A Bear In Wolf's Clothing (loupgarou1750) wrote in punctuators,
A Bear In Wolf's Clothing
loupgarou1750
punctuators

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I guess this is a question about formatting

When writing past tense, first person - or third person for that matter - how do you handle thoughts?  Do you put them in past or present tense?  Do you use italics or other marks (// **) or do you use "" and write "I thought" or "s/he thought"?

Here's an example:

Glaring at the image in the mirror, I pulled my hair back, holding the bulk of it behind my neck. Well, that suits the piano jaw a bit better.


The shift in tense bothers me but I'm not sure it's incorrect.
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The tense change is correct because the though portion is essentially dialogue--a literal thought exactly as it would occur to someone living in the present tense, even if the story is being told in the past tense.

As for the formatting, I'm not aware that there are any specific rules for that; I've seen thought dialogue done in many different ways. Orson Scott Card doesn't use any indications and just weaves the thoughts into the narrative, tense changes and all (you'd think it would be confusing, but somehow he manages to do it extremely well). Some people use the "I thought" tag and quotation marks. The tactic I see most commonly used is italicizing the thought, as you have done in your example. Depending on where you are posting this (if it's on the internet at all), you may or may not be allowed to use italics. In that case, I have also seen the case of people selecting a symbol (be it // or ** or :: -- actually, I think Mercedes Lackey uses :: to denote psychic dialogue in her fiction, though I don't have a book on hand to say for sure), and indicating what it means in an introductory legend. Of course, the final option is always to get rid of the literal thought if you just can't find a solution that suits you.

Whatever method you use is up to you, though I would suggest taking into account clarity and readability, as well as the flow of your narrative. My favourite solution is italics, because readers are most used to that method.
thanks for the specifics on why the tense is correct - at last, something my brain can latch onto.

the final option is always to get rid of the literal thought if you just can't find a solution that suits you. That would be much too easy. *g*




The simple answer is "yes." You can change tense or not, you can italicise or not, and you can mark the thoughts with speech-tags (or thought-tags) or not.

Combinations are what tend to trip writers up. In a nutshell-- if you are changing tenses, DO mark that it's internal speech, either with punctuation, italics, or a tag. You DO NOT need more than one of these. If you're not changing tenses, you can do any of those things, but you need not.

Some examples, since it's easier to show than to describe:

Glaring at the image in the mirror, I pulled my hair back, holding the bulk of it behind my neck. Well, that suits the piano jaw a bit better.

OR

Glaring at the image in the mirror, I pulled my hair back, holding the bulk of it behind my neck. *Well, that suits the piano jaw a bit better.*

(These two are identical-- the asterisk represents italics if italics are unavailable: e.g., in a list or newsgroup post. If you're posting to LJ or your own webpage, where italics are available, use italics.)

Glaring at the image in the mirror, I pulled my hair back, holding the bulk of it behind my neck. Well, I thought, that suits the piano jaw a bit better.

Glaring at the image in the mirror, I pulled my hair back, holding the bulk of it behind my neck. Well, I thought, that suits the piano jaw a bit better.

Glaring at the image in the mirror, I pulled my hair back, holding the bulk of it behind my neck. Well, that suited the piano jaw a bit better.
Bless your fuzzy little heart for providing examples! I'm bookmarking this because it's so useful.
I'm not a writer myself, but as a reader, I prefer italics for thoughts - punctuation marks throw me out of a fic, and right now, /* ... */ would probably make me think more of javascript comments than anything else! :)

I think thoughts work both alone and with additional information about the person who's thinking. It really depends on the situation, and if it's clear who's thinking what.. If it's only one person, for example, and if there are quite a few instances where the reader gets insight into the person's thoughts, there's probably no need for 'I/he/she thought' at all. (And I, personally, would probably not use words that describe the thinking process, but rather either contrast or parallel the thoughts with non-thought actions where possible.. if that makes any sense?)

Hmmm, and I think the same goes for quotes vs. no quotes. I prefer reading thoughts in italics (without quotes), and additional info in normal font, but that's a personal choice I guess..

So yeah, your example works fine for me, though it would probably work even better if it were followed by even more thoughts, or if the glaring at the mirror image happened after the italics, or if there were a bit more feeling added to the thoughts (I'm only guessing here, but it sounds as if the thoughts were meant to be somewhat sarcastic - a .. doesn't it? added to the end of the sentence containing the thought would maybe emphasise that).

But as I said, I'm not a writer, and I guess this comment only reflects my personal reading preferences - heh! :)

Thanks for your input. I prefer italics myself, they're less intrusive.