by Tim Kane
The debate between a first-person and third-person narrator can get heated. The key advantage to first-person is the total and complete access to the protagonist’s thoughts. But say you opt for third person, that doesn’t mean you can’t delve into your character’s mind.
I tend to write in very close third-person. That means, for all intents and purposes, I am writing in first-person, just using third-person nouns. I find that this actually sharpens the thoughts my protagonist has. For example, what I hate about first-person narration is the mechanics: “I opened the door and walked over to the closet.” No one thinks that way. And it’s this sort of thing that tends to dull down the real zingers that are my protagonist’s thoughts.
What follows are some tips to showing interior monologue, utilizing third-person narration.
Italics Are Your Friend
So long as you don’t have paragraphs full of your character’s inner most dilemmas, italics are a fine way to set off your protagonist’s thoughts. The downside: this limits your use of italics in other areas (for sound effects or titles of books).
Create A New Paragraph
Don’t fear the one sentence paragraph. Sometimes you can create a new paragraph just to contain your character’s thoughts.
Interrupt the Thoughts
Instead of having a mega-block of stream of consciousness, you can create mini-pauses (or beats). The easiest way is the simple “he thought” or “she thought”. Even better, see if you can add a character action related to the thoughts.
Set Up the Reader for the Interior Monologue
Sometimes you’ve just had enough of “he thought” or “she thought” to show that the character is thinking. You could simply insert a character action and then let the thoughts follow naturally.
She shook her head. Where else was I supposed to go?
React First, Think Second
Ever grab a hot pan? I bet you didn’t think, “Damn, that burns.” No, you yanked your hand away and then cursed. Same with your protagonist. She’ll have some sort of physical reaction (from fear to queasiness) and then have a thought reaction.
Remember, first-person narration (as alluring as it sounds) doesn’t hold all the cards. Give third-person a whirl and insert those bits of interior monologue to give some insight into your character.