Quick Fix: He Thinks, Therefore I Am

Before I launch into this edition of Quick Fix, I’d like to take a moment to appreciate this post’s title. I love a good pun, especially an obnoxious one.

One of my favorite parts of editing is learning how to write better and tighter prose. I’m interested in what every sentence accomplishes. In why we write the way we do. All of this applies in this example, which I see frequently in editing, especially in novels written in close third-person.

Close Third: He Thinks

Some writers have a tendency to add “he/she thinks” while in a certain character’s POV. Occasionally, this can be useful, especially when cycling quickly through multiple close third-person perspectives. In general, though, we don’t need the added “he thinks.” We are in his head, therefore every line is his thought and perspective. This is also true of “he hears” or “he sees” unless the actual act of hearing or seeing is the objective of the sentence.

Taking that a step further, we often see “he/she thinks” shortly before the writer moves into first person. Wait, what?

First person: Therefore I Am

The change from first to third can be effective, especially in showing a character speaking to herself. We all have an interior monologue. We do this in real life, albeit the other way around. For example, I think to myself, “you’ve got this, Kait.” I have moved from first-person (natural state), to second, to an address of name.

But, this should be used sparingly. “She thinks, I don’t know what to do,” for example. The move to first-person here takes you out of the POV and the character’s head without the necessary payoff. How does “she thinks, I don’t know what to do” improve upon “she doesn’t know what to do?”

Often, the second part of the phrase (“I don’t know what to do,” above) appears in italics. I’ve written about italics online before–and will likely do a “Quick Fix” post on them soon. If you’re moving from third- to first-person frequently, you should take a close look at your perspective. Maybe your writing would be more effective in first person. Maybe you should remain in third, but rephrase to keep POV consistent.

As always, writing and editing is subjective. But we should always consider why¬†we’ve chosen to make a change like the one from third- to first-person, what it accomplishes, and if the emotional payoff of that accomplishment is enough to offset the disorientation of the reader.