What do you think about first person thoughts in a third person book? For example: I need to go to the bathroom, Joe thought. Let’s say Joe is a main character and we have insight into his thoughts. Is this a style to avoid?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Of course, this is a subjective thing and a personal preference on my part, but I cannot stand it when characters think. Now, that just sounds wrong, but you know what I mean. I am not knocking introspection, only the kind of character thinking as shown in the example above.

There are lots of reasons for avoiding this, but here’s the major one: Most third person stories are written from a very close point of view. They are almost first person stories of the main character. When this happens, you don’t ever need to say, “he thought,” because everything that isn’t another character’s dialogue is a direct observation or thought of the main character.

The other reason is that writing, I need to go to the bathroom, Joe thought., has the author telling not showing, using summary instead of scene. Both are no-nos.

Here is the exact same information (Joe has to pee) conveyed without Joe consciously thinking:

    The rest of the class raced ahead to the mummies, but Joe stayed behind, peering at the museum map. Where was the bathroom? The toes on his right foot began to twitch. He started having trouble standing still. He needed to find a bathroom, any bathroom, even a girl’s bathroom. Now.

There’s a much greater sense of urgency in this example, but more importantly we are with Joe in the moment. It’s not the more clinical abstract “thought.”

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.
%d bloggers like this: