Writing Your Character’s Thoughts

iStock_000016072830Large Character thoughts are a powerful tool for any fiction writer—but one that many don’t, well, think about. What can you accomplish by writing your character’s thoughts? For starters, you can:

  • Introduce problems or worries
  • Explore relationships
  • Expose insecurities
  • Show the logic that drives a decision
  • Illustrate bias
  • Develop the character’s voice

Great, you say, but how do I do those things? It depends on your chosen point of view. Here are some examples for writing in first person—I’ll have some third person limited examples for you on Friday.

First Person: This is probably the easiest point of view in which to share what your character is thinking, because the narrative is basically a running commentary of the main character’s story. You can make this point of view work for you by taking care to insert your character’s opinions, blind spots, judgments, biases, fears, loves, etc. into the writing.

There are several ways you can reveal your main character’s thoughts when writing in first person:FOL31

  • Ask a question: “I cringed. Why did bad news always have a way of leaking out?”* The author shows the Kat’s reaction both with her physical response and the question she asks silently rather than out loud.
  • Report a thought: The above could be written “I cringed, wondering why bad news always had a way of leaking out”—less direct but also effective.
  • Play out an internal argument or show a character’s inner struggle:I’ll show you some post-birth delirium. I felt like leaping over the desk and pouncing on her, sinking my three thousand dollars’ worth of orthodontia into her shoulder. Instead, I gritted my teeth and breathed in deeply through my nose. I would not let her get to me. I was not attached to this place anymore.”* Here the author italicizes the first sentence to show that the thought is directed at someone—almost spoken, but not quite. The rest of the paragraph shows Kat’s inner dialog as she talks herself back from the edge.
  • teach meShow a character figuring something out: “For the first  time I realize I have no idea what I’m going to do. This is the thing that smashes me. My whole life I have always had a plan, but now I have no plan. Only a raging need. A need for what? What can I hope for?”**
  • Reveal voice with a sarcastic—but unspoken—comeback: “Like there would be a next time…Yeah. The invitations to assist would come pouring in.”*

* Examples taken from Denise Vega’s YA novel, Fact of Life #31

** From R. A. Nelson’s YA novel, Teach Me

What about you? How do you expose character thoughts in your writing?

:) Cheryl

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  1. The Desert Rocks says

    Enjoyed your post. I hate writing from the first person because I don't want my personality edging into the voice of my character. I usually say something like…"she thought about her struggles and everything that had brought her to this point before she took a chance and dived over the cliff." LOL- I know–pretty typical.

  2. Jill Kemerer says

    I write in third person, but I still find it easy to write thoughts. I'm not sure how! It's kind of natural!

  3. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Desert Rocks–love the superpower line on your profile :). I'm a crocheter, too!

    I'm so glad you liked the post! Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Cheryl Reif says

    Hi Jill! I switch back and forth between first and third person. I like them both, but I miss the ease of writing thoughts in first person when I switch to third!

  5. PW.Creighton says

    In my chosen genre I find first person can carry far more surprises than if I showed what happened to another main character through third person. When you MC meets up with the secondary MC and they see MC2 banged up it's more of a surprise. It's very useful in keeping suspense.

  6. Cheryl Reif says

    Hey there–that makes sense. Keep the reader guessing by keeping your *narrator* guessing, right? Great point!