Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Italics: To be or not to be?

This seems to be a big question or bone of contention in writing circles recently, to use italics in deep POV or not.

Personally, I have no problem with the use of italics. I have great eyesight and I don’t find it distracting or annoying. But since my writing will be for other people and not for myself, I have done a lot of online research on the issue of the use of italics in writing.

My published work to date is non-fiction and I didn’t know many rules then so that doesn’t count! In that regard that is. However, my present WIP is women’s fiction and I will know all the rules by the time I’m done. Believe me.

Here’s my resolve about italics. I also was of the opinion that one had to write deep POV in italics but recent research has caused me to change my mind. It appears to me that the emerging convention is that it is not necessary to do that and the readers are smart enough to know when you are in the character’s head. I have decided not to use it in that way for these two reasons:

1) Some readers and critics are very annoyed by italics and find it distracting

2) Nobody has ever complained about a paucity of italics in any writing

That tells me I can do without it. I have written my novel in 1st person POV past tense. I found out that I can either just write the deep thought as is or add a qualifier such as “I thought” or so as opposed to writing it in italics. It seems to me that it is the way the italics is interspersed between normal fonts that some find highly annoying and distracting.

Here are some cases where I however still use italics, simply because it flows better and is more continuous:

1) In a dream sequence. In this case I also switch to 1st person POV present and not the past, to really draw the reader in.

2) When I am writing something that is written in the story such as a note, a letter, an article or a journal entry.

In both of these examples, the italics runs for a few lines or more and then switches back. It is a paragraph and not one sentence or three words in a sea of regular font. I believe it appears different.

Now, I am not an authority on anything and I cannot even remember the sites I have visited to arrive at this current convention of mine. Neither do I have an MFA in creative writing or any such qualifications. I just love the Google search tool on my laptop. But I do know that in books where I have seen these done such as Wendy Wax’s Magnolia Wednesdays, it looked neat. Wendy Wax’s main character was a journalist so each time she wrote an article, we read it in italics.

However, the jury is still out even on these scenarios in my novel and I might just end up scraping all of those in italics as well. At the end of the day, my protagonist’s journal entries start with “note to self” so you know what it is. In the case of the dream, the reader will also realize soon enough that it is a dream and thankfully, they’re not long and I only have two dreams in the book, one in which the protagonist wakes up momentarily in the middle and then goes back to sleep and continues the nightmare with weird variations that don’t make sense! I really don’t know that I want my book to start with italics though and it does start with a short dream. But it may be a good idea to leave it that way because the dream is in Victorian times and the novel is not so it may be good for the reader to immediately know it’s a dream.

I have read a host of novels with almost no italics at all except for the occasional emphasis, the name of a magazine or name of a book. I simply have not missed the use of it. That makes me feel like the less of it, the better. Probably.

Just as I thought I was done with this post, I did come across an old blog post by Brandilyn Collins that says everything I have come to believe about writing dreams in italics or not in which she also talks about the exceptions. I wasn’t crazy after all. And I still love Google.

I hope this helps someone. Your comments are welcome.


Folake Taylor.

I have since scrapped any chunks of italics from my manuscript.

The only italics I have left are words being emphasize or the occasional phrase being emphasized as well. I used other fonts for journal entries and the same font (Times Roman) for any dream sequence, while just easing in and out of the dream much the same way as a flash back. My internal thoughts are just written in present tense without any attributions such as "I thought" and when warranted, the phrase gets its own line.

It's clear enough to the reader. I think it works and I know the haters of italics will not be offended.

Everybody wins!!!