This is kind of difficult to explain (im sorry if its really long) and I haven't found a question yet that addresses my exact issue. Apologies in advance if this breaks a rule, I can't find them anywhere and can't be sure if I remember them all.

Anyway, I'm writing a story where the protagonist spends a great deal of time alone. He thinks to himself things that I'd rather keep secret unless plot relevant, is much smarter than me, and frequently reminisces of scenes I haven't written yet. And I also use the thoughts of other characters to build the contrasting nature of his outward personality and his inward personality. So I figured tpo is the best option (tell me if im wrong). I've never written in tpo before. And honestly it feels like I'm writing more in tpl. I don't know how to write a characters thoughts without overusing pronouns or just generally annoying/confusing the reader. Can I italicize sentences in first person to indicate thoughts? I've always thought that was sloppy. Describing what they're thinking creates a lot of pronoun overuse. Just saying the questions they have is kind of confusing. How much of other characters' thoughts can I incorporate before it becomes a jumbled mess? Right now I have the story starting off with a narrated back story type intro and then moving on into direct dialogue and what the characters do and think and feel and see. It honestly just feels like a mess. I know what's going on because I wrote it but I can't tell if anyone else will. I always tend to ramble and not make sense when I write, sorry if I did that here too

  • 1
    "I also use the thoughts of other characters" - are they POV characters? Or you think that with TPO you don't need any POV?
    – Alexander
    Apr 10, 2020 at 22:52
  • 2
    Idk how to explain so I'll give an example. Protag and daughter talking. Daughter asks a question and thinks to herself what she hopes his answer is. He answers, then thinks to himself that he lied and what the true answer should have been. Another scenario: protag and son talking. Son tells father he's worried about him. Thinks to himself the reasons why. Protag says hes fine. Thinks to himself that he's really not.
    – Jane Doe
    Apr 10, 2020 at 23:02
  • 1
    Then when it's plot relevant I will explain how his neighbors and coworkers feel about him. Or when he goes missing I switch over to watching what the people searching for him and doing
    – Jane Doe
    Apr 10, 2020 at 23:09

1 Answer 1


If you have thoughts of your protagonist and thoughts of other characters, then that's omniscient. If only the thoughts/feelings of your protagonist are revealed, that's limited. It seems like you want other thoughts shown, so I think that would be the omniscient route.

I think italicizing thoughts is effective and clear, not sure why that would be a problem. That way, you can use a character's name or pronoun as a tag once, and it's clear that anything following it for the next few sentences is what they're thinking. The italics make the clear distinction between thoughts and narrative, and if you use your context right you could sometimes even avoid using a tag at all, having no worry about overusing pronouns. For example:

I gazed out at the horizon line, squinting. I tilted my head. How does the sky become so beautiful at night? I thought. It's insane... Almost seems like I don't deserve it.


I gazed out at the horizon line, squinting. I tilted my head. How does the sky become so beautiful at night? It's insane... Almost seemed like I don't deserve it.

(I don't know where these examples came from but you hopefully get the idea)

Also, if you're worried about rambling or being unclear, I've heard that it's good to take a break after you've written something to forget about what your intentions were when you wrote it. Then you go back to it and revise. You can also obviously get some others to read what you've written to get their opinions.

Hope this helped you a little bit - I maybe have done some random rambling myself xD. Have fun with your story.

  • 1
    That helped tremendously. Thank you very much
    – Jane Doe
    Apr 10, 2020 at 23:46
  • 1
    Extra question real quick though, should it all be in past tense except for their explicitly stated thoughts? Example: "He thought about how he felt." VS "He thought about how he feels." For indirect thoughts?
    – Jane Doe
    Apr 10, 2020 at 23:54
  • 1
    I'm not a 100% foolproof source, but I would go with option 1. Because he thought about how he was feeling in the past, so those feelings need to be in the past as well. Unless you are referring to an overarching behavioral pattern with him or something - like he always feels a certain way even up to the present, then you could say "He thought about how he feels" because you are referring to a constant feeling. Maybe he always feels confused, and thought about that fact. But if the feelings are occurring in one specific instance, you should probably say "He thought about how he felt."
    – Tasch
    Apr 11, 2020 at 19:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.