Monday, August 23, 2021

Formatting Internal Dialogue

 QUESTION:  I have a query about the correct way to convey internal thoughts and sounds.

According to the Chicago Manual of Style:  "11.47 Unspoken discourse: Thought, imagined dialogue, and other interior discourse may be enclosed in quotation marks or not, according to the context or the writer’s preference."

I gather whether quotation marks are used and which type varies from publishing house to publishing house. Is that correct?

The only times I’ve ever seen quotation marks used for interior dialogue in popular fiction is along the lines of -- 

“Brilliant move,” I said silently to myself.  

The standard method is to italicize the thought--  

The bell slipped out of my fingers and clanged loudly as it hit the floor.  I winced. Brilliant move, Byerly.

Some publishers, particularly of nonfiction, will state the stylebook they prefer, but most fiction publishers don’t.  In the case of no stylebook mentioned, use grammar correctly and be consistent.

In deep third POV, it’s quite common to have a fair amount of interior dialogue.

I ask myself whether the person is asking themselves a specific question or stating some fact to themselves. If they are, I put the question in italics; otherwise, I don’t.

I tend to avoid italicized internal dialogue because it breaks the reader’s rhythm, particularly if it’s done too much or too little.  Instead, I write so that I remain deep in POV.

For example, to remove the internal dialogue of my earlier example, I’d write: 

The bell slipped out of my fingers and clanged loudly as it hit the floor.  I winced at my clumsiness.  

QUESTION CONTINUED:  I also have problems with the verb’s tense in internal discourse.  

She loosened her grip, so the rope slid through her hands and let her feet slide over the knot. Shit – rope burn. Her feet reached another knot. She clung to the rope, her body shaking, her palms sweating so hard they felt cold. This wasn’t working.

Should the last bit be This isn’t working.?

ANSWER:  If  “This isn’t/wasn’t working” is deep POV, the sentence would use “wasn’t.”  If it’s internal dialogue, use “isn’t.”  

If you’re confused about the tense, pretend the internal dialogue is regular dialogue and speak it aloud to see if it sounds right. 

If it’s a thought, the tense remains the same as the rest of the narrative.

QUESTION CONTINUED:  If you’re trying to signify there is a sound made, does it go inside single or double quotes or can you use italics? 

ANSWER:  If the sound isn’t dialogue by a human or other living creature, it is italicized.

The cow said, “Moo,” and its bell went clank.  

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