Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Italicize this!

A freelance editor I know is advising that all italics be removed from the ms (or almost all). The novel is written in first person, thus there are places where italics seem appropriate for certain thoughts etc. Is this really a total no no as far as agents/publishers are concerned these days? I see quite a few italicized lines in The Duff, a book somewhat similar to this.

Oh Lord save me from italics, underlining and bold.
Most particularly spare me from these if they are used for more than one word at a time.

Now, you might wonder at this reaction since I've been known to use these font enhancements myself, notably during contest results:

This is an exquisite sentence
A week ago, he’d made it over the mountain’s shoulder blade onto the glacier scarving her collarbone
Kastie 1:11am  

The purpose here though is to distinguish one line from another.

The manuscript you're talking about is narrative. You shouldn't need italics or bold or anything. Your writing should do the job.

Here's why I hate italics: they're harder to read.
A paragraph in italics and I'm going to skip it, or skim it, or stop reading.
NONE OF THOSE ARE GOOD OPTIONS (yes I realize the irony of all caps here)

The book you reference, The Duff, is a published book. I don't know if Kody Keplinger submitted her novel with italics or not. 

I do know that if you need to differentiate long passages such as emails or text messages it's better to do it thus:

TO: SharqueForBrains@thereef.comic
Fr: WriterWhoHasQuestions@perplexed.com

So, Snookums, what's the answer?

 And if you're using italics to separate out thoughts in a first person narrative, just leave out the quotation marks and we'll know it's not speech. 

Some of my rather heated reaction may be over response to people who send entire chapters in italic (like the prologue) Or use italic to separate one point of view from another in multiple POV novels. Both make
me reach for the "delete format" key.

The best approach is to use italics very very judiciously.
Start with thinking you can't use any, and then use it only if you absolutely must. 


Lucie Witt said...

I admit, sometimes it is hard for me to stay away from italics in first person POV. I know that if my writing is doing it's job, I shouldn't need italics to tell the reader what word to emphasize, but the temptation is there.

I figure italics are like exclamation points - more than one or two a book is too much (I can't be the only one who wants to use exclamation points whenever someone is yelling, right?).

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Lucie, I'm there with you. Perhaps italics are the new exclamation point!

And I'm puzzled by one part of the Shark's response. Is it because I don't have enough caffeine? I'm not getting the sample the Shark gave of 12/7/15 with the To and From. I notice the TO is completely capitalized. And I notice there's a space between the From and the next line. Is that the point?

Use a completely different line to create emphasis?

Sorry for my dull wits this morning.

angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Recently I was rereading BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE by Lee Child, keeping my eyes out for inner dialog. I noted that the inner dialog is on a line by itself. I can't remember if there were italics. I think I saw four or five words in the last few chapters. Now I have to read it again, just to know.

In August I took a six hour editing webinar by a Jerry Jenkins. During the webinar, he edited ten first pages.. Though I've never read his books, he knows editing. In the Q&A a writer asked about italics. The reply, close to Janet's, use sparingly if at all.

nightsmusic said...

My question then is, if it's third person omniscient and you're in someone's dream, how do you differentiate that? I don't want to read huge blocks of italicized text, but I want my readers to know this is not the norm that they're reading, that there's something going on with the character that isn't a normal waking moment.

Steve Forti said...

Hmm... this one is relevant to me today. I was all primed to get defensive, but then I thought about it and realized I've changed along these lines already without realizing it. Looking back at my early novels, they're in the first person. I use single sentence italics frequently to emphasize thoughts. But as I look at my more recent writing, I almost never use it anymore (even in places I would have years ago). The voice is more consistent, and it's not needed. So as much as I used to like it, and still think it has a place where appropriate, it's much cleaner and unnecessary if done well without.

Learn something new every day - even if it's learning that you already learned something new.

Kitty said...

Oh great, something else to worry about.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

This is very interesting. I don't much like italics either. I have one line in my WUS that is spoken by an inhuman entity that can be heard for miles and miles around, but the entity is unseen. I put that in its own block of text. I keep going back and forth on the italics/quotes for emphasis. I have been given constant contrary advice on this. I ended up just making it a block quote - no italics. No quotes. Still not sure what to do.

These kind of trends in editing make my head spin- few exclamation points, sparse use of adverbs (I like adverbs, damn it all), keep quotes to he said, she said- no embellishment, and now no italics. Eventually, there will be a no words rule for editing. Well, thank heavens for the flash fiction contests and the discipline they help develop. Ok, I need coffee. Woke up on the grouchy side of the bed.

Beth H. said...

So, I really shouldn't have listened to the CP who told me I needed to italicize more. This is yet another reminder that, while critiques are invaluable, all advice needs to be carefully considered before being followed.

Donnaeve said...

Ah well.

Every time QOTKU states her preference out here and I think back on my own work, I get all antsy and worked up.

So, there's this book of mine, you know, the one that's going to be published? :) And it has italicized sentences throughout. Got example, each chapter ends with my little character (Dixie Dupree) writing in her diary. Those entries are italicized. As to the rest of the book - which has now been seen by a copy editor, and I've gone over it and made the suggested corrections, etc. etc., there are italicized sentences - and the copy editor even added a few.

So, no paragraphs or whole chapters, but yes, italicized sentences.

All I can say is, different strokes for different folks I guess?

Then I think about the book DESCENT, by Tim Johnston, and I believe I used this book before as an example when a different discussion about italics came up - because this book has WHOLE chapters italicized. I read the book a year or so ago, but if I recall, I believe it was to differentiate between POVs.

It works for some, not for others. I'd dare to say (did that sound like Colin????) if the writing is VERY strong and the story just the sort she likes, even QOTKU would be willing to overlook the funny slanted font.

Did I just hear teeth snapping?

Colin Smith said...

Like Steve, I was about to jump in and say, "But no, wait--what about first person inner dialog?" e.g.:

I approached the body. It was still. Dead? Remember the last time, you idiot! I glanced at my prosthetic hand...

Without the italics, it might seem a bit disjointed:

I approached the body. It was still. Dead? Remember the last time, you idiot! I glanced at my prosthetic hand...

But with quotes, it seems a bit clunky to me:

I approached the body. It was still. Dead? "Remember the last time, you idiot!" I told myself, glancing at my prosthetic hand...

So I can see some value to using italics, but certainly not to overuse them. Indeed, if half the novel is inner dialog like the above, perhaps the POV or voice of the novel needs to change, not the font style?

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Does anybody else remember teen Emily in New Moon, writing in her Jimmy-book that Mr. what's-his-name was recently rebuking her for too many italics? (and then she'd be like "oh, there I go again. I'm sorry. I like them so much). I love that trilogy.

I've put some books down when entire passages have been in italics. Others, I still made it through, and couldn't tell you now which were which.

Colin Smith said...

I dare to say I would agree with Donna: great writing and great storytelling trump all. If your story is that good, no amount of adverbs and italics is going to hinder its success. At the very least, an agent and/or editor is going to say, "Wow--I just LOVE this incurably. Let's work on polishing it!" ;)

Steve Forti said...

Colin - I think discretion in those examples is what I've realized I've changed on. Perhaps it's that the italics aren't needed for first person inner thoughts - that should come through in the voice. But maybe when it's the character explicitly talking to himself in his head - not a thought, but a direct statement or warning - that makes sense.

But hey, I've been working for over an hour and haven't had my hot chocolate yet, so the brain isn't all there.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I like Colin's example. It helps to have italics in that paragraph for my reader self. It's not overuse. Like Steve said, there is discretion there. Also, for Donna's book which I can't wait to read- I think italic diary entries make a lot of sense. I suppose this all comes down to a bit of common sense and editorial discretion? I am not sure. Brain still at half mast.

DLM said...

E.M., I do too: http://dianelmajor.blogspot.com/2011/12/adverbial-adversarial.html. And I too am eager to read Donna's debut. (Exclamation point.)

DeadSpiderEye said...

Now this is kinda interesting, because I've noticed the distinct preferences emerge through feed back, to liven up prose by characterising it with emphasis, especially in dialogue. I've acquiesced to this in some degree, mostly because that seems to garner approval but it's not really me and I find it tedious to endure in a written work. Now I learn that, that's not the way to do it, yeah great!

Italics though are a slightly different issue, typography is not really the domain of the writer, which explains why most of 'em have no clue about it. My preference would be to specify italics as a typographer would, in-line to draw attention to a phrase, idiom or maybe a piece of jargon, secondarily to highlight a single word essential to the meaning of a sentence. In paragraph to delineate inserts, something that can be skipped over optionally within the context of a narrative.

Of course typesetting has kinda disappeared as a distinct task, editors possibly writers too, used to get about 90% of their specifications thrown in the bin by it time it came for the pro to make his contribution. I do recall a few conflicts, the occasional voice raised in anger across the studio, the editor always lost the argument.

Dena Pawling said...

I definitely see this as a trend.

When I was first starting out, I was advised to underline everywhere that I wanted to show up in the finished product as italics. Then I learned [from a few publishing types who comment on this blog] that this is “old-school” thinking and to use italics.

[Side note: I just bought Scrivener for myself for my Christmas gift and the default setting for compiling into a manuscript is to change all italics to underlining. I changed that setting.]

Then I was advised to italicize all inner thoughts. But I'm writing in first person, which means pretty much the entire ms is either dialogue or internal thought. Okay, said my freelance editor, for first person, you can get away with no italics for inner thought, but if you're writing third person, it will look strange to switch to first person for inner thought unless you italicize.

That made sense.

My second ms is third person. Now I can see where the italics make sense, pretty much for what Colin illustrates.

The trend I'm seeing is what might be called “minimalistic” formatting [formatting being defined as everything that's not words]. Just write. Use the minimum amount of formatting stuff to get your point across. Let the words tell the story.

Donnaeve said...

Haha, Colin (*exclamation point) Loved the exampled too because it did point out as Steve F said with regard to discretionary use.

*Taking Diane's lead here.

I only dared say what I said 'cause we all know QOTKU bends rules on occasion - even in a query (*exclamation point) when it was that good. Again, with the PREMEDITATED blurb. Course we hate it when we try to *ass*u*me* she will bend rules - only to have the thing snap back and knock us upside our daring little heads.

E.M. btw - I was astounded at your word count the other day! (the 46,726) I tried to comment, but Blogger was acting up. I wondered was that over a 24 hour period - or a 12 hour period - but holy all that is smoking hot - not hell, but your keyboard - that was about 64 wpm if you did this in 12 hour lump (exclamation point)


Susan said...

Oh, this is not the answer I wanted to hear... *headdesk*

My current WIP is a non-linear novel with three timelines for one MC (Present, Past, and past through letters). I finally figured out a structure wherein I'm combining snippets of the letters with more story (set further in the past) in third-person POV, separating the two with italics. I hope that makes sense--it makes my head spin and I'm writing the damn thing.


" Dear Character:

Remember when I learned that italics were bad news bears...

She always thought italics were useful as a writing tool, not only for emphasis, but to differentiate between writing conventions and format. She thought wrong. Now, her whole world was turned upside down, and she didn't know how to fix it."

I did the same for my first book, which used journal entries at the beginning of each chapter: the entries were formatted in italics. Like Donna, and based on published books I've read, I thought this was standard.

So, do I continue with this WIP as is or figure out a way to restructure the novel to remove the italics? This makes my heart sink and my head hurt.

Unknown said...

Whenever I read italicized thoughts of a character, for some reason I hear the words (in my head) in an overly melodramatic tone. It makes a somber thought less serious and a funny thought fall flat. That is obviously a personal issue but apparently it has a basis in something more universal, so I would agree to use italics with discretion. I also tend to skim through long italicized texts.

My WIP is written in close 3rd person. I used to have the main character's thoughts in italics until I realized the above issues. I removed as many as I could but there are a few spots where it wouldn't flow (as in Colin Smith's example). I wonder if it is OK to have some italicized and most not? Or would an agent look at that and think, 'sloppy'?

Leah B said...

In Colin's example, "dead?" for me reads as internalization. Nature knows if the body is dead or not; the one doubting its status is our narrator. So then of course it's going to read a little wonky, having both thoughts next to each other, one set off and the other not.

I've been deep in the revision trenches while on holiday from FO4, so I took a stab at how I would revise Colin's example with no italics:

I approached the body. It was still. Dead? I glanced at my prosthetic hand... Remember the last time, you idiot.

There's a slight difference in meaning here from what Colin posted. When the thought triggers the narrator to look at his hand, it feels more like his instincts are yelling at him, DANGER WILL ROBINSON DANGER. When he looks at his hand and then has the thought, it feels more like he's chastising himself. Maybe a little regretful too.

Which version our author would go with would depend on what type of character our narrator is and what else is happening in the scene.

My 2 caps, anyway.

Craig F said...

I predominately save such things as italics for editing. I blow out a bunch of copy and then go back over it, reading critically, and adjust as needed. Sometimes something needs to get marked as a break in the consistency of that block of writing. Italics seem so much more subtle that bold or underlined.

I say predominately because my current WIP is set in and around the Jura mountains. The main language there is French so I used Italics for the three two lines places where there was an interaction in that language.

One Thumb said...

Italics don't bother me, though I did remove all from current whip. So maybe it does bother me? Now I'm confused. The people at the next table are whispering as they point, look at me. Did I say all this out loud? I don't know. The managers walking toward my table. I have to go

LynnRodz said...

Dare I go against the QOTKU? Well, what worse thing can possibly happen when I'm already in the slush pile? Italics are necessary for distinguishing foreign words which I use throughout my WIP. It's also important to show that I didn't make a mistake in misspelling a word, but using the spelling of another language. Ex: I use quai instead of quay throughout my ms. My understanding is, the foreign word is suppose to be italicized the first time and thereafter it's not.

As others have said, it's subjective. Some agents/editors mind and others don't as long as it's done in moderation.

Unknown said...

Dammit. I'd been using italics to indicate song lyrics sung. Happens a lot in a book featuring music, but I'm realizing lyrics are already evident from the indentation.

I like the way Jane Austin (the best author ever, BTW) used italics in the dialog to indicate a slight emphasis on a particular word, sometimes not always the one you would expect, to subtly convey alternative interpretations.

Unknown said...

My novel is written in English but I have a character who is French. When he speaks, he tends to replace English words with French words that sound similar. For example:

“Sérieusement?” Raj said. “This alarm is more of a parody than an actual alarm. I’ll have it fended off in minutes."

In my MS "Sérieusement" is in italics to show it's a different language.

Is this an acceptable use of italics?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think, from now on I will only italicize the dirty words which are encapsulated in my first person thoughts. I'm in trouble.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Jenny C:

I'd be interested to see the responses to that query, myself I would specify italics in the initial instance and then roman from then on.

BJ Muntain said...

As I understand it, the use of italics for internal dialogue is similar to the use of quotation marks for external dialogue.

(Note that this is for a third person past tense narrative.)

For example:

External dialogue: "I can't do this," said James.

Internal dialogue: I can't do this, James thought.

(although, if you use the italics, you don't have to add the 'James thought', because it's understood to be thought, and you're only in James' mind, unless you have a wandering omniscient POV.)

Now, non-dialogue thoughts don't need the italics.

James knew he couldn't do that.

The two types of dialogue, you'll notice, are first person present tense, just the way you would speak. The non-dialogue thoughts are third person past tense, the way the narrative is written.

The thing to remember there is, you rarely need the inner dialogue as often as some people think. It's smoother to keep all thoughts in the narrative style, and only use internal dialogue when it's important. Because, no matter how you use italics, they're going to grab the eye.

For first person POV, though, I don't understand why italics would be needed, since it's all internal. Yes, it's (usually) past tense, but I'm just not coming up with a reason to put something in present tense, and therefore italicize it.

Also as a note: foreign words and phrases are usually italicized. You'll see this in most style guides.

Dena: The reason we used to underline things to be italicized is because it was very difficult to italicize on a typewriter - especially a manual typewriter. It was how we told the typesetter we wanted those words italicized.

Susan: Use what is working for you now. It sounds complicated enough that you don't want to switch it up before you've got it written out. Things like italics can be switched around after the fact.

For now, just write the damn thing.

A.J. Cattapan said...

Jennifer R. Donohue--You are not alone! I always think of Emily of New Moon whenever the topic of over-italicizing comes up. I think I'm more guilty of the overuse of exclamation marks. It's taking great self-restraint to use only one in this comment box. :)

Lucie Witt said...

An interesting take on not using italics for non-English words, for anyone interested (YouTube link I'm posting from my phone, apologies if it acts wonky)

Unknown said...

Well it looks like I have some reformatting to do. I wrote my book in Bold Comic Sans. I thought it would make me stand out.

Adib Khorram said...

My understanding was that most imprints have their own style guidelines and that those guidelines would cover the use od italics, too.

I tend to use italics only for foreign words or, very very rarely, for emphasis.

I like a well-placed exclamation mark. It's seasoning. You can't put cayenne pepper in everything, but a sprinkle here or there can take a dish to the next level.

Ardenwolfe said...

Remember, anything that may pull the reader from the story, and draw attention to itself (like italics), should be used with caution ... if at all. Always question anything that may yank a reader from emersion. It's probably a bad thing.

Colin Smith said...

Lucie's link: https://youtu.be/24gCI3Ur7FM

CynthiaMc said...

Love this post. I hate italics, bold, underlining too. When I was an editorial assistant (my favorite job so far) I would edit most of them out.

Janice Grinyer said...

Uh oh. I haven't been working on it, because, proposal, but in my Forestry outdoor mystery novel, I have a Deaf character who plays an important part in the storyline. When anyone signs or converses through writing, I italicize (and describe the sign language hand motions at times, non-italicized) so you can differentiate between speech, writing and signing. She also uses speech, which I don't italicize.

Having worked in the Deaf community, this happens quite frequently, Deaf persons speaking, writing and signing with hearing persons - three forms of communication. Since this is American Sign Language (ASL, I've got 32 hours credited), it is a language of its own (like French!:). BTW one of the cultural aspects of ASL is that you never eavesdrop by watching/staring at a private conversation - that's considered rude - just like eavesdropping on a vocal private conversation. Also, if you do understand ASL and someone signs to someone else in front of you, it's considered rude of you not to let them know you understand I can HEAR you! Makes for a great mystery however, that nasty eavesdropping bit :) Anyhow...

Is it okay to use italicization to differentiate languages in this circumstance?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Donna, I started working on a revision at 7 Am Saturday after morning run. Just couldn't do it so I thought I would take a stab at the flash fiction contest thinking that would draw me out of my funk with my darn WUS. It did and swept me away. Thanks for that, Janet.

Got caught up with the story the way I do with video games or books I read sometimes. I obsess. Can't stop until I finish. Stopped to walk dog a few times and just kept writing. The story was so much fun to write and unlike anything I normally write - a bit twisted, a lot nasty, and will probably just end up in some virtual trash can. The story is told entirely from POV of a particularly rebellious succubus. I wrote until 9 Am Sunday so just short of 24 hours. No sleep. Some beer, some whiskey, a lot of coffee. I am still hung over.

There were lots of exclamation points, adverbs, non-standard quote tags, and italics surrounding material that would make a sailor blush. It was fun. Sort of like a creative cleansing. Just a lot of darkness I needed to get out of my system.

Maybe in time it will turn into something that can be sold but I will need a serious cloaking pen name. And one sick puppy of an agent. My daughter looked at a snippet and told me that I must never play Cards Against Humanity again. She also threatened to remove all my Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy books from my library. Ah well. Back to my R&R on my WUS.

Laura Mary said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one with an aversion to blocks of italics - my eyes just slide right over them.
I've used them sparingly, mostly single words and some short 'inner thought' sentences.
I do have a passage where a character is reading through a notebook, and making connections with what she knows and what she's reading - what is the clearest way to differentiate between what she's reading and what she is thinking? Or should I just trust my writing is clear enough.
I actually cannot remember how I currently have it formatted, other than the fact that it is multi coloured. As is the rest of the manuscript. Must remember to change that when I'm done!

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Minimize italics always sounds like a good idea to me. I use them when a character's thoughts (in 3rd POV) come up, and then use them far too often in other scenarios. I'm working on it. :)

Craig, LynnRodz, and Jenny C (and maybe others that I missed) brought up the issue about foreign language. I used to go with this until other authors educated me. Basically, their point was that when we italicize "foreign" words, we are assuming our reader is solely an English speaker. I think editors/publishers are not in agreement with leaving "foreign" words in plain text, but I know of one author who negotiated successfully that the Spanish words and expressions used in his novel should not use italics. (Daniel José Older).

BJ Muntain said...

I think Janet has given us poor woodland creatures one more thing to agonize over. :)

Adib nailed it when he said that publishers have their own style guides.

The styles you use in your manuscripts may not be the styles that appear on the published page.

The two biggest problems with italicization are:

1) it draws attention to itself
2) large chunks of it can be difficult to read

When writing fiction, though, not everything fits clean style guidelines. In cases like Susan's, Julie's, and Janice's, my first thought is, if a different style - like italicization - makes a complicated situation clearer, then use that different style.

Telepathy and sign language don't fit normal style guidelines, because they're not normal speech. Use whatever is necessary to make a possibly muddy situation clear.

Once you find a publisher, the editor will help you fit it into the publisher's style. And if it can't fit there, then the editor will help you break the style in the least offensive way possible.

If you have a huge chunk of italics, though, see if you can somehow make it work without the italics. I have just that sort of problem in one of my works, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to make it clear that this chunk isn't normal, without using italics.

Lucie Witt said...

Thanks, Colin!

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Here is djolder's response to not italicizing Spanish (and therefore other languages, too):


Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Seems like good advice. Italics lack that certain...je ne sais quoi.

Mark Ellis said...

I wrestled with this in one of my novels, wherein a back-story in all italics(1928) was told alongside the contemporary narrative (1960). I asked Janet about it a while back, citing the vampire novel The Victorians, which did exactly what I was doing: main narrative/backstory in itals.

Janet advised againist, so I changed to denoting with date at the beginning of the back-story sections. I'm still not totally happy, but my professional editors have not seen this work yet, so I'm not sure what they'd advise.

Anonymous said...

It was the eighth of December, a mild day as December days in Wisconsin go, when Julie Weathers' head exploded.

I just had a beta reader who did editing as part of her former job rap my knuckles pretty soundly because I hardly ever use exclamation points in places I should. That's probably because I read somewhere you should never use them, sort of like the advice about never using adverbs.

A long time ago I took a workshop with a former editor who is now an author. I have a scene where Kaelyn, the MC, is reading inscriptions on caskets to herself and the editor said to italicize them. I can't really delete the inscriptions because one of them is a clue to solving a murder later. Having her read them aloud is clunky. How many of you read tombstones aloud?

Then I have the internal discussions with Kaelyn's sentient sword. The sword is the repository for the spirit of a sorceress who wanted to continue looking for her lost husband after she died. So the conversations between Kaelyn and Galwen take place in Kaelyn's mind.

I have five POV characters in FAR RIDER. (I'm watching heads explode now.) The MC is in first person while the others are in third. (Waits while more heads explode.)

I don't use italics to denote which POV character has control. The writing should be strong enough to do that. If you can't tell which POV character has control simply by speech patterns and language, you're doing something wrong.

However, I do use some italics to denote internal thoughts of third person POV characters. (Waits while even more heads explode.)

Usually, you can denote internal thoughts without italics or "he thought".

He lolled in the chair as if he hadn't a care in the world and sipped his tea. The b@stards are planning to steal my ship.

Sometimes, I think you need it. From Frank Herbert's DUNE: She stared at him. He senses the truth! Could he be the one? Could he truly be the one? She extinguished the excitement, reminding herself: Hope clouds observation.

Is it right because Frank Herbert uses it? No, but it works for him.

OK, now that my mind has exploded it's time to soothe it with reading. There aren't enough little gray cells left to attempt writing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I agree about large blocks of text in italics being unreadable. Bold and underline just seem weird (in a novel). Can't even remember the last time I saw either of those.

But never use italics for short lines of internal dialog? Hmmm. I know I did that in the novella I self-pubbed and probably did too much of it where I didn't need it. And I'll keep that in mind in the future. But sometimes, for clarity, I think it's necessary. Personal taste? Maybe. But I imagine I'll always do something that will irritate someone.

I still haven't found a good example of how to distinguish text messages in a novel. Every single method I've seen, and I've seen several, is either clunky or unclear, or both. The example you used, Janet, is one I find unclear as to when the text ends, especially if there's a page break involved. But that's in digital format. Maybe print is different?

I thought of that Older video too, about not using italics when a native speaker uses "foreign" -- perhaps to the reader but not to the character -- words. Glad someone else tracked it down so I didn't have to. :) He makes a very good point.

Kae Ridwyn said...

I'm with nightsmusic in my current WIP - a dream state - and was in acute danger of my head exploding with stress. Then I read Julie.M.Weathers' comment, and that did it.

Janice Grinyer said...

As the song goes, I'm going to "let it go" (or is it "give up" like the video? :) for now and concentrate on this WIP proposal (which has its own issues). When I pick the novel up again I'll continue writing as is, then go back later and edit, i.e. revisit the italicization issue.

Here's why I have been italicizing in my situation; ASL uses action, not speech to communicate. As the writer, I'm translating for the reader what the character is physically doing into dialogue. When she uses speech,then there is no italization.

Since she uses both in dialogue, the use of italization for when someone breaks into signing is less disruptive for the reader to process; there is no confusing the two IMO.

But then I could "show" rather then tell-describe each sign in detail- but I don't think that would move along the story - "200 million words later"...


Janice Grinyer said...

My third comment for the day - that's italicization. Not italization.

As my grandmom would say, "you talk (write) like a sausage".

Lord knows what it means, but I know it ain't good.

"Ain't ain't a word!"



angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

The reef is full of spinning chinchillas today.

Who would have known italics were this confusing? And how we can fret about all these rules and ruin our voices. Who said in the comment thread, "In the end, books won't have any words?"

Very interesting facts about the sign language... I can hear you.

A teacher I avoided in art school said don't graduate and go straight to the galleries. You'll kill your artistic development. I guess part of his advice was artists aren't supposed to make money. And maybe it was his justification.

@Susan, don't break your brain, with a voice like yours you could write the entire ms in italics and every book there after.

Thinking about it, the reason I slipped a book of the shelf in the library was because the entire type was in italics and it was blue. That's how I discovered Christopher Moore. The book was Sacré Bleu.

Donnaeve said...

Heads exploding aside, when I read snippets from others who have been told "don't use italics, and don't use exclamation points," my first thought is, are they trying to turn us ALL into Cormac McCarthy??? (can I use three question marks for dramatic emphasis on my question)

McCarthy is well known for not using ! or italics or these "and so he said this..." and for making up words by marrying them together, likethis, so they looklike new words, but they're really onlyold words which have been joined atthe hip.


There. My work is done. Brain matter is all over the interwebz.

One Thumb said...

McCarthy is well known for not using ! or italics or these "

No Country for Old Men has pages of italics as the sheriff gives his inner thoughts

Adib Khorram said...

kdjames: For text messages, the first book that came to mind was THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, and it uses a similar style to Janet's above: a line break, then the message (all lines indented, not just the first) and then another line break.

Thanks to everyone who shared Daniel José Older's video. Definitely food for thought.

Angie: I LOVED Moore's THE SERPENT OF VENICE. I haven't read any of his other stuff (yet) but SACRÉ BLEU is near the top of my to-be-read list.

MC said...

I was at an SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference last month where two different editors said to cut all italics and caps before submitting pages to them. They lamented that kidlit is overrun by "I'm so not into you"-type phrases with the "so" italicized, and were so not interested in this type of writing. They advised writers to keep our writing "clean".

Susan said...

BJ: Yes! Just write the damn thing is the best advice. This has actually got me wondering if I need to simplify some plot points to make the structure work. I'm not sure if I want to, but I won't know for certain until the draft is finished. Then I can go back and play around--and worry about the italics then.

Julie: Regarding multiple POVs, Carson McCullers did this beautifully in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. It's all third person, with the main MC being a young girl, but she weaves everyone's stories together in such a way that each character gets a voice and shares their own perspective. I love when this happens because, symbolically, it shows that everyone has a story. In most cases, it adds a lot of depth to a story. I think you can absolutely pull it off--and not make any heads explode in the process ;)

Angie: That makes me feel a little better, thanks for saying so :) Also: I LOVE Christopher Moore. Lamb ranks up there as one of my favorites.

Donnaeve said...

Mark G, I haven't read that one.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Adib, for the reference and for describing it (I refuse to read that book as I don't tend to keep that many boxes of Kleenex on hand). I think the block indent might be a good way to handle it, rather than different fonts or special effects.

Susan, I agree with what others have said: just write the damn book. Fix stuff later, if it even needs it.

Unknown said...

So, I'm not crazy, am I? Did the Shark write a whole post extolling the virtue of plain, easy-to-read formatting... in navy blue?

(Also, ahh! LAMB!)

BJ Muntain said...

Definitely navy blue. Luckily, dark enough it's still easily readable. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I like dark blue. It's all good.

Unknown said...

I love it! Nobody rocks navy like the Shark : )

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

The question to ask is:

What purpose do italics serve?

Several of the examples I've read above (including mentions of italicised paragraphs) sounds like italics are being used for differentiation. I think Her Sharkness is protesting against this use. I agree.

However, the excellent example of ASL "translation" is, I believe, an acceptable use of italics. Dialogue is happening, but it isn't dialogue spoken with the voice.

I've used italics in my Fantasy mss to denote telepathy. Again, communication without using traditional spoken voices. For this purpose, italics serve to mark a sentence as dialogue and not narrative. I need this, as I write a really close 3rd POV. My narrative is chock full of a character's thoughts & opinions kept to themselves. No need to italicise. But for communication with another character (and not internal monologue), "I use the traditional quotation marks for spoken dialogue," and I use italics for telepathy.

Jennifer (MM) said...

I had the same question and situation as Janice L. Grinyer, with characters using both a standard sign language and spoken communication. I don't want to tag every signed bit of dialogue "she signed" or have to always rely on describing it in the rest of the narrative for the reader to distinguish between spoken and signed dialogue, but I do want (and in some cases need) that distinction.

Currently I'm using both angle brackets and italics to mark the signed dialogue, mostly for convenience while I'm drafting, but I'm wondering what would be the best way to set it once I'm at that fearful and wonderful day of sending out pages.

Perhaps it's not the sort of thing that would usually make an agent run screaming for the liquor cabinet, but I'd rather make the reading easy on the eyes.

Leaving aside what it might look like once published, what would you all recommend for a consideration to CPs and agents?

BJ Muntain said...

For CPs, I think that as long as it's clear what you're trying to do, it's all good. It can be hard to see typos and smaller oopsies, though, in italics.

Anonymous said...


I think you have to write the book that is in your heart. When you have an agent, they will advise you on the best way to present it. Right now, write with confidence.

In RAIN CROW after the first chapter, each one where the two POV characters are separated starts out with an excerpt from a letter to the other one. It may drive some people nuts, but that's the vision I have for it now.

A few years ago I sent my query in to one of those helpful online places where the stud duck held court and the minions piled on with all sorts of "helpful" comments. Mainly the minions tried to see who could be snarkier than the last person, but I felt I might get some good advice if I waded through the duck doo.

Stud Duck (TM) shreds my query, which I really thought was pretty close, but might need just a bit more polishing. The crew at Books and Writers had generously helped me with it.

Stud Duck took particular delight in tearing apart one passage with a sentence he hated. Then he gave me a lesson in writing. He explained how to write a sentence correctly and demonstrated what nouns and predicates are.

The minions piled on. Ha ha ha! She's querying and doesn't even know what a sentence is.

I finally got irritated and lost my southern charm. "Well, thank you for all your help and demonstrating how to write correctly. I'll pass this on to Diana Gabaldon who is the one who actually wrote that passage for me."

If it works it works.

Cormac McCarthy doesn't work for me. As a writer, I know I should have read him. As a reader I am thankful I didn't force myself to. He drives me crazier than an outhouse rat.

Colin Smith said...

A quick flip through some of the published works of Janet's clients shows that even the best use italics, and she let these slide (assuming they were in the original mss and not added at the insistence of the publishers). But what I didn't see was paragraphs of italic text. So go with Janet's last piece of advice: don't use italics unless you really have to. Make them justify their existence, like adverbs, adjectives, prepositions, conjunctions, verbs, nouns... ;)

Kim Batchelor said...

In my current ms, I use italics sparingly and just for a few sentences and words in Spanish (with translation in context). I'm now reconsidering. C'est bon?

Judy Moore said...

Remember this?
The Seinfeld show about !

Leigh Caron said...

I don't know how else to differentiate spoken words from thoughts well enough to not italicize. If not over -used, and it makes the reader not have to think too long as who's speaking, I say italicise. Bold type and underlining is totally different and belong to the graphics department.

Susan said...

Julie: I hope that shut them right up. It's one thing to be blunt in a critique and another to have different stylistic tastes. It's an entirely different ballgame to be rude and condescending to another writer--that's a game I never want to be a part of. We writers do just fine creating our own self-doubt; we need all the encouragement and support we can get to combat it.

Off-Topic: Hey! Look! Subheader! Speechless. Cool. Thank you!

I swear, I know how to form complete sentences.

Unknown said...

Looks like rework is needed, like I yearn for something else on my WIP's editing To Do list. But this helps.

I was worried when I first read Janet's post as I tend to use italics in inner thoughts, even in first person POV. That can be remedied. But my question arose when wrestling with the format to use when the communication is telepathic. Thanks BJ Muntain for defining this as a foreign language.