by Jodie Renner, editor and author
How do you express thoughts and inner reactions in fiction? Thoughts, like dialogue, need to drive the story forward and be natural-sounding and appropriate for both the “thinker” and the situation.
For this article, I’ve purposely used the term “thought-reactions,” instead of just “thoughts,” as in fiction, in any given scene, we’re in someone’s point of view, so in their head, privy to their thoughts. In that sense, all the narration for that scene is or should be in their thoughts, written in ordinary font, with no special punctuation or thought tags. For example, in Sandra Brown’s Ricochet, we’re in Duncan’s point of view. We read: “Within seconds Jenny appeared. All six feet of her, most of it sleek, tanned legs that looked like they’d been airbrushed to perfection.” This is obviously Duncan’s viewpoint and his opinion/thoughts. No need to say “he thought.”
Thought-reactions, on the other hand, are when that viewpoint character (and only the POV character – we shouldn’t know the thoughts of anyone else in that scene) has an inner, emotional reaction to something that has just happened, or something someone has just said or done, whether it be anger, delight, confusion, frustration, surprise, or whatever. Or perhaps they’re actively planning something.
In popular fiction written in third-person (he, she, they) past tense, you’ll see thoughts or thought-reactions appearing in either present or past tense, in first-person (I), second-person (you), or third-person (he, she, they).
- Why couldn’t she understand where he was coming from?
- If he didn’t know better, he would swear she was genuinely perplexed.
Here are some examples of indirect thoughts contrasted with the same thought expressed directly.
Here’s an example from Don’t Look Twice, by Andrew Gross:
Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-of-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized two anthologies for charity: VOICES FROM THE VALLEYS – Stories and Poems about Life in BC’s Interior, and CHILDHOOD REGAINED – Stories of Hope for Asian Child Workers. Jodie lives in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Website: www.JodieRenner.com; Facebook. Amazon Author Page.