a radio conversation in a book. Whoever is on the opposite end of the line from my POV character gets his or her voice italicized.

Ian

Bethany said...

I would't use italics and a quote tag together--seems like overkill.

Truthfully, I'm not a big fan of italics at all in internal dialogue, except in more chick-litish books, maybe.

I think how a writer handles internal dialogue depends on how 'close' a POV he or she is using. In a close POV, I might write something like, "Hayley could have done that with fingerpaints," assuming the reader knows Hayley is the speaker's Kindergartener. Then have her notice Jims beaming face and give the compliment.

It seems to me this is more a voice issue rather than a grammar one. Is there actually a textbook way to handle internal dialogue?

Dave Shaw said...

For first person internal, I've abandoned quote tags and gone to italics completely. I tend not to write third person internal. My simple mind likes consistency. ;-)

Bernita said...

I tend to save italics for internal thought - in either first or third - when I want heavy emphasis.

Josephine Damian said...

Hailey gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting and said, "Very, uh, modern. And impressive." She thought, My kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint. But she couldn't say that out loud, not with Jim beaming so proudly.

or

Hailey gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting and said, "Very, uh, modern. And impressive." My kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint.)But she couldn't say that out loud, not with Jim beaming so proudly.

Which ever you chose, always use the same technique throughout.

Writer & Cat said...

I try not to use italics for much of anything unless my editor makes me :). For internal thought, since I tend to write in 1st or deep 3rd, I figure, based on my style, the reader is going to know it's the character thinking to him or herself. I put it as part of the narrative (ie not in quotes) and during edits try to remove most "think tags" that slip in.

Jennifer said...

I never use tags and rarely use italics. If I am in deep POV, you don't need it. The reader will know the character is thinking it.

Edittorrent said...

I look at whether there's a tag, in which case the pov is shallow enough to skip italics. Also I look at the verb tense. When you shift out of simple past, you probably need italics.

Theresa

Patricia W. said...

Ditto what pjd said.

It's deeper POV without the tag. Italics are needed to shift from dialogue to inner monologue.

If it were a scene containing primarily inner monologue, italics wouldn't be needed.

Morgan Dempsey said...

I do this:

'It's not like I don't already know that,' she thought.

I do it once.

And then I never say "thought" ever again ever.

I've flagged that single quote + italics = thoughts and I'm certain the reader is clever enough to keep track :)

Unhinged said...

I put a character's thoughts into italics. Just like this:

“Let me,” he whispered, his breath soft against her ear.

Oh, God.

She’d had a crush on him since the sixth grade, ever since he’d snapped the strap of her training bra. In the seventh grade, she’d admired his jeans, so tight he had to unzip them to sit down. When they were sophomores, he’d chucked her under the chin and told her she baked muffins like rocks and she’d wasted an entire day hating him and crying about it.

Let me stop loving him, she'd prayed to God. Please. I’ll do anything.

green_knight said...

I don't have a hard and fast rule. I use internal monologue without any markings, italics, separated with _he thought_ or set in single quotation marks - it depends on the piece and how deep I am in the viewpoint.

However, what's jolting here is 'my kindergartener' because that's an odd way for a person to think about their child. I'd at the very least stay in third and say _her kindergartener_. Only I woudn't, because in German the Kindergaertner is the person looking after the kids, so it'd be 'her four-year-old'.


I'd probably end up with

"Very, uh, modern. And impressive." Hayley had brought home something similar from kindergarten the other day, but she couldn't say that out loud, not with Jim beaming so proudly.

ros said...

I really don't like italics used in this way. I generally put whatever internal monologue I want to use into the same 3rd person past as the rest of the narrative:

Hailey gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting and said, "Very, uh, modern. And impressive." Her kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint. But she couldn't say that out loud, not with Jim beaming so proudly.

If for some reason I really want it to be in first person without a tense shift, then I'd use speech tags:

Hailey gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting and said, "Very, uh, modern. And impressive. My kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint," she added silently. But she couldn't say that out loud, not with Jim beaming so proudly.

It's tricky when it's following actual speech. The way I've done it, it tricks the reader a little bit into thinking she's saying it aloud and then making it clear she isn't. I'd probably rearrange the whole thing though, if I wanted to be clearer:

Hailey gazed at the swirls and jolts of red that made up the painting and said, "Very, uh, modern. And impressive."

Obviously, she couldn't say what she was really thinking, not with Jim beaming so proudly. "My kindergartener could have done that with fingerpaint," would wipe the smile right off his face.

Vixen said...

I'm with green knight on this one -I wouldn't use kindergartener either. That's a distant expression for a mother to use.

As for the italics, the subject receives special consideration from those of us who write in the sci-fantasy or science fiction field. We often deal with telepathy or some other variant of *mindspeaking* between humans and/or creatures. This is usually shown in italics. If one also uses italics for internal thought, you can end up with confusion for the reader.

I prefer deep third POV, so personally I do not use italics for thought. I simply include the thought in the text, like Green Knight has done in that example. I save my italics for telepathy.