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    This thread is now a discussion point for any queries or concerns about narration. The original question:

    Showing characters’ thoughts in third person has always been a question for me. So I put it to the jury- how can you show what a character’s thinking when you’re writing in third person (with PoV switches) without saying ‘she thought’ about fifty million times?

    • CommentTimeJan 12th 2010 edited

    I usually weave it into the narrative, because I write third person intimate, which is much like first person but with different pronouns.

    Dave stared wide-eyed at the statue. He let his breath go as he saw it was safe and untouched. The ball had missed, and instead bounced harmlessly against the wall next to it. That statue had cost him an arm and a leg, and he would hate to break it. He thought he should get better protection for it, but then what was the point? A statue like that was meant to be touched and felt, not locked away behind glass. He remembered for a moment the trophy room at his parent’s place, every fine work or art collected over the years locked carefully out of sight ‘for its own protection’. He still couldn’t understand that kind of thinking, so every bit of art he owned was kept proudly on display, even the ugly ones, like that old park scene in the hallway.

    He collected his soccer ball, pausing for a moment to appreciate the fine detail of the odd, surreally-twisted figure. Original pieces were hard to come by, but definitely worth the effort. With a half-smile and a shrug, he turned and left the room, the ball cradled firmly under one arm.

    Sort of like that, but I don’t usually write in the middle of the day on an empty stomach, so this isn’t as good as I usually can do.

    There’s also the popular ‘unattributed italics’ method.

    Dave stared wide-eyed at the statue. Thank God… The ball had missed and bounced harmlessly against the wall. Thank God it’s okay. He collected the ball, resolving to get better protection for the ornament.
    But then, what’s the point? A model like that is meant to be felt, caressed… Not locked away behind glass…
    He backed away, lingering for a moment to take in the statue’s abstract, twisted form.
    It’s different every time I see it. Shrugging, he turned and strode out of the room.
    At any rate, I should stop playing soccer in the statue room.

    I’m not personally a fan of the italics method, because I think it distracts from the story too much and make sit difficult for the reader to understand what’s happening. On the other hand, the former method tends to lead into tangential matter in a very rambly manner than can be very offputting.


    Why can’t you attribute italics?

    Why me?, he thought.

    • CommentTimeJan 12th 2010

    I’ve seen people just go into internal monologue without the italics (Orson Scott Card does this well, I’ve noticed), though you have to be careful when transitioning between this and regular narration.


    I originally used a bunch of unattributed italics, but as I got deeper in I ended up dropping them almost entirely and working the PoV characters’ thoughts into the narration itself, if that makes sense.

    • CommentAuthorNo One
    • CommentTimeJan 13th 2010

    What about using a combination of both?

    • CommentTimeJan 13th 2010 edited

    You can certainly attrribute italics, but I thought the point of it was to find ways of doing internal monologue without needing to attribute.

    If you’re going to say “he thought/she thought” after each internal monologue, you may as well just go with quote marks/inverted commas.

    ‘What wonderful weather’, Simon thought to himself as he danced in the rain.
    bq. What wonderful weather, Simon thought to himself as he danced in the rain.

    I don’t really see why italics would be necessary, in that case. I thought the point was about getting rid of attribution.


    Eh, I don’t like quotes for thoughts, or italics. Attribution in general seems a bit clunky to me. I’d prefer to go straight into the character’s thoughts, maybe as Taku showed in his first example. I can see how this will be tricky, but stylistically, I think it will work best for what I’m trying to go for here. I think sansa said it best, working the character’s thoughts into the narration itself.

    Anyway, I will try it and see how it turns out. Feel free to use this thread for any other narration questions. (I will edit the title thread presently.)



    >If you’re going to say “he thought/she thought” after each internal monologue, you may as well just go with quote marks/inverted commas.

    Except that it always looks like the characters are talking out loud.



    And then you have to say ‘she thought’ anyway. So it’s pointless in the end.


    To elaborate on what I was talking about, you’d phrase the example sentence

    What wonderful weather’, Simon thought to himself as he danced in the rain.

    as something like

    Simon danced in the rain. What wonderful weather.

    Of course, if you’re going to have the perspective be close enough to use such a method, you’ve got to commit to it or else it can get really confusing.

    I used to use italics, and quote marks- and anything you could imagine, really- for the narrator's thoughts. They were just kind of clunky, reading back over them.

    And then I discovered that Simon would not be dancing in the rain if he didn't think it was wonderful weather. He would be inside, complaining about the awful weather.

    So now I try not to worry about it, and just have my characters do in-character things.

    That’s an interesting approach. You’d have to take care to not make the narration detached to the point of fostering disinterest in those being narrated, but I can think of some clever uses for that kind of distance as well.


    Yeah, instead of saying

    Simon danced in the rain. What wonderful weather!

    Maybe one could say

    Simon danced in the rain, reveling in the wonderful weather.

    Or something along those lines.

    Yeah! IMO, that just sounds. . . nice. :)

    It sounds… rather wonderful. I used to use italics, but all of a sudden, I stopped. I think mostly this was because I suddenly started working in first-person POV, and saying ‘That’s so stupid I mused” just sounds silly. And as I’m surfacing and getting back into third-person (it’s a lot easier to separate the character from myself that way, instead of turning them into somebody too much like me), I’m just working the thoughts into narrative form.


    I rather suck at first person, and for my current idea I don’t think it would have worked anyway, so I’m sticking with third person.

    Hopefully I can incorporate more of this type of description in the edits I’m beginning now.

    • CommentTimeJan 17th 2010

    I either do italics or just plain description of how the situation is pertaining to them. But yeah, italics is the easy way to go for me I suppose… Hm.