Thoughts in italics?

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December Flash Club

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Nov 28, 2018
So, I'm reading the 1st draft of my 2nd novel which I finished about 15 months ago and put away whilst I wrote my third (which took me a lot longer than I thought it would!) ahead of doing some revision on it.

Although it needs a lot of work, it's not as bad as thought it was going to be and I can definitely see potential in it, but there's one thing I did it in which I'm not sure if it's a no-no.

The novel is in third person present limited and I've put a lot of the protag's thoughts in italics throughout. I'm sure that I've seen somewhere before that this is something that you're not supposed to do, however, I've seen this done in a couple of novels and I like it in my own because it's acts as quick subtext in fast dialogue scenes and injects irony and humour where the protag says something but immediately thinks the opposite.

What do Litopians think? Are thoughts in italics something you'd do in your work? Is this an unwritten no-no rule or am I making a fuss out of nothing?
I'm very much pro italics, especially when writing in 3rd person. My internal dialogue/thoughts are always in 1st POV, present tense rather than my usual 3rd or 1st POV past tense—italicising makes it clear that it's not a POV or tense slip.

I've found italicising initernal thoughts can also help reduce the need to add "he thought" to the end of the sentence too.
I'll second the comments by @Nmlee because if they're short, sharp and contradictory (as in, they're subtext), it's going to work perfectly well ... the only proviso is to not write in those dreaded words: s/he thought. Unless, of course, they are mind-readers and projectors of thought-matter, but if the character is telling me s/he is thinking to oneself, it feels (as a reader) like the writer doesn't trust me to get it.
Personally, I don't like italics for thoughts especially if they are more than a few words. It's like using capitals to shout. In this case, you are saying loudly to the reader - this is a thought, okay, got it? There are many ways to let the reader know and often it goes without saying, so why use italics to say so. Writing 'he thought' or 'he remembered' can be just as invisible as ' he said' as a dialogue tag so why emphasize it with a glaring change of typeface. Dialogue is not emphasized (except by innocuous inverted commas) and readers are not stupid. They don't need telling unless it is unclear.
That said, short sharp thoughts that perhaps have an urgency to them, or are a sudden revelation are fine or maybe someone swearing to themselves. Stuff like liar as the focal character realizes he is being lied to, or fuck it, when something bad happens are I think okay as these are sudden off the cuff thoughts that perhaps do need emphasizing.
I looked this same question up only a few days ago. I've always used italics and added , 'she thought' afterwards. Perhaps the 'she thought' is not necessary throughout or at all? The other complication I have is my latest book is for kids (middle grade). Would they be familiar with the concept that italics means inner thought? I can't see any flicking through Harry Potter, say. Then again, I read somewhere else middle-grade books don't have much inner-thought in them, so what do I know?
I use italics and definitely not, he/she thought before or after. I might also use something like, she thought he looked familiar. It depends on what best suits the moment.
Italics seem quite common in YA, certainly in the YA I've read. It is important, though, not to have long paragraphs of thought. That is likely to be a form of telling, not showing, or a means for exposition. Thought dialogue, I believe, as Steve said, should be short and sharp.
This is a question which has bothered me in the past and I have done it both ways. I think I'm sort of with Steve & Paul. Although in your specific case, Robert, I can see why you'd like to present it in the way you feel is best.

Of the two I tend to think that if the words are clear on the page, then there is no confusion and our readers should 'get it' without italicising the text.

But is that right or is it wrong? As with a lot in writing there are many schools of thought and I guess there is no definitive answer. Whichever you go for, do it clearly - and I agree with all regarding - he/she thought as a "speech" tag.

Now, on this very subject, here's a short excerpt from a Marian Keyes novel which had me crying with laughter the first time I read it. This is how she handles it from the point of view of her main character.
A noise at the window made me jerk about three feet off the bed. What was it? The branch of a tree banging against the glass? Or a roaming madman on the lookout for a girl to torture and murder? My money was on the roaming madman. After all, this was Los Angeles, full, by all accounts, of pathological killers. I'd read one or two Jackie Collins novels in my time and I knew all about psychos who think in italics.
Not long now. Not long before revenge would be his. And then they’d be sorry they’d laughed at him and refused to return his calls. He was strong now. He’d never been stronger. And he had his knife. The knife that would do his deft bidding. First he’d cut off her hair, then he’d cut off her jewellery then he’d start opening her skin. She’d beg, she’d plead for mercy, for the agony to stop. But it wouldn’t stop, because this time it was her turn for the pain, this time it was her turn …

Keyes, Marian. Angels (Walsh Family) . Penguin Books Ltd.
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Cause marketing

December Flash Club