Help me Writers

I’m working on my Arson manuscript. I’m running into a problem with punctuation. It isn’t a big one, and there are several suitable styles.

The issue is with internal dialog. I don’t like italics for this purpose. I prefer italics as news broadcasts, signs, letters, email; that kind of thing. I also use them with one word of spoken dialog on rare occasions. Like this: “It’s doctor Pennington, actually,” she said.

All my research says it’s appropriate to punctuate like any other dialog and use a tag of “he thought.” This has worked well, until internal and spoken dialog wind up in the same paragraph.

I like it when characters think one thing and say another. My main character, Perry does this on occasion. When using my preferred punctuation method, I don’t like the way it looks.

I’ll make something up as an example. “Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline,” he thought. He said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

I don’t like it. It’s a bit better with some action in the middle to separate the two, but still not great. “Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline,” he thought. He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

I like internal dialog with no punctuation myself. I know this is wrong, so I’m avoiding it. It does stand out against the spoken dialog though.

I toyed with the idea of a single quote for internal dialog, but I don’t love it either. ‘Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline,’ he thought. He said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

So what should I do? I want to be consistent, whatever I decide. I don’t like italics in his situation, but I’m not loving the other options either.

Help me out here you writers and readers. My goal is to whip Arson into shape within ten days or so.

38 Comments

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38 responses to “Help me Writers

  1. Hiya Craig. Quite a dilemma there. This is probably not the answer you want but i would use italics for thoughts and plain text for spoken. That’s how I do it anyway.

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  2. Can I just ask why you don’t like italics for thoughts? I think it works well and negates the need for saying “he thought”, or in many cases the “he said” too because you don’t need to differentiate between the two. As a reader I would be happy to see:

    Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline. “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

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    • That helps. I may have to concede and use italics. Perry has a lot of internal dialog and it looks distracting. Plus there are television broadcasts and all the rest.

      It sounds like it’s just me. I may bow to what the majority thinks.

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  3. In a story I’ve been working on when time permits, I use internal monologue. It is such an eye opener and it lends to some fantastic writing skills.
    Ex.: He rushed in the door behind me, barely making it through. Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline. What could I say?
    “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.” Would he be able to tell I stretched the truth? I wanted to encourage him after all. But he is a blimp. I will send the book link where you can get this teaching.

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  4. Hello. I would say to use the italics. It reads better that way and it’s really showing that’s it is something important and should be paid attention too. It’s funny, I wrote a blog today about grammar rules!

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  5. Italics for sure. Saying ‘he thought’ will really begin to grate. Italics gets the point across and eliminate the need for superfluous explanation. Vanessa is spot on.

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  6. I’d use italics. I had the same problem with a scene in one of my last two books and in the end it was the only thing I could do…

    Cheers

    MTM

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  7. I don’t like italics in any long form in fiction. Just for a single emphasized word is okay, but otherwise it takes me out of the story to see a bunch of italicized text. Punctuation and style should be as non-distracting as possible, and italics have this whole ‘look at me!’ attitude to them. But maybe I’m just easily distracted…

    How close is the perspective with your viewpoint character? If it’s not too distant, you can inject the thoughts directly into the narrative without having to use thought tags. Using your example:

    Well, his friend was a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline… He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”

    But if your perspective is distant from the main character, then you’re stuck with the more awkward ways of portraying thought. In that case italics are less distracting than dialogue punctuation, I guess.

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  8. Ali Isaac

    Italics in large chunks are uncomfortable to read, but for a few lines of internal dialogue work really well, and cuts out the need to emphasise this is a thought rather than speech with a tag. I use italics for that purpose, and find it works well, its clear and immediate. If you meed to emphasise a word within the italicised section, just reverse it and use normal font for that particular word.

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    • It’s this character, more than anything. He’s more of a thinker than some of my previous ones. I’m in the process of changing to italics right now. That seems to be the popular opinion. He doesn’t go on for any great amount of time, so maybe I’m safe.

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      • Ali Isaac

        You’re probably just feeling paranoid about it. I’ll be happy to look at a sample chapter for you if you’d like a second opinion…

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      • I’m game. Let me get through it again and I’ll pick one with a bit of internal dialog to send your way. I’ve been known to be paranoid about my work, so you’re probably right.

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      • Ali Isaac

        Cool. My email address is ali at aliisaacstoryteller dot com when you’re ready.

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  9. Misha Burnett handled internal dialog very well with his Catskinner book, but I believe anything catskinner thought was italic without punctuation and what he said was written as regular dialog with an attribution tag. When James thought, it was narration because he was the narrator. (they were the same person.)

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  10. Maybe….
    He tried to keep a serious face and not laugh, Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline. Gaining his composure, “Yeah, I think you have a real shot with her.”
    Or whatever action is needed..

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    • I think the action helps a bit. I never had this problem, until I had thoughts and words in the same paragraph.

      I’m not an italics fan, but that seems to be the general idea from most writers.

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      • I’ve seen no italics or quote marks. . .
        Well, you’re a 300 pound blimp with a receding hairline, he thought. “Yeah, ….

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      • See I like that method, but then it has to be tagged. I’m reworking the whole MS right now, and may do it again before I’m finished.

        I don’t think I have to worry about it so much in first person. My newest paranormal piece is first person, but Arson isn’t.

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  11. Thanks for this thread–I’ve never been wholly comfortable with attribution on internal monologue, but reading what everyone has to say here has pretty much settled it for me. Italics it is. With all this sort of stuff I generally ask myself what will make things clearest for the reader who, ideally, should not really notice the technique at all, just the monologue. Having two sets of quotes and two verbs in close proximity risks the reader needing to slow down and sort through what’s happening, while the italics are familiar and clear.

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  12. I used to feel as you and I put them both in quotes, but then someone sold me on the italics thing and now I actually prefer it. (Once I stopped dragging my feet and actually made the change.) That said, there are plenty of best selling authors (such as Mary Higgins Clark) who do not use any italics OR punctuation for thoughts/internal dialog. Example: Craig scratched his head as he wondered, what do I do about making these thoughts stand out? “Hey, what do you other writers do?” he asked his blog friends. Whatever you decide, as you already know, as long as you’re consistent, I think it’s just stylistic. 🙂

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  13. For what it’s worth, my vote is also for standard convention, italics. However, another option for you might be to use different fonts to express a character’s thoughts. You’d have to think carefully about how you establish this at the start to give the reader the idea. You could use an array of thoughts for different characters, and they could reflect the character’s personality. (Eg comic sans for a teenager? Lucida handwriting for a feminine, thoughtful person? Or whatever works). Jodi Picoult uses different fonts for different characters, but the glaring difference between your situations is that each character has a whole chapter, whereas you’ll be using a line of thought within a body of text. You could try it and see if it works, as an alternative solution to italics?

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