"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, June 23, 2014

Writing: To italicize, or not to italicize

I thought I'd talk a little about writing today. Normally, I just write, show you what I've written, then let you decide whether I've done it correctly or not. Call it insecurity, but just because people tell me that they love my characters or my dialogue doesn't make me want to run out and teach the world how I do it.

Who am I to teach others?

But my editor was talking to me awhile back about a workshop she was giving. She was trying to describe the difference between being in a character's point of view and using italics to denote the character's thoughts.

"You do it really well in MURDER ON THE HOOF," she said. "But it wasn't released yet, so I couldn't show them an example."

Naturally, I was flattered. I was also curious - about my own writing style. How do I decide when a character is thinking something, as opposed to just being in their head? It took me some weeks to figure it out, but I now think I understand my own rules and can pass them on to you.

Picture yourself driving down a street. You're listening to music, keeping your eyes on the road, checking the rearview mirror every 10.24 seconds, just like the experts recommend. As you travel, you are aware of the construction they're doing on that house to the left, the small child on the bike to your right, the traffic up ahead, slowing down for the light, when -

HOLY CRAP SOME GUY JUST TURNS OUT IN FRONT OF YOU AND DOESN'T EVEN SIGNAL OR SPEED UP OR WAVE A "THANK YOU"!

Asshole.

As you can see above, your thoughts about your drive are just images. Perhaps they are accompanied by sound and smell, but they are not forming words and sentences in your head. Your brain is logging sensory experiences, until that last word. That word, your brain actually formed and said, even if your mouth didn't expel it.

That's basically how I use italicized thoughts. My character might be experiencing events, but the only "thoughts" he or she has are the ones that are actual words/sentences.

Here is an example from MURDER ON THE HOOF:

* * * * *


There was a cluster of young riders at the end of the arena, sitting around on their horses and talking. Not certain if there was room to pass, and not wanting to disturb them, Willie turned across the arena early.

“Hey, watch out,” a man’s voice barked at her.

She looked up to see the same man who’d nearly run into Emily, now barreling toward her like a freight train. Her first impulse was to stop. She raised the reins and breathed, “Ho,” but saw that she was stopping in his direct path. Her second reaction was pure adrenalin—she kicked the mare, who leaped forward and took off running.

All thoughts of how to ride disappeared from Willie’s brain. She braced her weight into her stirrups and pulled on the reins. The effect was not what she wanted. Belle raised her head and yanked forward, adding a hopping motion to her gallop. Willie grabbed the horn, trying to push herself back into the saddle. Her body shifted to the right with each bump. The rapid jostling kept her powerless to either stop the horse or get back in the middle of it.

Damned if I’m gonna come off. With one final thrust, she shoved her body left and down. Belle slowed for a moment, allowing Willie to bend her knees and sit back. The pair settled to a stop. What felt like a ten-minute nightmare was probably not even worth a rodeo’s eight seconds.

Willie let out a deep sigh and looked down at Belle’s head. Tyler and Emily were already at her side.

“I’m so—” Willie began, then choked on the word “sorry.” I’m such an idiot.

“It’s not your fault,” Emily said, helping her off the horse. “Bobby Fermino is a horse’s ass.”

* * * * *

I hope this example and explanation is helpful. In the meantime, the chance to win a Kindle Paperwhite can still be yours. Read this post (http://gaylecarline.blogspot.com/2014/05/but-wasnt-there-another-contest.html) and follow the directions. You could be a winner!

1 comment:

JennyRedbug said...

Excellent post and great example!

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