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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » First Person Thoughts

   
Author Topic: First Person Thoughts
Merlion-Emrys
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I got to thinking about this when I was performing a critique the other day, and now I'm working on a first-person piece so it's coming up for me as well.

What's the consensus on if one needs to italicize or otherwise separate specific, internal thoughts when writing in first person?

In the critique, I said there is probably no need too...in first person, everything is considered to be the POV character's thoughts.

However, as I go along now...I find myself feeling the urge to italicize specific "I thought to myself" type thoughts, to separate them from the rest of the narrative. So I'm interested in other people's take to help me decide how I want to handle it. Thanks in advance.

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genevive42
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In first person I wouldn't italicize internal thoughts, it's assumed. I don't even do it in tight third person most of the time.
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Merlion-Emrys
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I knew you would say that.

You're probably right.

I've probably just let myself get rusty again.


Go and look at the opening over in F&F.

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extrinsic
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The Consistency Principle is about the only writing principle that comes close to essential for how thought is reported: signaled. And that principle is based on the number one writing principle: facilitating reading ease.

The traditional historical option setting thoughts in quote marks is currently widely deprecated because quote-marked thoughts can be confused with quote-marked dialogue.

Setting thoughts in italics is a convention of fantastical fiction, fantasy, science fiction, and horror, and somewhat in other convention-based genres, targeted toward younger audiences, and used more in middle grade and young adult, some early adult narratives than other age- or content-based genres.

Italicized thoughts somewhat unequivocally signal interior discourse by formating, obviating attribution tags. Readers don't have to think about what the italics mean after the first couple instances, so long as they're used consistently. In other words, consistent italics use teaches readers their intent and meaning.

Italics are also used solely to signal direct thought addresses to the self, talking to one's self in thought. Other thoughts are run in in roman text.

Three general categories of thought: nonvolitional thoughts that react to external causes, volitional thoughts that are deliberate deliberations, and thinking to one's self in a running discourse, debate, argument, etc.

Run-in thoughts in roman text is common in perhaps more sophisticated and perhaps artful writing, where the words and their context do all the work and reading ease isn't jeopardized. The writer does the work, not the reader. No tag, punctuation, or formating acrobatics to distract from the meaning and impact reading ease for readers indoctrinated to the close narrative distance techniques for reporting Free Indirect Thought, FIT, and Free Direct Thought, FDT. Stream of consciousness techniques depend on FIT and FDT.

Intermediate to FIT is tagged thoughts, though free or tagged thought can be either direct or indirect.

Thought types reported by written word;
Free Direct Thought: FDT
Tagged Direct Thought: TDT
Free Indirect Thought: FIT
Tagged Indirect Thought: TIT

Italics work best for reading ease of general audiences in FIT and FDT. TDT and TIT tags do the job italics otherwise do, making italics redundant.

Examples:
FDT; Heck and libel, who does she think he is?
Note interjection's power [exclamation] to signal interior discourse. And that the question while rhetorical doesn't recite the Dramatic Question: a question artfully implanted in readers' minds to raise suspense and curiosity, like for mystery, who done it. Reciting a dramatic question in rhetorical form is widely considered artless, though, again, less sophisticated readers don't often notice they're being told the question.

FIT; He would have to forget where he was going halfway there.
Note auxilliary verb "would" signals thought and "forget" confirms it. Also note the sentence is an interjection and somewhat of an overstatement from the "have to" auxilliary verb phrase.

TDT; What the heck was that about? Marty thought.

TIT; Mary wondered about Sally's intentions.
Note volitional thought verb "wondered" and naming the thinker tags the indirect thought.

I'm partial to not using italics whatsoever to signal thought, though I'm a never-say-never writer. . . .

[ November 20, 2011, 03:10 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Teraen
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I've had marginal experience with this. My first work was 1st person, and I struggled with how to pull this off. Then, I started learning that the general trend in modern fiction is towards a strong voice and characterization in 1st person accounts. (Dexter, Dresden files, and Name of the Wind spring immediately to mind...). I started noticing that many of the first person accounts I read threaded the narrator's thoughts seamlessly into the flow of text, without any signals at all. In short, it became part of the narrator's voice.

I edited my story to do the same, no italics or other signals given, just the narrator putting in his two cents while telling the story. In my case, it worked and helped me make a stronger character because I now had to pay attention to how the character would tell the story, rather than just telling a story using the narrator as another character. So, I agree with extrinsic - try not using them for now and see what happens. You might like how it turns out!

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philocinemas
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My journey has been much like Teraen's. I have migrated from italics and "he/she thought" statements to making thoughts as part of the narrator's voice.
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KayTi
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Unless it's a very specific command to oneself, vocalized or almost vocalized ("Get up, Trinity, get up!") -- no. I never use italics. I write tight third single viewpoint and lately have been in first (my current story is first person present tense, which is a very exciting way to write but takes some mental discipline to not slip into simple past every time I turn around. One interesting side benefit, though, very few passive constructions!)

So I wouldn't feel it necessary unless it's very directly "So I said to myself, self, xyz..." kinds of things.

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MAP
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I think it depends on how you write the first person.

If you are having the MC telling it from a looking back POV, then italicizing the thoughts that the character had at the time of the action might help clarify them. Wow, does that make any sense.

I guess I'm saying that I think sometime italicizing thoughts might help with clarity if the narrator is telling the story from a different perspective then when the story happened. Italics can separate the thoughts of the story telling mc from the story mc, if that makes any sense.

For the most part I think italics isn't needed, but I can see they might work in some situations.

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posulliv
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Sometimes I use italics and sometimes I don't for first person.

I use italics when the POV character becomes aware of their thoughts as thoughts, or when I want to signal that this is exactly what the character thinks, word for word.

I think of italics as a less disruptive version of the 'I thought' tag. I feel it makes it clearer for the reader without kicking them out of the character. I might do this a half a dozen times or less an a 100k manuscript but I still do it when I feel it is appropriate.

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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
If you are having the MC telling it from a looking back POV, then italicizing the thoughts that the character had at the time of the action might help clarify them. Wow, does that make any sense.
It makes sense entirely, and I agree. It doesn't apply to my current work, but I agree with what you're getting at.


quote:
I use italics when the POV character becomes aware of their thoughts as thoughts, or when I want to signal that this is exactly what the character thinks, word for word.
This is basically what I was talking about. Thoughts that are thought of as such and the like. I think it can work for that. However, it seems that given the current overpowering focus on character penetration, many folks may see it as "distancing."
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Denevius
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i would have to see examples, but i wouldn't understand why you'd have too many instances of go-it-along thoughts if it's first person. i guess the practice would be used to identify thoughts of signficiant importance, but if those thoughts aren't occurring naturally, if the reader isn't aware and has to be *made aware* that these thoughts are more important than the rest, i'd think that signifies a problem with character development. it might be a version of you telling the reader what should be shown. as the character is being developed in the story, the readers should probably know what's more important to them and what's less. but again, i'd have to see the examples.
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Reziac
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quote:
Originally posted by posulliv:
Sometimes I use italics and sometimes I don't for first person.

I use italics when the POV character becomes aware of their thoughts as thoughts, or when I want to signal that this is exactly what the character thinks, word for word.

I write in 3rd person, and I use italics exactly so -- to signal that this is an exact thought, in contrast to the general run of the POV's internal meanderings. I also use it as a sort of punctuation at the end of an internal sequence, or as the capper for a scene. So I'll have something like this crude example:

She wondered if he'd ever get his act together... Probably not.

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Robert Nowall
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I suppose if it's something the first person singular character thought, as opposed to something experienced, it would be okay to italicize the sentence. "I felt the water rushing in high enough to drown me. I hate when this happens, I thought."
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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
i would have to see examples, but i wouldn't understand why you'd have too many instances of go-it-along thoughts if it's first person. i guess the practice would be used to identify thoughts of signficiant importance, but if those thoughts aren't occurring naturally, if the reader isn't aware and has to be *made aware* that these thoughts are more important than the rest, i'd think that signifies a problem with character development. it might be a version of you telling the reader what should be shown. as the character is being developed in the story, the readers should probably know what's more important to them and what's less. but again, i'd have to see the examples.
For me, it'd be the difference between the thoughts one constantly has...the stream of consciousness as it were...and thoughts one actually stops and has and perhaps also examines.

This was the spot in my current story that made me think of this


quote:
Less than an hour later I appeared in the nowhere-zone between foothills and jungle in a flash of yellow light. I gasped, nausea and vertigo washing over me in a tide so strong it nearly brought me to my knees. My head was splitting.
At least I’d never have to endure that again. Ibrill’s teleportational abilities were as marginal as ever. The thought quirked the corners of my mouth.


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Denevius
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would the thought you have italicized be, "Ibrill's teleportational abilities were as marginal as ever"?

if so, yeah, that'd seem kool, though the next line, "The thought quirked the corners of my mouth" seems like it'd make the reason you italicized redundant. but like i said earlier, i'd question the practice more if it was *too* many instances in the same story.

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Meredith
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Only exception is if it's italicized as an actual thought, it probably ought to be in present tense. The way he would actually think it.

FWIW, that wraps me up in knots, so I generally avoid using the italics unless I really, really need them to make it clear.

In first person or close third, you generally don't need to flag thoughts with either the "he thought" tag or italics.

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Denevius
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good catch, meredith. and yeah, the tenses in this case do start to get confusing as well as read awkwardly in the narrative.
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