Grammar (style?) questions for writing fiction

I’m a writer of short stories, and short stories tend to call for dialogue. There something I’ve always been unsure how to handle: a character’s thoughts. How should they be indicated?

Should they be formatted/punctuated just like regular speech, except with the word “thought” instead of “said”? Like so:

“I wonder where Betty is,” thought Joe.

Or - and this is how I’ve been doing it - should the thoughts be italicized like so:

I wonder where Betty is.

The key difference here is that I don’t usually like to include the “thought Joe” part. I tend to write in such a way that the character is thinking to him/herself while doing something else, like this:

She noticed Richard averting his eyes as she faced him. *Why did he do that? He never looked away before… *

The main reason I italicize the characters’ thoughts is that I want to visually differentiate between thoughts and spoken words. So which way is correct? Or is there another way?

There is no one correct way.

  1. “I wonder where Ruth is,” thought Nick.
  2. I wonder where Ruth is.
  3. I wonder where Ruth is, thought Nick.

The important thing is to be consistent. Do it one way throughout. Also, example #1 can help eliminate confusion in some circumstances.

Judging by the example you gave, italics should work fine.

Also, remember: it won’t make or break your story. If the editor likes the story but not the technique, she may suggest a different option. Your story won’t be rejected based on how you do this.

I think a bigger problem is when the writer switches from 3rd person to 1st person. In your example it’s quite clear that Nick is saying a line - he just doesn’t speak out loud.
But many times, when a book is written in 3rd person, the narrative goes from speaking of line, to describing events, from the protagonist’s POV, while still doing it as a 3rd person. This can get sticky, because what you’re trying to do, as a writer, is exposition, without making it obvious.

I dunno if you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett. Many Dopers are, but he’s a master of going back and forth like that, without effort. This gets more complicated with an ensemble cast, where the 1st/3rd person switches between different characters, as he often does in his books.
And as RealityChuck said, there is no right or wrong, as long as the internal logic holds up.

Although this is a little off topic, if you want to look for inspiration for a few interesting things, you should read one of the early chapters of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I know this doesn’t deal with internal monologue, but it is a good example of what creativity can yeild in breaking convention. there is a chapter where Huxley keeps switching between two very different scenes without any other warning than an extra space between the lines. However it works brilliantly for what he is trying to say. The scene is very much like a movie or television show, although it is well known that Huxley despised them both. There you have to think a little bit to see what is going on. I think if you give your reader a little leeway you can possibly expect them to understand. I like the italics idea. Don’t underestimate the reader’s ability to understand a certain pattern. However for interest, it may be a better idea to bring it in later, in case it will be confusing at first.

While he may have despised movies he lived in Hollywood and wrote film scripts both before and after Brave New World so he certainly knew how they worked.

There’s a book on his U.S. stay Huxley in Hollywood, by David King Dunaway.

As for the OP, the best style is the one that is most inobtrusive to the reader (unless you are deliberately aiming for the opposite effect). Most readers would be more comfortable with a style similar to “I wonder where Betty is,” thought Joe. rather than having to try to figure out what the italics meant and who the words belonged to, unless you are very careful and precise with their use.

Surely, in real life people do not think in words. They wonder where Ruth is, but not using written or spoken language. (OK, some of us talk to ourselves out loud.) So dialog with quotes is probably not appropriate. We would never consciously think I wonder where Ruth is - there is no-one except “I” to wonder inside my own mind. How about…

Nick wondered where Ruth was. Probably in the pub drunk again, he concluded.

It depends on how intimate you want the reader to be with your character. These 3 examples get you closer to the character.

  1. He wondered where Ruth was.
  2. “Where is Ruth?” he thought.
  3. Where is Ruth?