How to Write Your Characters’ Thoughts: Third-Person Limited POV

Last week, we talked about writing characters’ thoughts when you have a first-person point of view (POV) story. It’s just as important to show what your characters are thinking when you’re writing in third person–but it can definitely be tricky! It’s easy to slip into a constant stream of he thought/she thought. Who wants that?

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Today’s post gives 4 different ways to communicate your main character’s thoughts when writing in third-person limited POV.

Why only your main character’s thoughts, you ask? Because in third-person limited POV, the narrative is written as if someone is peering over your main character’s shoulder to tell the story. Unless your main character is a mind-reader, he or she won’t know what other characters are thinking. In omniscient POV, your all-knowing, all-seeing narrator has access to all your characters’ thoughts–but that’s a kettle of fish for another post.

Four Ways to Show Characters’ Thoughts

1. Communicate thoughts directly.

She sometimes wondered if any of them could actually play an instrument.”–City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare

This method uses “thinking tags” to identify thoughts the way dialog tags identify speech and speaker. These would include thought (eg, “He thought the lecture would never end”), but that’s not the only tag available to you. Others include:

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How to Write Your Characters’ Thoughts

I’ve been asking for questions this month, and you all have come through with questions on everything from how to create an author website to the details of dialog and other writing craft-related topics. A surprisingly large number of questions had to do with how to write characters’ thoughts in stories told in different points of view (POV).

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It’s an excellent question! Should thoughts be written in first person or third person? Past or present tense? Should you italicize? Should you put thoughts in quotes? Read on to learn how you can communicate what your characters are thinking–without confusing your readers. This post will focus on first-person POV.

First: What’s Point of View (POV)?

Point of view refers to where the author places the “camera” when writing a scene. First-person POV means that the camera is seeing what the main character (“I”) sees, thinks, and knows:

First Person: I spotted Susan walking down the street. 

Third-person limited POV means that the camera is limited to what your main character (“he” or “she”) sees, thinks, and knows, but you aren’t looking directly through that character’s eyeballs:Continue Reading