Thursday, August 20, 2009

Showing Thought in Written Form

What is the correct way to write a character’s unspoken, internal thoughts?

The following question was posed to WITS editor Barbara Milbourn.

Does the sentence below need quotation marks or should the thought line be italicized?

Staring across at the greatest entrepreneur and the richest man in the history in the world, I thought, “What do I say to this man?”

Barbara replies: This is a tough one. I have read three things [and do not remember the sources].
  1. Because they are not spoken words or a quotation, they are not to have quotation marks.
  2. While some authors—mostly novices—put thoughts in italics, this, too, is discouraged.
  3. The idea is to write strong and clear enough that the thought reads as a thought and needs no augmentation; or you reword like: I stared across at the greatest entrepreneur—the richest man in the history of the world—and wondered what I should [might, would, could] say to him.

If you need a good editor for your nonfiction manuscript, Barbara is a great choice.
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L. Diane Wolfe said...

I don't use italics or quotations for thoughts, but I also use thoughts very sparingly.

L. Diane Wolfe “Spunk On A Stick”

Glenda said...

This is a question often asked in my classes. I don't like the italics and certainly no quotation marks. I like your suggestion on writing the sentence in a way we don't have to use anything.
Good post.