Based on last week’s post, I got a great question in the comments from Kyle about formatting interiority:
Mary, I love your thoughts on developing interiority both on your blog and in your book. I have a formatting question though: should those inner thoughts be set off in italics?
For Verbatim Thoughts, Use Italics
The straight answer to formatting interiority is quite simple: whenever you render verbatim thoughts in text, you do want to use italics. For example:
Wow, time has sure flown by. The holidays are over and it’s halfway through January! I should probably throw out those Thanksgiving leftovers, she thought, giving the fridge a wary look.
Super easy. Just put the thought in italics, avoid any kind of quotation marks (those are for spoken dialogue), and either add a “thought” tag, as you would a “said” tag in dialogue, or don’t. It all depends. If you’re citing verbatim thoughts a lot, you won’t need to do this after the first few times, because the reader will know that italics mean thoughts.
Alternatives For Writing Interiority
But this question does raise a bigger one. Does interiority have to exist purely as verbatim thought, or are there other ways to render it in narration? In my view, interiority can absolutely exist as part of regular narration, meaning that you don’t have to stick something into italics/thought in order for it to be a thought. If that makes sense.
Perhaps an example would clarify. Compare this with the verbatim thought that appears above:
Mary gazed over at the fridge and, with a pang, realized that there was still Thanksgiving gravy congealing in a Tupperware somewhere on the bottom shelf. Where had the days gone? Only yesterday, it seemed, they were getting the house ready for guests and turkey, stumbling over one another in a cleaning frenzy. Now it was almost time to write Valentines.
The tone is a little bit different. Both examples of writing interiority are in close third person, but the former is directly in the character’s thoughts, while the other takes a step back. It stays close, obviously, but doesn’t put anything in thought formatting. “Where had the days gone?” could easily be a verbatim thought, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be, because it matches the voice in either configuration.
Formatting Interiority Boils Down to Style
Basically, this is a very nitpicky distinction to make, and what you decide regarding formatting interiority is ultimately up to you. It boils down to style. I personally prefer the latter example, but that’s just me. The reason I would advocate for this over sticking everything into thought formatting is that it looks a bit cleaner on the page, you’re not presenting block after block of italics. But it really is up to you. I’m simply so happy to have people playing around with writing interiority and thinking critically about it that I say you should follow your bliss and do anything that makes sense to you.