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How to write characters’ thoughts + story updates

question-622164_960_720Good evening! Time for some more story updates, plus some (hopefully) useful advice on how to write internal dialogue in fiction.

Without further ado…

The Million Eyes Trilogy

Work is continuing on the first novel in The Million Eyes Trilogy. I’m basically two thirds of the way through reading the book to my writers’ group, so my hope is that by this time next year I’ll be done and ready to start the final edit. In the interests of time, I’m now tending to get people’s feedback but not yet incorporate it (unless there’s some fundamental plot or character work I need to do). I’ll incorporate the feedback when I do the final edit next year.

Already planning a nice long writing retreat to do or at least start the final edit. Not sure where, as the retreat I used to go to down in Devon has sadly shut up shop. Basically I need a room with Wi-Fi and all-inclusive, full-board meals in a quiet and picturesque setting, so if anyone knows the perfect place, please let me know!

The Million Eyes Short Stories

Owing to a holiday last month and lots of copywriting busyness, I’ve not done much in the way of submitting short stories to magazines and competitions. Managed to get a bunch of submissions done last weekend, though. A few rejections already, a few long waits on others.

What I’m starting to wonder is whether I’m targeting the wrong publications. I received a rejection the other day with some personalised feedback. This rejection was in relation to the newest of the Million Eyes Short Stories. It’s called The Box and is based on a popular conspiracy theory from British history. The editor had nothing bad to say about the story. In fact she said she enjoyed it and she liked the concept. The problem was, there wasn’t enough science fiction in it.

I’ve submitted the Million Eyes Short Stories to a fair few sci-fi magazines now and received rejections. It’s possible that the time travel elements are not overt or sci-fi enough for some of these magazines. Yes, some of the stories are more sci-fi than others, but I guess a few — like The Box, The Charlie Chaplin Time Traveller and Who is Rudolph Fentz? — are much lighter on the sorts of things these publications are looking for.

So I’m now going to start targeting more general publications (I’ll probably end up finding that the stories are too sci-fi for those, but hey — I can but try!).

As always, as soon as I know any more, so will you. 🙂

Writing characters’ thoughts

So I’ve gone back and forth on how best to write internal dialogue. Long ago, before I started properly honing my writing skills, I would simply use thought tags. In other words:

I’m going to have to try this another way, he realised.


Fan-bloody-tastic! she thought. What a week this is turning out to be.

But increasingly I started to recognise that not all fiction writers were doing this. Some dispose of thought tags and put characters’ thoughts in italics instead, or they use the very occasional “he thought” or “she thought” and otherwise use italics. For example:

I’m going to have to try this another way.


Fan-bloody-tastic! What a week this is turning out to be.

The need for italics is because you are writing the characters’ thoughts in the present tense, as if they’re speaking to themselves. You obviously can’t use speech marks, because they’re not literally speaking, so you use italics instead. And using italics removes the need for “he thought”-style tags.

I started to prefer this method, so I began incorporating it into my own writing. However, I’ve since read articles that advise against using italics for thoughts. Some people argue that it creates a distance between the reader and the character, and recommend blending characters’ thoughts into the surrounding text instead.

You therefore don’t need italics because you’re not suddenly changing to the present tense, and nor do you need thought tags. For example:

He was going to have to try this another way.


Fan-bloody-tastic! What a week this was turning out to be.

So, to just pluck a few other examples out of my head, during an action scene, instead of writing:

Now what the hell do I do?

You’d write:

Now what the hell would she do?

What are my conclusions on this? Well, I’ve realised that perhaps I was overdoing the italicised thoughts in some of my writing (an editor, looking at one of my short stories, noted that the italics were “gratuitous”). However, I do think when you’re writing in the third person, there are times when italicised character thoughts work better. This is because they allow you to go right into the mind of the character and present their thoughts in the present tense, like they’re actually happening right now. I don’t think they create a distance between the reader and the character. On the contrary, when I’m reading a present tense italicised thought, I know instantly that I’m inside that character’s head, feeling what they’re feeling.

I don’t think you should use italics all the time, though. No one wants to read reams of italics, and they’re more potent if used sparingly. I do also see the value in blending characters’ thoughts into the surrounding text. It’s a way of a telling a story from a much deeper POV.

In essence, therefore, I think a mix of the two is the way forward. That’s just me, of course — what does everybody else think? Feel free to leave a comment below. 🙂

Next week: the disappearance of Amelia Earhart

2 thoughts on “How to write characters’ thoughts + story updates”

  1. If you’re writing a deep POV, the narrative is the character’s thoughts. Like you, I started out with italics, but once I realized that I really like deep POV, I ended up deleting them.

    I do, however, try to avoid direct present tense. Things like Fan-bloody-tastic work because it’s “that was fan-bloody-tastic” with the “that was” truncated. When I encounter a direct change in tense, it can be kind of jarring.


  2. The explicit report of the omniscient narrator is my one and only true way to write about characters’ thoughts.


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