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Writing and Publishing

How to Format Thoughts in Writing

Writers are often unsure of how to format thoughts in their writing.

Thoughts are best put in italic and do not include quotes. For example:

I hope this description makes sense to you.

An attribute tag, such as “he thought” is not used, since the person doing the thinking should be obvious from the context. You know this is my thought since I am the author.

However, I have seen some publishers use different approaches, such as putting thoughts in quotes, including the attribute tag, or even skipping the italics.

One publisher made thoughts indistinguishable from spoken dialogue, except for the tag “thought” rather than “said.” I don’t appreciate these alternate presentations of thoughts. This is especially dangerous, given that many readers overlook the descriptor tag.

Now, here’s a question for you. I’m working on a story concept where two characters communicate telepathically, and I wonder how I should format it. For example:

Where have you been? Shelly was angry and relieved at the same time.

You told me to go away, so I did. Terry’s sad aura filled the space between them.

It was six months ago. Only now did Shelly comprehend the impact of her careless words. I’ve missed you…so very much.

I’ve always been nearby, just waiting for you to call me back. Terry smiled, the first visible sign that he missed her, too.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.

2 replies on “How to Format Thoughts in Writing”

Tricky. Telepathic dialogue. I’m so intrigued with the idea I forgot the question.

It would take me a while to get used to the format as written. Kind of reminds me of when I began reading Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. His dialogue format wasn’t conventional but once I got used to it it flowed nicely. I can’t think of another way to format it momentarily.

Jerry, you raise a good point, we get used to a certain way of formatting thoughts (or anything, for that matter) and then everything else takes some getting used to.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!