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Mind Talk: Your POV's Uncensored Words
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 10:29 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 194

We all have a voice in our head that yammers along through the day, sometimes where we can hear it (stopped at a corner, traffic appears around curve, my voice says "Corner syndrome AGAIN" with either resignation or annoyance) and sometimes a nasty whisper below conscious hearing ("You're no good; you're going to screw this up just like you did last time.")

Fleshing out a character by using the character's thoughts in the form of dialogue puts the reader tightly into the character's mindset without the intrusion of "He thought" or "She remembered."  Mental voice is uncensored; outward voice often is--and the conflict between them increases character definition.  Over the years, I've used "X thought/remembered" less, and more often have simply put the characters thoughts, in their word, directly into the text, often in the context of external speech.   Most readers don't find that hard to follow, perhaps because we experience thoughts-in-words daily. 

There are complicated situations when--to help readers stay clear on things--I do still use "X thought" and put thoughts in italics.  The opening scene of Echoes of Betrayal, for instance, has a character who shifts from stream of consciousness internal voice to conscious remembering, thinking, and conversing with mentally with a mischievous but benign spirit. 

But when it's just a matter of internal thought and external speech, keeping the reader oriented is easy.   The character is gracious to her mother-in-law on the outside, resentful on the inside. 
"Thanks,. Ella.  You spoil us."  Jen smiled with an effort.  Every week the same loaf of bread.  As if she didn't bake her own bread, better than this flabby store-bought white stuff.  Two years now, and every single week--  "Thanks again," she said, putting it in the bread-box she'd empyied an hour before.  Anything to keep Ron's mother happy, because that kept Ron happy.
It can be difficult to protect such internal speech from copy editors, who may treat it as straight narrative.  But it's speech, even if internal and not marked off with quotation marks.  Write it as speech, and defend it as speech.

Ways of showing mental voice vary, and choosing the best for your POV character may require careful consideration of the character, the situation, and the relative experience of your readership.   A child reader may need the explicit statement "He thought John would say no." after the character asks John a question,   or "He thought John will say no," marked off with italics.  A more experienced reader can follow "Do you want to go, then?"  John would say no, as usual, but he had to ask.

When I was a kid, we were taught to italicize thoughts, but that's not the only way--or always the best way--to mark thoughts.  In SF/F, writers may need to distinguish between thoughts, memories, telepathy, alien language, written communication,  and other forms of communication technology develops.  In stories complicated with various kinds of mental speech and external speech/writing/alien communications, the writer needs to pick one marker for each, and stick to that.   (It need not be the same marker used by another writer--merely consistent within that work.)

Try changing some of your "He remembered blah-blah-blah" and "She thought blah-blah-blah" with direct internal speech and see the difference it makes in your work: more immediacy in crisis situations, more intensity in characterization.

GD Deckard
Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 3:53 PM
Thanks, Elizabeth! I never thought of it but now that you have I know where I can use it.
Elizabeth Moon
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 12:36 AM
Joined: 6/14/2012
Posts: 194

Glad you found that useful, and thanks for letting me know.  But note the comment about protecting it from copy editors.  I'm in copy edits this week, and sure enough the copy editor did not recognize the mental voice as a form of dialogue. 

GD Deckard
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 8:45 AM
Elizabeth, I am beginning to look forward to actually working with an editor. Your warning reminded me of those comic drawings of "What the Designer Designed & What the Engineers Built."
Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 6:22 PM
Thanks Elizabeth. I needed this reminder.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012 11:39 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

I like that. I often have the pov character talk to themselves.

Posted: Wednesday, March 2, 2016 6:28 AM
Joined: 1/31/2016
Posts: 30

Gidday, I write with my characters in my head, the pencil flows.

A pi poem :- Mind's Eye


Is a poem worthy music.

Note upon note playing in the ear.

Can the '3rd Eye' hear.

- How can it not.


Dravid Mills


P.S.  Do you use itallic print for thoughts?




Sabrina Jade Howard
Posted: Thursday, March 10, 2016 12:40 AM
Joined: 9/9/2015
Posts: 1

Ohhhhhh... Really good advice. I struggle with this a lot, especially since I write in both 3rd person and 1st.

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