So much for that, she thought

I’ve been increasingly irritated recently by the use of italics to indicate thoughtlines, I thought to myself this morning.

I’ve been reading quite a few things, where it seems that the authors have never heard of “indirect speech” when it comes to internal thoughts. Quite apart from the typographic convention of using italics for unspoken words, which I dislike, I think there are some serious problems here.

First, how much do we actually think in words? Usually, thoughts are more a question of feeling and an emotion than a clearly expressed statement.

Help! I’m trapped! she thought. I can’t see any way out of this!

or

She knew that she was trapped, and looking around helplessly, she could see no way out.

Now, for me, the first one gives me too much information. It’s telling me, not showing me. More importantly, the second one is showing me what she is doing, and I can imagine her standing, possibly shivering with fear, desperately searching for her exit route, and probably incoherent.

He stubbed his toe on the chair leg. Damn, that hurt.

Well, yes, stubbing your toe does hurt. Do we need to say that? Why not:

He swore to himself as he stubbed his toe on the chair leg.

Find your own swearwords, four-letter or otherwise.

And of course, it’s worse when you go headhopping:

I wonder if she likes me, John thought to himself.

Wow, he’s really hot! Kate thought.

It’s bad enough being in one person’s head without being in two at once.

But to me, it seems to be a sign of laziness to report unheard thoughts as though they were speech. Why not take a cue from the theatre and film world and have your characters acting out, through body language, facial expressions, and actions, their inner feelings rather than displaying their verbalised thoughts on a butcher’s slab?

I wonder if anyone will agree with my ideas, I ask myself. Perhaps other people will comment on this.

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4 thoughts on “So much for that, she thought

  1. Reading this, I imagine you creating the Fifth Edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Or, possibly better, your own version. Think about it.

  2. It’s a trend, for sure. A trend and nothing else, unless it’s that few below the age of 40 have ever heard of indirect speech. I tend to go back to the classics and read the holes in my own education rather than take a chance with something new. But that’s just me. I’m tired.

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