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I'm writing a story in the 3rd person, but there are parts where I use italicized text in the 1st person to tell what the protagonist is thinking. This works pretty well most of the time, but there are some cases where there's non-thought text that I want to interweave in with the thought text, and I'm not sure if it's okay to put all of that in one paragraph or if I'm supposed to break it up. Normally, for dialog, you'd just start a new paragraph each time the speaker changes, but obviously when it's just one character thinking a bunch of things then that rule isn't very helpful.

How would you format the following passage? Would you leave it as one paragraph, or break it apart into separate paragraphs?

I’ll finally get to be in a class with people my own age, she thought excitedly. But what's with that weird girl I bumped into in the hall earlier? Questions filled her thoughts, the ramifications spinning through her mind. What if she's the one I'm looking for? What if John had been right all along?

You could break it apart into 3 paragraphs:

I’ll finally get to be in a class with people my own age, she thought excitedly. But what's with that weird girl I bumped into in the hall earlier?
Questions filled her thoughts, the ramifications spinning through her mind.
What if she's the one I'm looking for? What if John had been right all along?

Or you could break it apart into 2 paragraphs in a couple different ways:

I’ll finally get to be in a class with people my own age, she thought excitedly. But what's with that weird girl I bumped into in the hall earlier? Questions filled her thoughts, the ramifications spinning through her mind.
What if she's the one I'm looking for? What if John had been right all along?

I’ll finally get to be in a class with people my own age, she thought excitedly. But what's with that weird girl I bumped into in the hall earlier?
Questions filled her thoughts, the ramifications spinning through her mind. What if she's the one I'm looking for? What if John had been right all along?

Or you could leave it as 1 paragraph... What's the correct way to format it?

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  • I wouldn't have "Questions filled her thoughts" here. We can see that questions filled her thoughts because we're already reading those very questions. The same is true of the adverb "excitedly".
    – Laurel
    Dec 1, 2021 at 3:50
  • Yea, I just wrote this passage as an example... you could imagine something more descriptive being inserted there instead. Dec 1, 2021 at 4:12
  • As a note, I've generally decided to stick with the single paragraph approach, but I'd still be curious to hear if people have strong opinions in agreement or to the contrary. Dec 3, 2021 at 6:18
  • Free Indirect Speech –– you don't need italics or the extra words telling us she is having thoughts, it's obvious.
    – wetcircuit
    Dec 5, 2021 at 13:02
  • I disagree... given that the entire rest of the book is written in 3rd person, it's very jarring to suddenly switch to 1st person without some kind of formatting to signal that to the reader before they start reading it Dec 6, 2021 at 18:15

2 Answers 2

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I've done this, and treated it like dialogue. If there is only one person you do this for, (3rd person limited) then you don't need the attribution. An italicized paragraph is that person thinking.

I’ll finally get to be in a class with people my own age! But what's with that weird girl I bumped into in the hall earlier?

Questions filled her thoughts, the ramifications spinning through her mind.

What if she's the one I'm looking for? What if John had been right all along?

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    It doesn't start to get really bad until you have a psychic conversation going on with one person, an interfaced conversation electronically with an AI, while the main character is also having an in-person verbal conversation with two other people. Even the main character got confused. That took a lot of rewriting. :)
    – DWKraus
    Dec 3, 2021 at 18:08
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  1. There is no need to use a special formatting. As mentioned in the comments, free indirect speech does not require any special formatting. Also, the reader is typically perfectly capable of identifying free indirect speech and process it as such.

  2. the 'non-thought text' from the example is unnecessary. We are reading the thoughts of a character, and the thoughts convey the idea of confusion and doubt. You are already showing it, there is no need to break the flow to tell the obvious.

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