Thoughts on Thoughts

One advantage of the written word is the ability to reveal a character’s feelings and emotions, or even their actual thoughts. This helps make up for the fact that we can’t actually see the person, as we would in visual media. There, the viewer can see facial expressions, read body language, and hear the emotion in a voice.

There are different ways to reveal a character’s thoughts. Below are two examples. The first is indirect, and the second uses italics to indicate actual thoughts (a common practice).

  1. He told her that his train had run late. She wondered if that was really true.
  2. He told her that his train had run late. I wonder if that’s really true?

Which of these techniques to use is really a matter of preference in my opinion. The first form is almost universally used. Some authors make heavy use of the second form, while others use it sparingly. There are even some who adamantly claim that actual thoughts should never be shown, but I have found their attempts to prove that it is never necessary to be unconvincing. Sometimes the second form is the only really choice.

When writing, I use whichever form seems most appropriate. And it varies depending on whose viewpoint I am writing from. The second form is particularly useful for characters that are sarcastic, smart alecks, or simply lie frequently. For example:

He nodded, saying, “Yes, I’ll give your proposal serious consideration.” That is the dumbest idea I have ever heard! How stupid does he think I am?

For me, deciding how often to show actual thoughts is simply part of developing a character, and it’s something I’m still working to refine.

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