Formatting Internal Dialogue

Hey Lovelies,

As promised I was going to touch on formatting inner dialogue at some point, so guess what we’re talking about today! It’s going to be a shorter post, but I wanted to delve into this separately because it’s important and shouldn’t be overlooked — even accidentally.

So let’s dive right into. There are essentially three ways that you can format your character’s internal dialogue:

  1. A combination of dialogue tags and italics (generally used when writing in third person)

Regina looked at Mauro and Mel. I should have known she’s not his cousin, she thought. They look nothing alike.

*Clarifying point: dialogue tags are: “he thought, she wondered, he imagined”.

2. Just italics 

Regina looked at Mauro and Mel. I should have known she’s not his cousin. She took in Mauro’s brown hair and eyes and compared them to Mel’s blonde hair and blue eyes. They look nothing alike.

3. No italics (generally used when writing in first person or a deep third person limited)

Regina looked at Mauro and Mel, standing there, holding hands. She should have known Mel wasn’t his cousin. She took in Mauro’s brown hair and eyes and compared them to Mel’s blonde hair and blue eyes. They looked nothing alike.

Naive, gullible fool. Should have known better than to believe Mauro’s sweet words…

As you can see through the three examples I found at Writing Tips Oasis, that these three ways of writing all elicit different responses from your reader. A lot of this can be attributed to the distance that the italics can bring to the thoughts. The italics can make it seem like the thoughts are coming from outside of the character’s head, which can be beneficial or distracting depending on what you’re going for.

Alice Clayton, for example, uses italics in her third person limited story to often mark her characters arguing with themselves.

Bryan was able to track him through his cell phone — how weird was this world? When your boyfriend’s bodyguard could find him just by tapping a few buttons on his phone?

As weird as a world where you have your name on a chair and people asking you if the right kind of bottled water is in your trailer.


~ The Redhead Plays Her Hand

Whichever formatting technique that you choose just remember to do this consistently and to make sure that it fits into your story. For example, use Italics if you’re going to be switching between characters. (Also ensure, if you are switching view points, to make sure you’re not head hopping! Establish which character’s head you’re going to be in for that entire scene!)

Other things to keep in mind:

  • No quotation marks! They’re only used when speaking aloud. If you use them for internal dialogue, you’re going to confuse a lot of people.
  • Paragraphs are sexy. Seriously. I do not want to read a page long paragraph of your character thinking to themselves. Break it up and add some action in there!

That’s it and that’s all from me folks! Next week, We’re going to be talking about plain old dialogue. Don’t worry I will be touching on how to integrate action and dialogue at some point as well.

Until next week!




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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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