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Think in Text

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A common problem faced by many writers is how to convey thought or telepathic "speech" in text. After all, the written word doesn't lend itself to all those convenient editing tricks used in voice-overs for film, music or radio. Yes, that famous slightly hollow sound is the one we're thinking of, here.

In text.

Standard dialogue with "s/he thought" tacked on just gets... repetitive when it happens often. Even if the author has done a really good job trying to avoid it by hitting ''Roget's Thesaurus'' hard for inspiration. The problem is, it hardly stands out from ordinary dialogue. Hence, this trope happened as a shorthand. Or, just a break from boredom.

Think in Text is, therefore, a distinctive sub-trope of Painting the Medium and sister trope of Translation Convention mixed with Unconventional Formatting. It's very closely related to Inner Monologue in some way, as well, especially when its tricks have been used there.

Several ways to use the textual paint palette have had to evolve for the thunken word. And, here they are. (Obviously, these refer mostly to texts written in the English language; other languages might have their own rules or standard ways to format thoughts.)

Thinking With the Typeset

By far the most common way is to mess with the type, and this can be seen across all the print media.

Italics rule the roost.
So predominant is the italic option, it's become a convention! Listing all the examples of works that use standard dialogue, but, in italics, would take forever. So please, don't even start thinking about it.note 

But, as in all things, just using a single method is not to everybody's taste. Some like to hold the quotation marks and just go with the italics. Others mix and match what they use, when, depending whether a character is just thinking, inner monologuing or actively broadcasting telepathically. Done well, this can really work and blends into the background.

Italics lend themselves to Think in Text because, well, just look at them. Not as substantial-looking as normal type, are they? Also, their go-faster, slanty look just lends itself to thoughts.

However, this very look makes them difficult to read, sometimes. This is the main reason why comics and manga try to avoid this if at all possible and usually play with their bubbles instead. See Bold Inflation, Speech Bubble, Thought Bubble and Thought Caption for related tropes.

So, if any writer wants to avoid the italic, they can play other games with the textnote . These may include: Rainbow Speak, fading the text slightly, changing the font size or using a different font entirely. This is always limited by the print options in a given medium, of course. Comics and manga love these options, for some reason.

Bold occasionally happens, but it's incredibly rare. As are the practically endangered Small Caps and underline. Clunky-shouty. Italicsnote  just look more "thinky" than they do.

Psychologically Abusing Punctuation

Say hello to non-standard punctuation as the second-most popular method. This —on the surface— often looks like a case of Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma. Um... Well... Err... To be truthful... It actually, mostly is. But, it's all in a good cause! Honest!

There is no hard-and-fast convention for punctuation – yet.
<This is, perhaps, one of the closest to it, at the moment, though.>
/But, at one point, you could have said that about this.../

Who knows what it'll be next?

Another common tactic is this: if a work usually uses “double-quotes” for standard dialogue, the author might then switch ‘to single’ in thought-dialogue. Or vice versa. If the author wants to sneak telepathy on you for a fridge moment, this might well be what they're using to do it. Because of this handy, but low-impact nature, though, it can be very easily missed as a cue by speed readers.

> Other ways can have more oomph.
,Crazy over commas?, ;How about semi-colons?; :Or good old colons?:
...How >about< «other» *recognisable* [systems] –like– {all} ~these~?...

Comic Books have their own little quirk when it comes to punctuation: the breath mark (note, not the same as similar-named creations in musical notation or the various diacritical marks used in Ancient Greek Poetry as hints). This breath mark is a triple-lined bit of punctuation, rather than some take on a comma, apostrophe or letter, something like ⚞this⚟.note  More commonly used for sighs, coughs and whispers, breath marks can and do lend themselves to the occasional thought, whatever balloon they find themselves in.

In short, any punctuation mark you've ever seen (and some you haven't) can be used as replacement quotation marks at the beginning and/or end of a thinky sentence or paragraph. Some just lend themselves better to it than others.

Mixing both italics and non-standard punctuation very definitely happens. As long as the author is consistent in where and when they use what, it's hardly a problem. It's all a matter of style, taste and the subtext.

Sectional Divide and Conquer

Some people like to use exaggerated indentation, non-standard paragraph spacing, sub-sectional divides, innovative tabbing and word-spacing, or quote-like block-textnote . Colouring or greying the background as well is optional, as is framing. Bullets? Have been spotted, but they're not that common at all.

You have to admit, however space-hungry these may be, they certainly mirror how thoughts aren't exactly pinned to the ground. These can give a distinctive look that can actually reach artwork levels at times, but which mostly hints at inserts from articles or another medium. However, if slightly overblown, these can become very difficult to read, particularly when colouring the background. It all depends on the author.

...And Hypertext

This relative newcomer lends itself to many other mind-bending ways to do thinking on screen. But, there is only so much banner-flashing or co-ordinated letter-dancing we readers can take, so it tends to be some mix of the usual means – just using a scripting language to get 'em.

Occasionally, some form of pop-up, hover text, widget or link is thrown in as an extra to the "normal" sentence, showing a character's true inner thoughts on a subject. Something no other medium can do. Footnote Fever truly shines in hypertextnote .

See also: Mind over Matter, Psychic Powers, Psychic Link, Technopath and Speculative Fiction for times when you'll see this trope in action. Note: Speculative Fiction is not the only area in which you'll find it, but it's more likely to crop up there than anywhere else.

This trope is closed to examples for the simple reason that organising them all into overlapping sets would be highly problematic, but the page is open to discussion when you find a distinctive method that merits inclusion. Should you feel a work needs a special mention of Think in Text's use, please use that work's page of tropes instead.