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How to write Thoughts of a Character
  *Idea*  How to write Thoughts of a Character  *Idea*

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How to Handle Characters' Thoughtsfont, or any other fancy formatting, is guaranteed to make any thought stand out like a sore thumb.


Set Them Thinking:
How to Handle Characters' Thoughts, Part Two
by Mariska Stamenkovic

"Effective writing" takes many different forms. What is effective in a Romance novel may not work at all in a police procedural. What's perfect for a story of bare and simple elegance would fall flat on its face in a baroque tale of epic proportions. Whether or not your writing is effective depends on the story as a whole.

"It all depends on the story" doesn't exactly give the writer much to hold on to. . . But at the same time, this observation provides important clues as to what constitutes effective writing in thought mode. The best way to render character thought:

. . . will fit in seamlessly with the other story elements, as they combine into the greater whole of the story;
. . . will do nothing to disrupt, or distract from the story.
To illustrate what this means in practice, take a look at this example:

Ben looked around the bare room. "Now that Doris is gone, there is little to keep me here," he thought to himself. He started packing his few belongings. "It is time for me to go," he thought.

Ugh. This is horrible. Your character's inner life is supposed to enhance the story, not trip it up. To fix this monstrosity and show what's on Ben's mind in an effective way, the thoughts should be made to fit in, without disrupting or distracting the story. Three steps will accomplish that:

Get rid of unnecessary tags.
Be wary of tags like "he thought" and "he wondered". Or even worse: "he thought to himself" (who else would he be thinking to?). In most cases it's perfectly clear who is doing the thinking, so there is no need to tag the thought. And like unnecessary dialogue tags, "thought tags" tend to get in the way, insinuating themselves between the reader and the story. They are a distraction.

Cut the quotation marks.
Using quotation marks, or italics, or a different we want is a seamless fit, not a red flag.

Undo the tense switch.
Chances are, your story--like the majority of today's fiction--is written in past tense. Yet it may be tempting to use present tense for your characters' thoughts. Present tense seems so much more realistic: After all, we rarely think in the past. But a jarring tense break is a high price to pay for realism. Moreover: what works in real life is often totally wrong for fiction. Fiction readers have become accustomed to the past tense, to the point where the tense itself has become transparent. Switching to present tense shatters this transparency. Suddenly the reader sees the window instead of the view, the writer's tense-juggling rather than the story. This is a major disruption.

Without quotation marks, tags, and tense switch, the example would look like this:

Ben looked around the bare room. Now that Doris was gone, there was little to keep him here. He started packing his few belongings. It was time for him to go.

This is no longer waving a flag, yelling: "Look! Internal monologue!" The thoughts blend into the story, and the result is a much less bumpy read. Self-edit along these same lines whenever you use thought mode, and your character thoughts will fall into place. Simple, but effective!

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