How do you write a character's thoughts?

#1
Quick question here,

Do you use single quotation marks, or straight italics? I've seen mixed answers online and wanted to clarify.


I write my character's thoughts like this,

'This is going to be hard' he thought.


But I've seen people write it like this,

This is going to be hard  he thought.

Which one is it?

Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

#4
Like what the others said, either works. I use italics as it feels more professional, but honestly, it's highly subjective. When I read a translation of War and Peace from gutenberg press, the translators used quotation marks for the characters' thoughts (unsure whether original did the same but probable, and it felt completely fine as well, even if at first I wasn't used to it. 

Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

#6
That depends also on who's narrating the fiction. 

If your narrator is clearly different from the characters, you get versions like these:

"You will follow orders or you face a court martial," the Lieutenant said. 
  • 'The Lieutenant truly was an asshole', he thought. He did as he was told though.
  • The Lieutenant truly was an asshole, he thought. He did as he was told though.
  • Now if you use the approach with Italics, you get the advantage that you can leave out the last part, but you you need to change it around a bit. Be aware that in such instances I would always start a new line after the thoughts.
    • Lieutenant for a week and already threatening court martials. What an asshole. 
    • He did as he was told though.
    That however is only if you want to return to your narrators voice after the thoughts. If your narrator is indistinguishable from the POV you can bring those thoughts directly through the narrative. Observe.
    • Lieutenant for a week and already threatning court martials. That he was an asshole was nothing new, most of the grunts from third company had seen it in his face from the start. He did as he was told though. He knew from experience that those weren't idle threats.
    The last two examples are longer because you got an internal monologue going on where all the events are filtered through the thoughts of the POV character anyway. There's no clear line between narration and his thoughts and feelings on the matter. I confess that this is my personal favorite, but it has its own limitations as well.

    My advice: Check out some of your favorite books on how they handle it and keep it mind that a lot of these thoughts and feelings are directly interwoven with the narrative, for example with unreliable narrators. 

    Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

    #8
    Either works so long as you're consistent. It's best to pick whichever one isn't going to be confusing. If your story has a decent amount of dialogue, italics are preferred, because single quotations look kind of like double quotations to an involved reader, and having to stop and reinterpret misread punctuation is jarring. But if your story has (for stylistic reasons) a lot of non-thought italics, single quotations are preferred. Just pick whichever one isn't going to be confused with anything else, and stick with it.

    Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

    #10
    He examined the source code. Judging by the sheer number of syntax mistakes, without a shadow of doubt, fixing it would be hard. Nonetheless, he resolved himself to this noble task, knowing that he is the only one who can do it before the deadline.

    or

    He examined the thick, rock-like carapace covering his fist. Oh yeah! Once he masters earth magic, he'll be able to cover his entire body in it! This is gonna be hard, all of it! 

    or 

    She was very drunk. More drunk than she planned to get; and yet, there was still half a bottle of Finlandia standing on the table. She vastly overestimated her alcohol tolerance. Finishing it is gonna be hard, and will result in terrible hangover tomorrow. 

    Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

    #11
    I use neither;

    Quote:Because no one around here seems to want to solve the case logically. Yesterday, they spent a whole fifteen minutes with Anlaun waving his hands spewing Mystical nonsense as if it had any credence. Evidence is something seeable. Tangible. Something you can prove. He understands that this case has some air of mystery to it. It is after all a several hundred year old cold case.


    This is not edited. However, this is how I do character thoughts in 3rd POV

    Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

    #12
    When we write character thoughts.
    We separate them onto their own line.

    We write them exactly like this post is formatted.

    With the space included. We intentionally don't allow for narrative dialogue to be on the same line as dialogue via thought. We find it bogs down it down with how we do things as all of our stories will have strong internal dialogue between two or so characters.

    Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

    #13
    Out of the two options you presented, I'd personally go with italics, though like most others have said, single quotes are fine. I tend to use single quotes for either things that are said but not verbally (i.e. text messages, letters, etc.) or quotes within quotes. 

    But I don't do italics for my characters' thoughts either. My stories are written in 3rd person limited, and I tend to weave the characters' thoughts into their narration, like so:

    Quote:Leon didn’t seem to believe that answer, but Aiden didn’t care. He could ask Jun himself if he wanted to know so badly. In fact, they almost bumped into each other as Leon left the kitchen.

    “Aiden’s using your tablet for evil.” were his parting words. Snitch.

    Re: How do you write a character's thoughts?

    #14
    Great! Thanks for the responses.

    Looking back, I did a mixture of weaving my character's thoughts and just using single quotation marks. I found mixing character thoughts with narration difficult, but improved my writing a lot. I'll try to stick with it as I go along and when necessary, write the thoughts directly with single quotations. 

    Once again, thank you for the responses. 

    It helped me a ton!