In fiction, any explicit thoughts of a character are usually represented by italic text.
To answer this question, it’s useful to distinguish between explicit character thoughts and implicit character thoughts. Sometimes in writing, we want to tell the reader the exact words that a character is thinking in their head, as shown in the example below.
I really want something to eat, James thought as he stared up at the ceiling.
In this case, ‘I really want something to eat’ is what the character James hears in his head. This is an explicit thought, and explicit thoughts are usually shown in an italic font, as shown above.
Other times in writing, we simply want to describe what a character is thinking, but we may not be giving the exact words that the character hears in their head. An example of this is shown below.
James thought that he would really like something to eat, as he stared up at the ceiling.
This is an implicit thought. No special formatting is used in this case.
How do you then emphasise a word in a character’s thoughts?
Italic text is often used to emphasise a word or phrase in a sentence. But if a sentence is an explicit thought, and so the whole sentence is in italics already, how do you show emphasis?
The usual convention in this case is then to un-italicise the word or phrase that is emphasised. An example of this is shown below.
I don’t think they really mean me – if they did, they would have said so, Tom thought.
Can you use single quote marks to represent thoughts?
Some people propose using single quote marks to represent thoughts. There are disadvantages to doing this. Firstly, in some countries, such as the UK, single quote marks are used to represent speech – rather than double quote marks, as is the convention in the US – so using single quote marks for thoughts may cause confusion if the same edition of the book is published in both countries (which is usual for self-published books).
Secondly, even in countries that use double quote marks for speech, single quote marks are generally used for ‘dialogue within dialogue’ – where one character says what another character has said. An example of this is shown below.
“He just shouted ‘Go away!’ and slammed the door.” Rebecca said.
So again, using single quote marks for thoughts may cause confusion.← Writing FAQs