How Do You Deal With Thoughts in Your Novel?

Do you use one of the three choices listed below:

  1. Write the thought in italics.
  2. Write the thought followed by a comma and ‘she thought.’
  3. Write the thought and assume your POV is strong enough for the reader to know whose thought it is.

I’ve listed an example of each option below.

Let me set the scene: Two women are running from an encroaching forest fire and one of them (Nora) is nine months pregnant.

Here are the examples:

  1. Kalin slammed the Jeep into park at the end of the dirt road. She leaned over the centre console and checked out Nora’s footwear. Flip-flops. Not good. “Do you think you can hike to Silver Lake?”
  2. Kalin slammed the Jeep into park at the end of the dirt road. She leaned over the centre console and checked out Nora’s footwear. Flip-flops. Not good, she thought. “Do you think you can hike to Silver Lake?”
  3. Kalin slammed the Jeep into park at the end of the dirt road. She leaned over the centre console and checked out Nora’s footwear. Flip-flops. Not good. “Do you think you can hike to Silver Lake?”

Which one do you think is best?

And can an author use all three within a novel?

I’d love to hear your opinion on this one.

Thanks for reading . . .



14 thoughts on “How Do You Deal With Thoughts in Your Novel?

  1. I used to italicize thoughts, but now I’m more apt to go with door number four – blend the POV character’s thoughts into the narrative.

    “Tom ducked behind a bush. No, Sandi couldn’t be involved. Could she?”

    as opposed to:

    “Tom ducked behind a bush. No, Sandi can’t be involved. Can she?”

    In the second example, the thoughts could be italicized or not. Either way the tense jumping can be jarring to a reader. I tend to use both of the above, but use the second example sparingly. I only tense hop when I want the thought to carry extra weight. Sometimes jarring the reader is the right thing to do.

    I want italics to be used infrequently enough that they convey emphasis, regardless of whether they’re identifying a thought or setting off a holy-crap word.


    1. Nancy, Thanks for commenting. I agree with the jarring part. I’m trying to figure out how to do this smoothly. Sometime I use italics for a thought that doesn’t include personal pronouns. Then it doesn’t seem so jarring.


  2. I wouldn’t user both #1 and #3 within a novel, but I think the odd “I thought” is OK. It depends on the text before and after the thoughts. Normally don’t like to read “I thought”, but in #2, because the thoughts immediately precede dialogue, it works because it gives the reader a moment to make the switch.

    Something I’ve learned from reading style guides for technical writing is that italics don’t render as well online as they do in print and the rendering varies across browsers and device types. So it’s harder to distinguish italics from regular text and for this reason their use is discouraged in technical writing. Something to consider with more and more people using e-readers?


    1. Jan, thanks for commenting. I’ve read in writing books for fiction that Italics are hard to read too, and therefore should be used sparingly. There does seem to be a trend toward italics for thoughts in recent novels, but I’m not convinces yet I like it in my own writing.


  3. I definitely say stick to one thought-type per book, otherwise it just gets confusing. As for me, my personal favourite is to italicize thoughts. I think the only way #3 really works is if it’s first person POV, in which case everything you’re reading is the narrator’s thoughts anyway.


  4. Number three works best for me. The others are too deliberate. I think you could mix all three into a given novel, but number three is the most natural and should probably be done most often.


  5. You don’t need “she thought” as It’s clear from the passage that the action is from Kalin’s perspective. You don’t need to italicize “Not good.” It’s clear from the context that Kalin’s thinking this. Also, as a reader, I find that italics can be distracting (unless they’re really called for). In dialogue, they might signal a character’s emphasizing a word through tone or accent. Elsewhere, italics might signal a word from another language or, for example, a word unfamiliar to a narrative persona & perhaps the reader. I think it’s best to use italics very sparingly. Re: your 2nd question – you can use all 3 in a novel but base which one you use in each passage on the context. To me, clarity & a seamless reading experience are key to making a book immersive & magical. Words or devices that jumps out at me for their own sake can break the spell. Your 3rd version of the passage grabs my attention & keeps it in the story.


    1. Michael, Thanks for putting so much thought into your comment. I agree it is important not to take the reader out of the story but also to make it clear who is thinking. I’ve been trying different methods and working on staying in POV. I think when the POV is strong the italics can disappear. I’m pretty sure no one told me writing would be easy. 🙂


  6. My personal choice, the one I use most often, is #1. But I will use all three examples, often in the same story. I believe it adds a certain element to a story to be diversified and not locked in to one certain method. There are almost always various ways of writing, especially when it comes to writing dialogue between characters.


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