Wednesday, December 04, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-Thoughts
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: March 12, 2013
Writing our character’s thoughts is a great way to bring the reader deeper into the story. However, thoughts are often constructed to tell, rather than show.
John thought the girl was crazy.
She decided to act.
Mr. Smith wondered if he’d ever met a woman as beautiful as his mother in law.
The examples above convey thought by telling the reader and not showing her. This is easily fixed. Before we get into how to write thoughts, let’s examine what we’re talking about.
Characters’ thoughts are either direct or indirect. Direct thoughts are similar to language, a character thinks a sentence or a comment, but quotes aren’t used. Indirect thoughts occur when the narrator comments on the prose. This is an example of a direct thought. They are both correct.
She ran the fingers of one hand through her hair. Is he going bonkers?
She ran the fingers of one hand through her hair.
Is he going bonkers?
Often writers are advised to use italics to make a direct thought clear, but many editors, in contrast, frown on the use of italics. In the second example, we can show the thought without using italics. This method works when accompanied by a tight POV. It is clear she is wondering if the man is nuts.
She ran the fingers of one hand through her hair. He must be going bonkers.
This is an indirect thought. She isn’t thinking it directly, but it implies she’s thinking it. Italics are never needed in this case, because the thought is not direct. This is correct, but writers need to be aware of the effect. The construction is more telling and creates distance for the reader.
Now that we’ve established what types of thoughts we use in fiction writing, let’s look at how to incorporate our characters’ thoughts into the story. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make with thoughts is to head hop. We must be aware of whose POV we’re in and maintain that relationship unless the shift is deliberate and appropriate. In short, we can’t show the thoughts of a non-POV character.
Another mistake is to use too many thoughts, giving the reader a continuous feed of internal dialogue. Writing characters’ thoughts should feel natural and not manufactured to fill space. Consider limiting thoughts to a maximum of four lines at a time and break these up with narrative and action. Thoughts, when used sparingly, connect the reader with the character and add color to a story. To incorporate thoughts properly, writers use a combination of tags, italics, deep POV (close to the thoughts of the character), and the reactions or conclusions other characters draw. We’ll look at how each of these tools is used.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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