First-person POV

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


Dear Editor…

I’ve noticed in many recently published novels that first-person, present-tense narratives don’t use italics for the main character’s thoughts. It doesn’t feel right for me to do so in my middle grade fantasy because, in a way, the narrative in this tense feels so immediate that everything that my narrator share seems like a thought. When I have put the obvious dialogue-type thoughts in italics, it feels jarring to me. Plus, I use italics for poems in the narrative. I’m curious if you have any thoughts about this.

Curious in VA

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.