Must I Italicize Internal Dialogue in a First-Person Narrative?


Dear Curious in VA . . .

Normally, I’d recommend italicizing brief thoughts that truly feel like dialogue on the tip of a character’s tongue, even in a first-person narration. I’m talking about those things they almost utter but don’t—like: “I don’t think so, pal” or “Not in my opinion”—in response to someone standing right there with them. The character is “speaking” those things in their mind, even if they’re not daring to say them out loud for some reason, so I like the visual clarity and feel of the italics. But you felt jarred when you did that—plus, you’re italicizing poems in your book. It’s quite fine to not italicize those small internal utterances in your first-person narrative. Clarity is the ultimate goal, and I don’t anticipate readers being confused in this situation. Save the italics for the poems.

Happy writing!
The Editor

The Editor, Deborah Halverson, has been editing books for over 25 years and specializes in Middle Grade/Young Adult fiction and nonfiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. For her editorial guidance in making your manuscript ready for submission to agents and publishers or for self-publishing, click Editorial services. Learn more in her books: Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies and Writing New Adult Fiction.


    • I’m so glad, Sheila. Some things aren’t about “rules” and require a lot of pondering and poking for a writer to settle on a choice. In the Big Picture, clarity is almost always the decisive factor. Happy writing!

    • Yes, internal monologue is present tense, first person, just like regular dialogue. For third-person narration, I feel the italics are almost always essential for smooth reading, quick/easy comprehension. I’m sure there are exceptional instances, but for clarity and smooth reading, I recommend italicizing internal monologue in third person.

        • I think I understand what you are asking. You can set italicized internal dialogue on its own, between blocks of narrative — OR, as we sometimes do for regular dialogue, you can set it IN a narrative block. Whatever feels right for that instance. Also, you won’t need the speaker tag (“she said”) if it’s a first-person narrative. For example: The guy cut right in front of me. I don’t think so, pal. I tapped his shoulder and said, “The line starts back there.”

          • Sorry this is a late reaction. My most recent (amazing editor) recommended me not italicizing internal monologue even in third person. For example:
            She walked away from him. I should have known he’s not worth it.
            Yes, without a tag. Is this normal too? I don’t know, but I really want to italicize it.

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