I'm struggling with my thoughts about what I see as a dichotomy.

Basically, I'm not sure when started, but emulating some novels I read, I started using mainly narration to describing the thoughts and internal conflicts of my POV characters.

Very rarely actually writing internal dialogue. It's kinda become part of my style. I'm not fully sure if that's good or bad?

What I originally wrote, using only narration:

  1. He wasn't going with total strangers or anything. Both Houses were connected by marriage. The leader of House Basthed being his father's brother-in-law. But if Morgan ever met his uncle and his family, he was probably too young to remember.
  2. "Right?" asked Cailin, her big eyes on the verge of tears. Making it hard to say no.
  3. His uncle was content about talking of his old friend, but there was something that bothered Morgan.
  4. Emmer hadn't changed much. His presence brought back some bad memories.

Compared to the same paragraphs, including internal thoughts:

  1. He wasn't going with total strangers or anything. Both Houses were connected by marriage. The leader of House Basthed being his father's brother-in-law. ‘I can't remember meeting my uncle or anyone from his family. Maybe I did when I was just a baby?’
  2. "Right?" asked Cailin, her big eyes on the verge of tears. ‘It’s hard to say no if you look at me with that expression,’ he thought.
  3. ‘He looks so happy talking about his old ally… Then why he doesn’t speak about him more often? Unless…’
  4. ‘He hasn’t changed much since I left.’ Looking at him brought back some bad memories.

As you can see, there's a huge difference, and I'm not fully sure which one is better.

I feel like the first series of examples are more professional. But because of that reason, they are drier.

And this is supposed to be for a YA audience, so maybe the lighter tone of the second series of examples would be better? What do you think?

I'm writing third-person limited. And I'm doing POVs with more than one character.

  • 3
    It's possible to have the tone of the second set with the style of the first set. For example: His uncle looked so happy talking about his old ally. Why didn’t he speak about him more often? Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 15:51
  • 2
    I have to admit I like the internal thoughts better, but some of that is style. In paragraph 2, though, I think you have speech by one person, and internal dialog by another. If that's the case, you should really separate them into two paragraphs because internal dialog is a form of speech. Hard to tell because it's just a snippet.
    – DWKraus
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 17:16

2 Answers 2


With regard to indirect thought and direct thought we can take a page from Shakespeare.

 there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
                                              Hamlet, Act, 2 Scene 2

It is how it is used that decides whether it is good or bad.

Indirect thought, like indirect speech, is in the narrator's voice, and written in the same tense as the narration. Since it doesn't come from the character, is a form of concision or summary, in that it doesn't strictly move in real-time. Albeit, the time ratio can be anything; from 1:1 (real-time), 10:1 (time passing fast), or 1:100 (time slowing down). When used well, summary moves the story forward quickly because it can directly speak of conflict in the story without, necessarily, feeling like expository information.

Direct thought, like direct speech is in the character's voice, and is written in present tense. Since it is exactly what a character is thinking, or saying, it is in real time, and works well with beats -- statements of character action to establish a sense of motion and filling space.

The two can be mixed together to create an engaging, emotional distance with the character and vary the rate of time passing to establish tension and suspense in the story.

That said, either can be used to make abysmal writing and agonizing story telling -- and not in a good way. If your words make for engaging sentences and your choices of what to share in summary/concision and what belongs in scene/real-time, then both direct thought and indirect thought are effective techniques.

Always keep in mind that they call it 'storytelling' and not 'story-showing' for a reason. And there are no fixed rules about how to do things or express things. There are patterns and expected forms certainly. They exist because they are how past writers figured out how to tell their stories, and other writers copied the method. Future writers benefit from aping those techniques, but are entirely free to figure out new methods and their own tricks to use in their storytelling. If they are effective, then writers will ape their techniques.


Show, don't tell. Narrator saying "His uncle was content about..." is committing first degree sin against this rule. Filtering the same through thoughts of a character alleviates most of the weight of this sin, although it would be better to have the contentment being displayed through behavioral sins instead.

You seem to use a third-person omniscient narrator. This is the easiest option to write, of them all, and as result the easiest to made cheesy, abusing the omniscience, telling things that without being shown would remain unknown otherwise.

It's much easier to get away with this when narrating in first person. In this case you can mix narration and internal dialogue freely, omitting quote marks and achieving pretty juicy and light-hearted style when the narration becomes indistinguishable from internal dialogue and suddenly gets in the way of common events to comical effects (a lengthy paragraph of deep introspection ending rapidly with "ouch" as the protagonist walks into a lamp post because he was so lost in thoughts he stopped paying attention.) It also helps a lot with smooth building of mood, state of mind and general condition of the narrator, through creating specific flaws in perception and thought process caused by these factors.

Introducing these techniques in third person omniscient is pretty hard and rarely smooth. You're stuck with either quoting or reporting - and as you noticed correctly, " the first series of example are more proffessional... But because of that reason a lot more dry." Yes, professional as in a report, not a novel or a story.

The writer's craft is primarily about evoking specific feelings in the reader. Nobody cares about accurate and clear representation of fictional events in a fictional world they don't feel attached to in any way. The events, the world, are vessels, tools to deliver the feelings - awe, amusement, nostalgia, apprehension, whichever your work is aiming at. So you must deliver them in a way that works for these feelings. Plain reporting is a way to "keep it professional" and strip the text of all emotions, so the antithesis of the writer's art.

  • One thing. Technically I'm using the third person limited, not ominicient. If it looked like I was, that's probably a mistake in my part. The problem is, I have two characters I use mainly for povs. So using first person is not really an option for me. Because the POV shifts would feel weird in first person. Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 17:07
  • @ErinTesden In that case your narrator can't know thoughts of others - but you can freely use thoughts of the 'current focus' without quotes, mixing them with narration. OTOH shifting focus like that tends to be more confusing than switching POV character between sections/chapters.
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 2, 2021 at 18:14
  • Understood. I'm curious about this, what is your opinion on italicized text for thoughts. I've seen some people thing this is wrong, while others that is the standar thing to do. Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 17:50
  • @ErinTesden It's a bit of a crutch, but if you have problems distinguishing them from general narration (and want to distinguish them, which is a purely stylistic choice!), feel free to use it. It's the easy way out, and as such, a little cheap so only use it if you have problems achieving that just by mastery of style and language.
    – SF.
    Commented Mar 3, 2021 at 18:04

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