How to Convey Thoughts

Kristin paused in her writing to contemplate the paragraph she’d just completed:

His father’s wrath now made sense. So this was why everyone in the country knew about his “secret” engagement. He had thought the engagement was conditional; Cole gave his support, and if Albert’s patent succeeded, Albert would marry Becky. But apparently the true condition had been giving Cole the upper hand over Albert’s father. Now Cole could still decline to wed Becky to Albert if his patent didn’t succeed, and that would give him yet another means to subtly humiliate his patron’s family. More pressure now on Albert’s presentations, on the device. Excellent. Another reason for his father to disown him.

How do other writers convey thoughts? she wondered. It’s not really all that normal to present them right there in the narrative like I just did. But writing them in italics feels really artificial to me.

Yes, today’s topic is all about thoughts. There seem to be three camps when it comes to conveying a character’s thoughts: those who love italics, those who disdain italics, and those who use italics just for emphasis, or for thoughts that don’t easily convert directly into the narrative. Which do you prefer, both for to read and to write?

Click to read more. Warning: examples and tinkering ahead.

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Perfection is like a unicorn…

…That no writer will find, not even the fairytale virgins.

There’s a saying that every writer has a million bad words (badly written, not obscene) in her, and only once those words are gone will she write something decent.

I figure that by this stage, I’ve got to be getting up near my 750,000 bad word mark, maybe more.

People also say that nothing is perfect the first time around, and only with X number of drafts will you begin to approach that sly minx of a unicorn. (I’m not doing more than one draft of this blog post, though, so the mixed metaphors are staying put.)

Still, even with all these helpful bromides in mind, it’s a little horrifying to read over the early chapters of my novel and see really appalling beginner mistakes: clichéd descriptions (long, slender legs, anyone?), perspective slips, adverb abuse… You name it, I’ve done it. Let’s not even discuss the appalling initial chapters written in first person with a massive flashback containing a good third of the story.

But as an exercise in humility (and good-natured self mockery), I thought I’d present a couple examples of just how bad some of my bad words are. For your entertainment and edification, I’d like to present: the glance in the mirror and the info dump. Enjoy.

The Narcissistic Protagonist: Sure, my main character is completely self-centered, but the glance in the mirror is just about the worst of the worst. At least I wasn’t writing in first person anymore when I did this.

Languidly, she stretched her long, slender legs and stood, walking slowly to the mirror. She stood in her shift, carefully studying her murky reflection. Still too thin of course; she had been since she’d had the coughing sickness as a teenager. But she’d recovered her breasts, and the high flush left in the wake of the ravaging fever complemented her fair skin. It showed now in the dreadful heat. She turned her head from one side to the other, admiring her fine straight nose and dark eyes.

Satisfied, she nodded to herself and reached for her corset.

Please imagine me shuddering as I reread that. Ugh.

The Info-Dump: I have no excuse for this one, except to say that I was writing my first chapter, and this was one of the first things I wrote.

Smythe’s gem collection was well known. With the outland trade embargos strictly enforced and no natural deposits, their country (name?) had a finite number of gemstones. Most were owned by the nobility, and were circulated in a game played by thieves, jewelers and even some nobles. Thieves were hired by a jeweler to obtain a wealthy person’s gems; the settings are then melted down and the jewelry reformed. In some cases—like this one—they hired by one wealthy person to steal gems from a rival. Unwilling to give up owning new, fashionable jewelry, most nobles (and the law) turned a blind eye to the practice, regarding it as a nuisance at worst, as a game at best. Penalties for thieves and their employers were minor, generally consisting of a fine or a month of mild indentured service. Rarely could a victim of theft prove that the gem sold in a remade necklace was stolen, so most practitioners lived unscathed by the law, unless they were caught in the act.

Smythe’s gem collection was considered unfair by most of the nobility because he didn’t even wear the gems; it was well-known that he kept them in cases to be admired. However, no thief had been successful at accessing the collection. Yet.

That’s interesting, sure, but it would be a lot more interesting to learn that over the course of the story, not in two paragraphs on the third page.

Both of these selections came from my very first chapter, written two years ago. I think I’ve learned a lot since then, and hell, at least these count toward my million bad words. Thank goodness. And at least reading clips like this make me feel better about my more recent words, which inspires me to keep hunting that stupid unicorn.

Please feel free to make me feel even better by sharing your own horrible writing mistakes.