Wednesday, November 4, 2015

To Italicize or Not to Italicize

That's an excellent question. 

Don't you think?

I've heard some controversy over italics. Some people swear by their necessity. While other people tend to view with skepticism. 

For me as a reader, I've always had some angst for italics. When I see italics, my brain does this thing where it takes me completely out of the world of the book. For me, italics are distracting. In my head, they are completely separate from whatever is going on in the book.

I don't italicize my characters' internal thoughts. 

When I first started writing, it never crossed my mind that I ought to italicize my character's thoughts. Mostly because I disliked reading italics so much. Yet I didn't consider that it would be wrong, or different, or ground-shaking if I decided not to italicize. 

I went to a writers critique group once. It was my first time. The best thing was that they were fantasy writers, paranormal writers. Speculative fiction reigned in this critique group. Aka: We all wrote weird stuff.

Scarlet Witch, Avengers: Age Of Ultron.:

They said that they liked how I didn't use italics for internal monologue. They said that most people do and it seems that recently there had been a controversial break in that trend. The leader of the group was very against italics for thought process usage. Everything he said made a ton of sense to me. So I've continued to write the same way.

If you write from a deep POV level, there's no reason to use italics. You're writing from your character's head therefore, what you write is in his/her words. What is the point of italics? It's already all your character.

I will say though that there are certain times when italics could be helpful.

I sometimes use italics for the purpose of stressing a word, mostly in dialogue. If a character says a word in a weird way, or they themselves stress it, I might italicize it.

Oddball does like italics though. In his dialogue. I manage to talk him out of it. But he does get stubborn sometimes. (He wrote a post not to long ago and italicized THREE words in a single post! *mini heart attack* I give him free rein on the blog and he wants to italicize everything?!)  

In writing, I do like to allude to things that were done or said before. I like to be subtle, but I often question whether what I'm alluding to happened too far back for the reader to remember. For instance, if Oddball had previously thought something like this:

"You can't reason with a mad man."

I might repeat that if something similar happens later in the story. So should I italicize to signify that Oddball is thinking back to this earlier time when he couldn't reason with a mad man? 

I have no idea. I don't want to. I like subtlety. But I don't want to confuse the reader either. 

Also, I know some people use italics for dragons. For instance, some books have dragons who speak telepathically with their riders (which is the coolest thing ever!). I definitely understand the use of italics then. It's dialogue, but since it's not being directly spoken aloud, you can't use quotation marks. 

Everyone has different uses for italics. Some people love italics. Emily from Emily of New Moon does (by L. M. Montgomery, awesome book, that). (See?! Italics for book titles. They have their place.)

What do you think? What are your italic preferences?  Have you seen any unusually ways for italic usuage?


  1. Trying to think if I ever uses italics, maybe once when I had a character remembering something that was said, even then I'm not sure. I like them though, because this book series I read. Solitary uses them a lot and it seemed to work, but I don't really use them personally. That I am aware of anyway.

    1. Really? That's neat. Is the book series called Solitary? I might have to look it up and see what the author does.

  2. I mostly use italics for emphasis or telepathy. I personally love the look of italics, so I may actually overuse them on the emphasis end.

    But I agree that if you're already in a character's head, you don't need italics to show their thoughts. I did at first, because I thought that's what you had to do, but I found it jarring, so I stopped.

    1. Italics for telepathy is awesome!

      Yeah, it is a jarring. Very much so.

    2. Since writing this comment, I remembered the other reason I'll use itallics - when I'm using words in other languages, as an alert to say, "hey, no you're not supposed to know what this word means, it's not English."

    3. Oh! I've never thought of that. That sounds like a really good way to use them. Especially if a character is bilingual and switches back and forth a lot.

  3. Oops, I use italics all the time.

    I'm an italic abuser, not even joking. If you take a peek at my WIPs you'll see how horrid it is. It's an issue, I think I need an intervention.

    I think we all have our writing pet peeves, mine personally is underlined words. You don't see it a lot but I still hate it. I try not to use it even in blog posts :P


    1. It's cool if you like italics. I know some people do.

      I guess they would lose emphasis if they're used a lot. . . Like exclamation marks!

      I don't see underlined words a lot in novels. Eh, though I do use them sometimes in blogposts as an alternative to italics. I think our preferences are the opposite. XD

  4. I don't like italics as used for the characters thoughts. It seems kind of condescending-- like the reader couldn't have figured out for himself that the character was thinking. And it clutters up the page and makes it confusing when I italicize for emphasis (like, is this italicized because the character is thinking, or because the author wanted to emphasise it?)

    And I do think it's okay to italicize for emphasis, in certain situations. For instance, my current WIP is written in first person present tense, and my POV character who is narrating has a very conversational style. (She actually talks a lot like me-- oops.) So she repeats things, and says "I mean..." (in the actual narrative), and uses italics and parentheses /a lot/. Because that's her style, and part of her personality, and I think (though I may eventually change my mind) that it improves the quality of the book, rather than hampering it.

    However, with a third person story (unless it was deep third, maybe), I would probably avoid italics even for emphasis.

    Great discussion! :D

    1. Yes! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR MENTIONING THAT! I agree with that a 100%. I would've mentioned it, but there are some people who always insist that I need to use italics for thoughts to signify they are thoughts. I was afraid I'd get a little too ranty if I went into. But you are so right. It's kind of condescending. Thoughts are obviously thoughts in books. What else could they be?

      Oo, that sounds so cool! I love how you're writing in a conversational style like that. It sounds really neat. And it definitely makes sense to use italics then.

  5. This is such an interesting discussion post! I honestly haven't given a ton of thought to the topic, but I definitely see where the controversy comes into play.

    I think if you're writing from a first person POV anyways, it would be incredibly redundant to italicize. I mean, every word you write, aside from dialogue, could theoretically be considered internal thought, and italicizing all of THAT would just get to be too much.

    I use italics whenever I want to emphasize a word in dialogue, like you mentioned. That seems natural to me, since there are some words that are naturally more emphasized when you're talking, anyways. It makes sense.

    Lovely blog post (and blog in general!! :D) <3

    -Aneeqah @ The Writing Hustle

    1. I think you're right. In first person, italics are kind of pointless unless you're using it for word emphasis.

      It does make a lot of sense of word emphasis. Because people do talk like that. I think if an author can get the knack of it, they can use it to show voice inflection very well.

      Thank you!

  6. This is a great topic. I agree that as a reader, italics can be distracting. As a reader, I usually hate seeing italics in dialogue, because they seem unnecessary. Most of the time, there's a natural stress on the word in italics, so I don't need to be told that there's a stress there.

    And as far as internal thoughts, I've read some books that didn't have them and it worked surprisingly well.

    As a writer, though, I find myself throwing in italics everywhere! I'm not sure why that is. I think I'm just making sure that I clearly get down things the way I see/hear them in my head.

    1. Yes! I do that too. There are things that as a reader I don't like but when I'm writing I have to fight with myself whether to do it or not. It's like I just have an itch to do it "wrong." XD

  7. I thiiink italics are like a relatively new thing? I mean, you ain't goan see them in Austen. So I tend to stave off them. When they're in the narrative, I view them as the writer cheating in terms of what they want to emphasise. Like, your writing should emphasise itself, as it were; you should be able to draw the reader to your main point in the sentence, without a trick of formatting.

    In terms of inner monologue, definitely you don't need them in first person. I don't know about third. I've never really considered it. But I'd say, probably not.

    Then again, the story I was typing this evening has italics in place of quotation marks, which I think is quite an interesting stylistic choice. So they do definitely have their place!

    1. You're right. You don't see italics in Austen. But I have read "older" books with italics. Like written in the 60s and 80s. So depending on the time frame you want to use, I guess it could be a new old thing? Does that even make sense?

      But I agree, narration-wise, writing should speak for itself without formatting tricks. I'll use it dialogue sometimes when the characters like to use a weird voice to say something (because my characters are all goof offs *rolls eyes*).


[insert witty saying about comments] And you may insert your comment below. :)