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The question basically explains it all. How should I write thought? Should I use quotations? Italization? Or should I just leave it be? This question has been bugging me for a while and I decided today I would finally ask so there it is.

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There are two general conventions, following from how dialog is handled.

Like Direct Speech, dialog spoken by the character, Direct Thought in the present tense, regardless of the tense of the story, but the text is italicized and not quoted.

Gandalf said, "You shall not pass!"

Bobby, the Balrog, chuckled to himself. Ok, Boomer

Indirect thought is written in past tense and in a regular typeface because it is information presented by the narrator as a character's thoughts, but is understood that it might be paraphrased or embellished and is not the literal thoughts of that character.

Gandalf said, "You shall not pass!"

Bobby, the Balrog, thought OMG.

Free Indirect thought is like an Indirect Thought except it is presented without attribution tags and can blur the lines between narrator voice and character thoughts, purposefully, since it is trying really to minimize the emotional distance of the writing.

Gandalf shouted that the Bobby won't get by him. What a dork, in that pointy hat. That staff of his can't hurt me, it's like a tooth pick. Time to make Wizard Kibble.

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  • True, forgive me for my poor judgment. I just don't see how the second example wouldn't need quotations or italics for internal thought.
    – Nai45
    Feb 19 at 16:22
  • @Erk, the answer has been edited since Nai45 posted his comment. It's not referring to the current examples
    – EDL
    Feb 19 at 18:44
  • @EDL, yeah... that comment was edited into uselessness... but good work! Do you have any sources on the different styles. Sounds interesting!
    – Erk
    Feb 19 at 18:59
  • @DWKraus, talk about damning with faint praise. You do understand that this is only illustrating the point I'm making. Right? The issue you are referring is an artifact of how this system renders text.
    – EDL
    Feb 20 at 2:58
  • @EDL I couldn't tell that was your problem. No ill intent. I did a tweak - does that change your intent?
    – DWKraus
    Feb 20 at 4:57
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Writing thought, or, as it's often called, internal emotion, depends on the POV and how deep it is.

I'm most familiar with pretty deep POV (one person per scene where the narrator and the POV person is the same), but using an omnipotent third-person POV (the narrator sees all including people's thoughts, even several in the same scene) I think using italics or similar might be needed. I'll let other's speak about that POV.

In the opposite end of the spectrum, first-person POV, your whole story could be considered internal emotion:

The supermarket is full of people. I'm not going to hang around here for too long. I used to like people. Maybe I'm just pandemically challenged? It's hard to tell. But, just look at those people over there with the toilet paper. Oh my God.

Let's transform that into third-person:

The supermarket is full of people. He's not going to hang around here for too long. He used to like people. Maybe he's just pandemically challenged? It's hard to tell. But, just look at those people over there with the toilet paper. Oh my God.

However third-person just sound better in past tense:

The supermarket was full of people. She was not going to hang around there for too long. She used to like people. Maybe she was just pandemically challenged? It was hard to tell. But, just look at those people over there with the toilet paper. Oh my God.

To get better at writing internal emotion, you could experiment with transforming first-person passages into third. In my experience, it works best for learning to do it... it becomes too awkward and strenuous to use as a strategy to produce third-person text by translating first- into third-person. And you'll realize some of it will not be easy to translate. (I had to change the sentences around quite a bit to make them sound OK in all three versions...)

Third-person becomes easier as you keep writing. Internal emotion will also be easier to do when you get to know the characters, so expect to write half a novel before they start sounding any good... With a little luck, in editing the POV-person(s) will "tell" you how it should be...

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