follow a rookie writing his first novel

Thoughts on thoughts

It’s common knowledge that when representing dialogue in our writing, we never do so in a completely authentic way. Gone are the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ that would make our characters seem like hesitant morons. Gone are the repetitive habitual fillers such as ‘like’ and ‘you know’ after every other word that would interrupt the flow to the extent that it couldn’t be followed. And don’t get me started on the modern habit of raising the inflexion of the voice at the end of every sentence which makes it sound as if everything is a question!

But what about thoughts. How should we represent those and make the characters having them seem authentic? Think about it; unless I’m unique, my thoughts flit from one thing to another constantly. I almost never have a single unambiguous, uninterrupted train of thought that lasts for any length of time. Equally, my motives are rarely that clear or straightforward either; more a morass of conflicting wants and desires. But on paper, in a novel, how ‘cleaned up’ do I need to make them. Hmmm

I did hear that Ford Maddox Ford was the author that best represented human thoughts and motives. I’ve not read any of his work though, perhaps I should. Have you? If so, what did you think?



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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on thoughts

  1. Um, er, well, I write pretty much as I speak, leaving out the extraneous rubbish as you say. I probably do the thinking in much the same way. What I hate in novels is where it’s all thinking, streams and streams of it, pouring out as if from a chocolate fountain, and like the chocolate fountain, after a while, it makes you feel a little sick.
    Haven’t read any Ford Maddox Brown. Perhaps I should. Thank you for the tip.

  2. I’ve never read Ford Maddox Ford. I probably should.

    I almost never try to portray actual thoughts. As you say, too disorganized. In general I concentrate mostly on dialogue and action (I don’t have a lot of detailed description of things or people either, unless they’re really necesssary).

    I do describe thoughts, of course, which is different from portraying them: “She said she’d be back in a half hour. I thought that was ridiculous unless she was going to drive at ninety all the way.” Much more to the point.

    I occasionally drop the reader into a character’s thoughts for a moment, but that’s about it. For example, in my most recent story, one character is in a fight, and she’s just thinking that she’s in a pretty good position to beat the guy when:

    Someone grabbed her forearms from behind. Shit.

    The sudden curse word (and from a character who would never curse out loud) gives the reader (I hope) a quick sense of how badly this could go.

    • I pretty much work with thoughts in a similar way to yourself and I’m going to read FMF as well to see if there are any gems to be gleaned from his treatment. As a forgotten genius he’s undergoing a little bit of a resurgence here in the UK due to one of his novels being dramatised on TV; I noticed you could get his four part masterpiece in Tesco’s the other day for under three pounds – thats value!

  3. Interesting question, and I was sort of wrestling with something similar myself. Ultimately, since my book is told in first person, I decided one way to clean things up would be to try to get rid of “I thought” all together (that doesn’t exactly solve your issue though). I decided this because, as I said, it’s told in first person. If I’m writing something that isn’t dialogue, it’s the main character’s thoughts, so saying “I thought” would be redundant. So in the example from Anthony Lee Collins above, I would have changed that to “She said she’d be back in a half hour. Unless she would be driving ninety all the way, that’d be a ridiculous goal.” or something similar. This is not to say that I think one way is correct and one way is incorrect. It’s just something that I’m trying out to make my character seem more confidant.

    My thoughts are usually flit around too, but I think the trouble with writing like that is, for me, I sometimes have a hard time making other people follow my logical leaps. I think we have to slow down or explain things more that we would in our own heads or we’d risk confusing readers.

    And I do think conflicting wants and desires would be more interesting to read about than straightforward motives, so I’d say that’s a feature, not a bug.

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