I'd like to write a scene where my character is thinking back and forth between decisions, and I'm not sure what the correct way is.

Do I write all of his thoughts in italics, or just every other to make it easier to decipher which sides his thoughts are taking?

Should I?

Should I not?

Insert reason why.

Insert reason why not.

Would this be the correct way of doing it, or would this be better?

Should I?

Should I not?

Insert reason why.

Insert reason why not.

4 Answers 4


My advice is fairly simple. Don't.

It's trite, corny and looks like you are struggling to meet a word count. From a reader's perspective, it's also boring. We don't need to read the internal though struggle, we need to see the characters hesitation, decide on the course of action and then follow it through.

Failing that, if you want to show a struggle, have them externalize it. Turn it into dialogue:

"If I go through with this, it's going to change everything"

Alternatively, have another character play the conscious.

"Are you sure you want to do that? There's no going back if you do. We can't hide from this"

I hesitated, finger hovering over the launch button. All the possible consequences flashing through my mind. I swallowed, then held his gaze.

"Yes. The Empire needs to be stopped. We are the spark that will light the fire"

You get the point. As much as I despise the cliché, this is a show don't tell scenario. Show the indecision and hesitation, show the conflict and impact it has on the character, don't tell us what he's thinking.


Just my opinion, but in my writing, such thinking is NOT a battle of two ideas, but a progression of one idea into another.

So based on the person's personality (aggressive, passive, analytic, seeking compromise, etc) they have some initial reaction about what to do, and start planning that or thinking about the implications of it. Where would it lead? Would it solve the problem, or just postpone it, or make it worse?

The results of that mental exploration then inform their final decision; e.g. "I want to fight but there is no way to win, I need to compromise somehow."

OR alternatively, "No matter what I give him, in a week he will demand more. Then what, compromise again? I get a half loaf, then a quarter, then a crust of bread. Sooner or later I have to refuse, it might as well be now!"

I find complete confusion very difficult to portray in print. I believe this "progression of thought" is easier to write plausibly and provides the information to the reader that alternative courses of action were considered and rejected.

My characters are seldom confused by what they WANT to do, but can often persuade themselves to a different course of action by thinking through the details of what to do and the consequences that will ensue.


I have this self-conflicting problem too. What I generally do is this:

Should I ask them?

Nahhhh, they'll say no.

But what if they don't?

Do I have a chance?

And this leads the character to do the thing in the end. The action is always going to come after the conflict, no matter what. The ending may turn good for the character, or it could go splendidly. The whole thing asking if they will do it. Not will they not do it.


I was thinking about this and perhaps a better approach is to focus on the emotions the character feels as they think through their options, goals, and the conflicting ideas.

How does one decision impact their emotions? Is one of those decisions better for the goal they desire but puts the character's personal values at risk? Or if the character does what feels right, does it mean sacrifice? Or are they being forced into a decision where either way, the choice is undesirable?

Thoughts come and go. They change with the emotion, but the conflict the character feels will be underlying those thoughts. You can have them think different things, but it is deep down the emotions are leading those thoughts. Depending on your character's personality, they may or may not be aware this is happening. They may focus on the thoughts and ignore the emotions, but the emotions are still there and they will surface eventually.

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