1. How do you think? (Ms. Nitpicker assumes you do; after all, you are intelligent enough to have come here for guidance.) Do you routinely think of yourself in the third person, as though you were someone else? Ms. Nitpicker does not think to herself, "She was feeling hungry, and she was afraid she was going to suffer for it." She might think, "Jeez Louise, I'm gonna starve to death here!" Outside of this formal guide, Ms. Nitpicker has never referred to herself as "she" and has seldom thought in the past tense, as in "She was sure she was going to die." No, Ms. Nitpicker thinks, "Oh, shit, I'm gonna die!" For instance, does this sound right?
    *Duncan had only taken me in because he'd known. He'd known all that time that I would become like him. Immortal."
    The author got the "I" part right, but not the tense. Richie would have thought, "Duncan only took me in because he knew. He knew all that time that I'd become like him--Immortal."

  2. An author can certainly DESCRIBE the sort of thoughts going through a character's head, but she really shouldn't add "he thought" or fancy formatting to it, because he DIDN'T think "He was getting weary of being the star of hurt/comfort stories." What he probably thought was, "OWWWWW!" or possibly, "I'm getting tired of being the star of hurt/comfort stories." However, check out the caveats below.

  3. The punctuation goes with the thought itself. This is wrong:
    Who needs sentinel senses, he thought?
    More correctly, this would be: "Who needs sentinel senses?" he thought. You can substitute stars or slashes or single quotes for the double quotes. The thinking wasn't a question, only the "who needs sentinel senses" was.

  4. Don't mix third person (he/she/it/they) and first person (I) thoughts. Pick one way to tell us what your character is thinking. If it's first person and sounds the way human beings think to themselves, you can put your stars or italics or single quotes or double quotes around it. STICK TO YOUR CHOICE as much as possible, certainly within the same sentence and preferably within the same paragraph.
    I tend to be judgmental, too, he thought sadly, but she was getting too harsh, she deepened the conflict between good and bad writers.
    Come on, guys, is she dead or something? Put it all right now, in the present:
    I tend to be judgmental, too, he thought sadly, but she's getting so harsh she's deepening the conflict between good and bad writers.
    (Frankly, she doesn't care, either.)
    Or you can word it ALL in the third person, taking care not to add italics or stars or other fancy symbols:
    He knew he tended to be judgmental, but she was getting too harsh; she deepened the conflict between good and bad writers.
  5. In fan fiction, if the character is indeed thinking in the present tense and first person, you probably DO need to set it off with a different font or stars or italics or single quotes, but this is not a rule set in stone. Ms. Nitpicker grants you dispensation to break it. Still, this can be confusing:
    She's getting on my nerves, the bad writer admitted to herself, and I think she needs to die.
    You might want to set off the actual thoughts from the author's descriptive interjections:
    She's getting on my nerves, the bad writer admitted to herself, and I think she needs to die.
  6. Putting the character's thoughts entirely in the third person is all right, but then you must not make it pretty with italics or anything else. Do not highlight/italicize/set off third person thoughts. Again, keep to the same type of format within a paragraph. Don't give us:
    *This kid is going to have a good time he just didn't know it yet.*
    Why? Because it switches from present tense to past tense; until the good time, it seems to be someone's actual thoughts, but then it switches to a description of that person's thinking. Another on-line mistake:
    Would it work? It had to. Please...please...please.
    Actual thinking would have been something along the lines of, Will it work? It has to. Please...please...please. Or leave the description of thinking--the would it work part--unformatted, and only italicize the actual thoughts, the please bit.

    On the other hand, you may say,

    He was cold and scared and couldn't help thinking that he was probably going to die, and messily, too.
    You can ramble on for paragraphs that way, describing his thinking in third person and without formatting and without switching tenses or persons, as long as you stick to it. It's all right. Really.



I'm thoroughly chastened, and I want to return to the main page.

I think I need more guidance. Send me to HOLY MOTHER GRAMMATICA'S GUIDE TO GOOD WRITING. Maybe I should visit BAD FANFIC! NO BISCUIT!.

I feel I have learned all I need to learn, and want to take MS. NITPICKER'S FAN FICTION TEST--HOW WELL CAN YOU WRITE?

Copyright 1999 - 2013, Jane A. Leavell. All rights reserved.