Thursday, 8 December 2011

I is for Italics

There are several reasons why you might use italics....

1. To indicate a foreign word or phrase:

'I'm fed up with the lot of you. Basta!' Silvio said.

2. To indicate the title of a book or film:

'Have you read A Farewell to Arms?' Catherine asked Edward. 'I hear it's good.'

3. To show the intended stress:

'I thought it was you,' Tiffany shouted at Roland, indicating the car crash.

One to use rarely - it should be clear from the context where the stress should be.

4. To show a different form within the prose, eg a letter.

She took out her notebook and started to write.
Pool - bridge over? Or stepping stones? Rocks - check cleft. Pilgrim's Progress? Date? Reference? Seven steps down. Significant?
She sucked on her pen, trying to think what it reminded her of.

5. To show interior thought:

Everything desirable for men seemed related to size. Bigger car engine, bigger skyscraper, bigger boobs. She looked down at her own. Perhaps I should get a Wonderbra.

'Would you -' She caught her breath. Go on, say it. 'Would you like to come in? For coffee?'

BUT....both the above quotes were taken from the US edition of Nice Girls Do. Italics are liberally scattered throughout the book, none of which I put there, and none of which are present in the UK edition. I checked out a couple of the other foreign editions of NGD and didn't see much presence of italics. Different countries, different styles.

If you're working for a specific publisher they may provide you with a house style sheet to follow. If you're writing on spec, then read some books in the genre and try to get a feel for when/how much they use italics.

PS I was going to write about I for Imagination, but I couldn't think of anything to say.

9 comments:

Liz Harris said...

There's recently been a lot of discussion about when to use italics. This is a timely reminder, Sarah. Many thanks for it.

Liz X

Patsy said...

I like italics, but find they're easy to overdo.

Philip C James said...

Exactly the point about italics used to indicate interior thought came out in my read-through last night (though in my example, I might also have to differentiate between interior monologue and interior dialogue!)

(Just practising writing teasers...)

The point about editors is very well put; English is a wonderful but sometimes ambiguously structured language and often not well taught in the UK (I did not learn grammar formally until I started to learn German in the Goethe Institut). I've had endless angels-on-pins arguments about correct usage.

I guess the real point is, once you let the manuscript out the door, it becomes the property of more than one person and an author has to get used to becoming "first among equals".

Jim Murdoch said...

My wife - who is my editor - argues with me all the time over my use of italics for foreign phrases. She thinks that once the word has been thoroughly assimilated into the English language, e.g. cogito ergo sum, that we should dispense with the italics. I tend to disagree. Usually I win.

Sarah Duncan said...

Thanks Liz!

Patsy, some of the preference is cultural - I'm not a fan, but I tend to read UK books.

Phil, good for you getting the teasers in... I know I'm miles better at grammar than anyone in their 20s, and I'm miles worse than anyone in their 60s. Falling standards? Or maybe they do other stuff than learn what a gerund is.

Jim, well, it is YOUR book after all. I think I'm with you on this, and def on cogito ergo sum. But some things, like cul de sac, look pretentious in italics though it's technically correct.

Penny said...

Very useful, on Italics! Thank you.

Imagination...I think that would be a wonderful topic, too, but difficult. Perhaps because there's too much that might be included...

Could file under F for Feed the Imagination, or W for Wild, or...etc.

womagwriter said...

I don't like italics for interior thought. They make me 'hear' the character in a funny voice. If you are writing from a close 3rd person POV then half the book would be in italics if you use them for this purpose!

Philip C James said...

Good point, womagwriter. Your contribution and having thought about it has persuaded me to place AW's thoughts as part of the narration and leave the use of the italics to represent the voices he hears.

Or what about using Comic Sans instead? On second thoughts, perhaps not.

Sarah Duncan said...

Penny, I actually did start writing about Imagination but it was getting too long and I gave up.

Womagwriter, that's a really good point. I was looking through my US editions, and I can't see the rationale for choosing some bits to italicize but not others.

Phil, that sounds a good idea - the alternative would I think confuse the reader.