January 23, 2017

Uses for Italics

Uses for Italics

Italics are often questioned in writing. Should you use them for thoughts? What about to stress certain words? Should you use them at all? I'm sure there are official "rules" for them, but we all know rules are really guidelines anyway. In this guide I'll go over the ways italics can be used and give you my thoughts on them.

Emphasis

One of the most common ways to use italics is for emphasis of a certain word- like this. However, whenever you use italics like that, it calls attention to itself. Also, we hear it as a hard, loud word.

This one I think can work, if you save it for only a few words in a whole book. Consider it like an exclamation point. Use rarely and with care. (Though I like to use exclamation points more than people suggest. I mean, you can't say, "Run!" yelled the Doctor, without it. It just doesn't work.)

This is more a matter of style and personal preference. I think too many italicized words are distracting. James Patterson loves to use them for any word he thinks is important, one reason I don't care a lot for his books.

Beginning of Chapter

Another way people use italics a lot is for the first three or so words of a chapter. It is just a way to alert you the chapter is starting. A Series of Unfortunate Events uses that style.

There are all sorts of ways to start a chapter. A large letter, the first few words in a different font, a symbol, and italics. It doesn't matter what you do. It could even be nothing. But italics will make it seem as if the first few words are more important, so be careful when choosing them.

Thoughts

Many times thoughts may use italics to remind you this is in someone's head, not just a description or something. I wish I knew what happened, she thought, is an example. Or you can even drop the "she thought" bit if you're trying for deep POV.

Using italics for thoughts works best when you're writing in third person. In first person, technically everything is what they're thinking. You could use italics to emphasis something, but I suggest leaving it for third person. Again, it all depends on the style you're going for.

Telepathy

Telepathy and other mind to mind communication will use italics to alert you that the people aren't speaking aloud. Lip reading and motioning may also use this, depending on the situation.

This is one of the best uses for italics. How else will you know they aren't just having a conversation? Telepathy is awesome and this is a great way to show it in use.

Other Languages

Sometime books will also use italics for other languages. It gives you the translation, but shows the speakers aren't talking the same language as the book is written in. Example: They switched to french. "Do you think he knows?" he said.

Using italics like this can be confusing to readers, but so can having the characters switch languages. It's all up to you and what makes sense for your novel. One of my favorite examples for this is Hearthstone from Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. He's deaf, so he uses sign language the whole time, which is written in italics. It works well for the situation. (Plus, Hearthstone's my favorite character second only, maybe, to Magnus. ASL snark? Yes, please.)

Titles

Finally, italics are used a lot to show the title of books, movies, music, and other forms of media. Not just in books either. Blogs, like mine, use them too. I used them earlier for the books I named.

This is another good way to use italics. Titles can be written in either italics or with quotation marks, but I prefer the former. I think it makes them easier to see, and less likely to be confused with actual dialog.

The main takeaway from this is use italics sparingly, but however works best for the style you want. It's mostly a matter of opinion, and this post holds my thoughts about them.

How do you think italics should be used? Do you think they should be used differently than I said? Tell me in the comments.

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