writing help - showing thoughts

Showing Thoughts

There are four ways of representing thoughts. You can use filter words, mental attributions, direct thoughts in italics, or 3rd person.


Mark wondered what the guy would do next.<—- filter word  (wondered)


Now what? Mark thought.<—- mental attribution (note, no italics, no quotes).


Mark rubbed his chin. What the hell is the guy going to do now?


In the last example, the italics show the thought, and the gesture telegraphs the fact that Mark is thinking. Having the italics follow Mark's gesture in the same paragraph shows the reader that it's Mark's thought, not any other character's thoughts or the narrator's thoughts.


Consider this:


Mark looked at his daughter's body and wept. No parent should have to bury his child. <—- Here we have a problem. Was it Mark who was thinking that stuff about parents, or was that the narrator's opinion?

Mark ran up the steps and burst into the conference room. He was late, as usual.<—- Again, is this the narrator telling us Mark was constantly late, or is Mark gulping, noticing that he blew it again? Because of the "as usual", I'd attribute the comment to the narrator, which would bring up the issue of narrator intrusion. 


But: Mark ran up the steps and burst into the conference room. He skidded to a stop at the sight of twenty faces turning to look at him. Crap! Late again.<—- This is obviously Mark's thoughts, regardless of whether we are in his Point Of View  or in omniscient narrator POV.


3rd person can be used for thoughts. Mark ran up the steps and burst into the conference room. He skidded to a stop at the sight of twenty faces turning to look at him. And Mr. Saunders, his boss. Mark gave a sheepish grin and slid into the empty chair. What an idiot he was for not leaving ten minutes earlier.<—- No italics. He instead of I; was instead of is. But it's still obviously Mark's thoughts, whether we are in omniscient or Mark's POV.


Logically, the idiot comment could have been the narrator's opinion, but it doesn't sound that way. If I wanted it to sound like a statement from the narrator (which I never do because it's narrator intrusion) I could had have said, Mark was an idiot for not leaving ten minutes earlier. Using Mark instead of he would give a subtle shift toward narrator's opinion.


The same, thoughts in 1st person: Mark ran up the steps and burst into the conference room. He skidded to a stop at the sight of twenty faces turning to look at him. And Mr. Saunders, his boss. Mark gave a sheepish grin and slid into the empty chair. What an idiot I am for not leaving ten minutes earlier.<—- Italics.instead of he; is instead of was. I prefer expressing thoughts in 3rd person, because I save italics for a stressed word in speech (used very seldom) and for foreign phrases.

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