Thursday, November 8, 2007

Getting Your Thoughts Right

My husband, Doug, loves do-it-yourself projects. He's currently making a couple of cornhole sets for an upcoming youth retreat. Sure, he could buy them online or at a sporting goods store, but what would be the fun in that? He even sewed all the bean bags (technically corn bags, but that just sounds weird) himself with a sewing machine. I can't even use a sewing machine, but now my husband knows how. I teased him that he's becoming a Mr. Martha Stewart, and his clever reply was that he just might make us some Christmas stockings, too.

Often when Doug works on a project he talks to himself out loud. I think it's cute and especially amusing if he's frustrated with himself about some mistake. Of course, I don't let him know this, I just quietly smile and enjoy his "conversations" if I'm within earshot.

I talk to myself a lot, but mostly just in my head. I have internal thought going on all the time. Doug always tells me, "There's a lot going on up there!"

Most writers let us know what's going on in their characters' minds with internal thought. But often in my reviews of manuscripts and proposals, I find authors doing this incorrectly. It has become a pet peeve of mine, actually. :)

Here's what our style guide says on the subject:
"Internal thoughts and prayers not verbally expressed are set in italics and must be in first person present tense."

First person present tense is the key there. That's where I see many writers getting it wrong.

Here's the type of incorrect use I see frequently:
Gulping, Isabel opened her mouth to relay a sarcastic quip, but the words clumped in her throat. What was wrong with her?

Here's the correct way to use italics with internal thought:
Gulping, Isabel opened her mouth to relay a sarcastic quip, but the words clumped in her throat. What is wrong with me?

Jessica dug through her purse for her cell phone. It had to be in there somewhere.

Jessica dug through her purse for her cell phone. It has to be in here somewhere.

So, if you're turning something in to me, please double check your characters' internal thoughts first. That will help me think happy thoughts about your writing :)


Mary Connealy said...

I appreciate the link because I had to look up Corn Hole Set. You saved me some time.
I think this is how I do internal thoughts and prayers. I'll double check.
I actually enjoy doing this kind of internal verbalization because so often what a person is thinking is, really, completely NOT what they should be, so there are some opportunities for a real deep insight into the character.

Pam Hillman said...

Thanks for the lesson on internal thoughts, JoAnne. I don't use a lot of internal thoughts like that, but maybe I should.

Do they make the reader feel more connected with the character?

Jess said...

Great post. Your husband sounds like real hero material. I have such a wonderful picture of him just from the little bit you shared. :)

And thanks for the info on internal thoughts. I've been so confused! I use alot of internal thought and dialogue because I do believe it connects the reader but I've had crit partners and contest judges change my first person to exactly what you say NOT to do. I'm excited to learn this. One reason is... I'm always so happy when I learn I'm smarter than I think I am. LOL Does that make sense?


Heather said...

I don't remember how I found your blog - but I am so glad that I did! I have been praying for a while about taking that leap of faith and trying to get some of my writing published . . . and your advice has been wonderful to read. Thanks so much for sharing!

Anita Mae said...

Thanks for the heads up, JoAnne. Something else to add to my checklist.
I was going to ask if prayer is handled the same way but unless they're verbal, prayers are internal thoughts! Duh!

JoAnne said...

Yes, Pam, I do think they help connect the reader to the character. Like Mary said, internal thought can provide deeper insight. I also think it's a good way to break up narrative if you have a scene with just one character who doesn't tend to talk out loud to him/herself! :)

And thanks, Jess. Doug is my hero.

Jennifer Hudson Taylor said...

I'm glad I saw this post. I hadn't thought about internal thought like that, but the examples make perfect sense.