BLOG SERIES: NEW IN CMOS-17 “Unspoken Discourse”

I hope you’re enjoying my series of blog posts about changes in the new 17th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you have just discovered this, click here to see the first, second and third posts.

I started with some punctuation additions. But I wanted to blog about this one separately since this rule, even in the 16th edition, has sparked some debate.

13.43: Unspoken discourse

Thought, imagined dialogue, and other internal discourse may be enclosed in quotation marks or not, according to the context or the writer’s preference. Examples:

  • “I don’t care if we have offended Morgenstern,” thought Vera. “Besides,” she told herself, “they’re all fools.”
  • Why, we wondered, did we choose this route?

If a thought begins midsentence, it normally begins with a capital letter (as in the third example).

  • She thought, If there’s an app for that, I’ll need to program it myself.

Traditionally, unspoken thoughts (including silent prayers and hearing the Holy Spirit in one’s mind) have been italicized. Readers are used to this format and may find it disconcerting to see quotation marks around words that aren’t actually spoken. They may also be taken out of the story for a moment by seeing thoughts that aren’t italicized.

Novelists who use what’s commonly referred to as “deep POV” will not use phrases like “he thought” or “we wondered” or “she told herself,” but simply show the character’s thoughts. If the story is told in past tense, use of present tense signals a direct thought, which traditionally has been put in italics. This is used sparingly, however, with most of the character’s internal discourse remaining in past tense. Examples:

  • Vera didn’t care if she offended Morgenstern. They were all fools anyway.
  • Why hadn’t they chosen that route?
  • If there was an app for that, she’d need to program it herself.

Time for you to weigh in. How do you prefer to show internal discourse? Does your preference differ from your publisher’s?