I'm currently writing a story which so far is going well, but I reached a point in the story where I don't know how to proceed. When a character is talking, I write their dialogue just like this:

"I went shopping with him today."

But right now I got to a point where there are more voices in it and I don't know how to write them. The other types that I have are:

  1. A voice that only the main character can hear in his head
  2. What the main character used to communicate with this voice
  3. The main character's thoughts

These 3 voices only the main character can hear and no one else since they all are in his head. The thoughts I plan to write like this:

"(I must not do that otherwise it may be dangerous)"

But I don't know if I should use quotation marks. I don't like the way they look. Also, I want to make voice #1 and voice #2 stand out too since going forward they are going to be a huge part of my story and will be used often. I know that technically #2 and #3 are the same but I want to differentiate between thoughts and and talking with the voice in my character's head, since for that one when I say something, it will be expected that the voice will answer.

  • There are many sources online (and in books by successful SFF authors, like Sanderson) that use italics for thoughts. In Alloy of Law, which I'm re-reading to analyze dialog/narrative balance, he fairly liberally uses italics for both thought and emphasis - sometimes within sequential paragraphs. He also used many exclamation points in the story, something said by many best avoided (advice exists to use ... one exclamation point per 100,000 words. !!! < for effect.) . So, style may be somewhat personal, changeable, and a matter of opinion. I cannot answer your question, though.
    – SFWriter
    Commented Apr 25, 2018 at 15:58
  • There is no reason why you have to follow common convention. If you have a few recurring, mentally heard voices, and you want to distinguish them through different symbols, you can do that. I've seen such a method used in a few science fiction books—and was never confused by it. The key is to be consistent. Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 15:49
  • And don't break with convention just because it's "cool," but because it's a deliberate effect that enhances the atmosphere of the story. (It would be easy for it to simply be distracting and annoying.) I would not normally recommend it but I can see its benefit in a specific situation. Commented Apr 28, 2018 at 15:57
  • Is the character able to non-verbally speak back to the the mental voice? Or is he only able to answer verbally?
    – hszmv
    Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 17:26

4 Answers 4


Direct speech is in quotation marks, non-verbal communication, such as telepathy, is in italics, and thoughts are not marked up.

Hello John.
John turned around, looking for who had spoken in his head. "Where are you?" he asked the empty room.
I know you, he thought.

For more detail, see my answer here: https://writing.stackexchange.com/a/35380/29032


For regular dialogue, you don't need italics. Quotation marks are what marks dialogue.

Italics are usually reserved for non-verbal communication. That could be the voice in your character's head and your character's replies to it, or that too could be in quotation marks - depending on how you want to present this dynamic.

Thoughts, in my experience, usually go without either.


If those three are your choices, I think you’re trying to create categories that aren’t needed.

Two things matter here: What is expressed, and by whom? I chose “expressed” to avoid “said” or “thought” or anything similar.

Please define the voice that only the main character can hear in his head? Is that his own thought or a hallucination, something saintly or what, please? It might make little difference in typography, and it might be vital.

Doubly, please explain what the main character used to communicate with that voice. How the voice got into his head seems to me very different from how he responded.

On the level of this Question, the main character's thoughts would appear to be nothing different but “pure; original” thoughts might show all the difference in the world.


If this is a story where the Main Character does not have agency over the voice in his head (i.e. The main character has Dis-associative Identity Disorder (multiple personality), or is being possessed, or is being talked to by a telepath) it may be critical to identify the difference if the character's thoughts are constant. I point to Animorphs which used unusual punction (Namely <>) to identify communication between two characters that was not verbal (with mouth movements and sound). These were used instead of quotation marks. The series was First Person, so the narrative voice was internal thoughts.

If using third person, the narrative voice is standard nu-punctuated sentences, Dialong uses Quotations Marks, Quotes in Dialog use single quotation marks, internal dialog is italicized.

If their is a character voice that is capable of non-verbal speech, especially in a character's head, than the thoughts and the mental dialog need to be seperated (unless you want to be ambiguous as to whether it's a real person or a hyper critical internal voice).

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