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Italics for emphasis in speech?

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Old 02-28-2008, 02:39 AM
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Default Italics for emphasis in speech?


Somebody picked me up recently for my use of italics for emphasis. They said it's amateurish to rely on them too much. I accept that fully, I am after all an amateur

The advice given was to try and make my writing assertive enough that italics weren't required. Again, fair enough, very good advice and something I will try and take onboard.

However, as I began an italics-burning crusade throughout my novel chapters; I started to wonder about italics in speech. I'm happy with de-stressing my narrative, but it feels like I'm losing bits of my characters' personalities if I de-stress some of their spoken words.

Is it a similar no-no to put stress on words in speech in this manner? My logical brain says it's probably fine, so I'm looking for either reassurance or correction.

But then again, should I be able to craft enough of a picture of a character's current mood that the exact tone of a spoken sentence is already perfectly apparent to the reader?

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Old 02-28-2008, 06:52 AM
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Hi James,

I'm no expert on this, but I am of the opinion that italics should not be used in "serious" writing. (Don't ask me to define serious. )

In general, I think that the tone should and can be crafted without relying on italics or any other such embellishment, even for just individual words. And I am also of the opinion that many writers falsely believe that the tone isn't coming through, when in fact the reader is hearing and understanding the character perfectly (without italics). I guess what I'm saying is don't underestimate your ability to produce the tone you're looking for; you've probably done it better than you think you have.
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Old 02-28-2008, 05:41 PM
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I would use italics only as a last resort. If you have people you can be workshopped by, ie WB then they should flag up any issues for you.

If not give me a buzz, Jimbo. I love editing. I just don't have time to do much on the site anymore (just wait till my deadlines are over) and I'm getting really into dialogue at the moment.
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Old 02-29-2008, 02:18 AM
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Originally Posted by kal View Post
I would use italics only as a last resort. If you have people you can be workshopped by, ie WB then they should flag up any issues for you.

If not give me a buzz, Jimbo. I love editing. I just don't have time to do much on the site anymore (just wait till my deadlines are over) and I'm getting really into dialogue at the moment.
I know what you mean about not having time. I owe your good self one, after all! Interesting what you say about getting into dialogue, Kal, because I've just re-written a big section of backstory-flashback to be present-day dialouge instead. Am finding it very hard to do that and have it sound natural.

But thanks, both of you, I now think I can improve my writing if I work on taking out italics, and being strong enough in description and characterisation to still have my meaning come through loud and clear.
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Old 02-29-2008, 03:43 AM
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According to The Elements of Grammar by Margaret Shertzer:
Italics are often used to give emphasis to words or expressions. They should be used only for strong emphasis, never indiscriminately.

So, I'd agree with the 'don't use in writing' advice. (Wonder how many times I've used italics in my writing....)
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Old 02-29-2008, 12:04 PM
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You see it used in books by major authors. No reason not to. Problems arise when you're also using foreign phrases in italics. But readers are much better at handling these sort things they see every day than many give them credit for.
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Old 02-29-2008, 02:32 PM
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Well, I'm certainly not going to argue with you, because if they use them, they use them, bu-ut..

...just because something happens, doesn't make it right. On the other hand, I'm a firm believer in the adage: rules are made to be broken. Lord knows I've broken most in my own writing at some point or other. Then again, I'm not, nor ever will be, a bestselling author.
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Old 02-29-2008, 02:44 PM
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i'd use them only rarely and then, only if the word really must be stressed and won't be read that way, if you don't use the italics... or, of course, for foreign words, which is a given...
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Old 02-29-2008, 06:42 PM
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The question would be...how else would you handle emphasis? I'm sure if you watch, you're going to see this a lot in future reading. It's very natural and you don't necessarily notice it. Which is a good argument for it not being a bad thing.

The last book I read....well, re-read...was a Flashman book by George MacDonald Fraser. As fine a writer as any alive and very much the proper public school buffed Brit. I remember on of his charcters, actually the young Queen Victoria, come to think of it, sprkled her speech with girlish emphasis, "Well we are very international group tonight: Mr. McCauley has also just returned from India. I think it's wonderful that you would share such memories..."


Something I keep repeating in forums (howling into the night winds) is that there is a big difference between the way writers think about these matters and the way grammarians do. Style manuals are prepared for newspapers and such. There is NO SUCH THING as a style manual for writing a novel. NONE. If you don't want to use quotation marks, don't. Many fine books don't. I think immediately of "Paradise Falls" by ex-newspaperman Don Robertson and as good a nominee for Great American Novel as any.
If you want to indicate speech with a dash, do it. Others have.
If you use italics clumsily, it looks bad. If you use nouns clumsily it looks bad.
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Old 03-01-2008, 02:42 AM
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Reading this thread, I'm starting to wonder about italics. In the olden golden days, when people wrote on manual typewriters (as I did at the start), italics simply weren't an option. (For publishing purposes, I believe one underscored the text to be italicised by the typesetters.) Bold only happened if you could get the spacing right. Slightly off and you screwed your paper. Special accent marks had to be done by hand.

Perhaps, now that we all write on computers or word processors, with all these wonderful little nuancing techniques available to us, the use of italics for emphasis, and such things, will become more common.

I know I wouldn't object.
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Old 03-01-2008, 10:34 AM
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I am so confused,
I am so confused,
I am so confused,
etcetera.

I think I'll go with 'if I think I have to use one, then I'll use it wisely but try and avoid it if possible.' (Except for foreign language words, names of ships, etc.)

I'm glad this wasn't a cut-n-dried answer in the end.
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Old 03-01-2008, 11:55 AM
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when your book goes to print, the publisher's style editor will be the final decider, regardless of your personal preference, but i advise new writers to stick to the old standards, since most agents and acquisitions editors still do... things may change eventually, but i doubt they will universally, till all the old agents and editors die out and are replaced with youg'uns who've been born with keyboards attached... ;-)
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Old 03-01-2008, 12:05 PM
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None of this has anything to do with the age of editors or machines or anything else.

It's a matter of style. You can use italics for emphasis if you want to. According to your own tastes in the matter. There is substantial evidence at hand to back that up: all those books out there.

The idea that the editors will just tear our your emphasis willy-nilly is one of those ideas people get from reading the "writers come last" articles in WD and such as opposed to actually working as an editor or working with them in publishing things.

Use italics...like every other element...as you best see fit.
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Old 03-01-2008, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
I am so confused,
I am so confused,
I am so confused,
etcetera.

I think I'll go with 'if I think I have to use one, then I'll use it wisely but try and avoid it if possible.' (Except for foreign language words, names of ships, etc.)

I'm glad this wasn't a cut-n-dried answer in the end.
Oh, bother. I think the best thing is just to do what feels right. Hmm, I said that already. Might be right then,

Originally Posted by mammamaia View Post
when your book goes to print, the publisher's style editor will be the final decider, regardless of your personal preference, but i advise new writers to stick to the old standards, since most agents and acquisitions editors still do... things may change eventually, but i doubt they will universally, till all the old agents and editors die out and are replaced with youg'uns who've been born with keyboards attached... ;-)
IF one get's to print, it's the editor's job to make sure that things are properly formatted. So, if things need to be altered, your editor should tell you. If they don't...what are they doing?

Originally Posted by Lin View Post
None of this has anything to do with the age of editors or machines or anything else.

It's a matter of style. You can use italics for emphasis if you want to. According to your own tastes in the matter. There is substantial evidence at hand to back that up: all those books out there.

The idea that the editors will just tear our your emphasis willy-nilly is one of those ideas people get from reading the "writers come last" articles in WD and such as opposed to actually working as an editor or working with them in publishing things.

Use italics...like every other element...as you best see fit.
I'm inclined to say: go for it! If there is a problem, a good editor will tell you, it will be corrected, and all will be well. Why always assume the worst? The editor can be our friend; why percieve him/her as an enemy?
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Old 03-01-2008, 01:39 PM
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I see editors as friends. Possibly cause it's what I want to do with my life and if I think myself the enemy I'm going to hve ot earn a lot to pay for thse shrink bills.

Basically with anything, do what you want but stray from convention at your peril.

From an editors point of view. If you can't justify what you've done, don't do it. And don't cut corners with your writing.
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Old 03-01-2008, 02:29 PM
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Okay, Kal. Putting you on the line here. You want to be an editor? Great! Do you intend to subscribe to an industry standard, or are you willing to accept that good writing can vary from the norm?

There's what they can teach you about editing in school, but the true heart of it is instinctive. Without editors who are willing to take risks, to step beyond the commonplace, genius would never be heard.
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Old 03-01-2008, 02:38 PM
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Why don't you buy my mag in may and find out (blatant plug I know) but WB are advertising in it, and at least 2 members arebeing published in it.

I'm willing to accept ood writing no matter if it conforms or not. But often non-conformity is a mask for bad writing.
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:07 PM
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It is true that non-conformity can mask bad writing, but my concern is that all non-conformity is then viewed as bad writing, when some of it might actually be sublime. Never say never and all that, y'know.

Re the mag, I just might buy it. In fact, I probably will. Post a reminder closer to publication; this old brain can't be expected to remember.

Thanks!
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:10 PM
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Don't worry i will. Should be setting up an e-bay account for it. But that's to be sorted out in May not now. now I need to write my portfolios... and it's not happening.

But I'm curious is I have any italics in my magazine now...

This thread is going to haunt me for quite some time.
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:31 PM
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Hee hee. And now I'll look for them. Don't worry. I won't slate you. I have too much respect for you, girl.
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:35 PM
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Originally Posted by kal View Post
This thread is going to haunt me for quite some time.
Hey, I'm really sorry.

And there's another possible problem with italics. Conveying the wrong kind of meaning with your emphasis.

Who got sarcasm there? No? Who got sincerity? Anyone?
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:39 PM
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i got sarcasm, cause I'm a cynical bitch

who'd have thought crtl + i would cause such problems!
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:42 PM
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So what...don't use them?

Or to put it another way. If you can't make it clear from the context what you are saying. And if you use italics and still can't make it clear...well, I hope you have a day job.

By the way, if you're thinking of using italics to convey sarcasm you might want to re-think it.

Other than that this is one of those non-issues that keep cropping up in "I wanna write" discussions. Adverbs, VO, flashbacks, Prologues...etc.

Somebody says their no good. Somebody else points out that great writers use them. Then it's like well, use them with care because so many bad writer use them. Then it starts getting down to really silly objections.

And the even sillier fact of writers going out of their way to try to limit the expression of writers by getting the vapors about things that are in common use.

So, you know... if you're hysterical about italics, don't USE them.

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Old 03-01-2008, 03:44 PM
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I don't think anything's a non-issue to a new writer like me who's looking for advice.

Edit: Actually, forget that, I think I mis-interpreted your post a little.
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:54 PM
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You're right Jimbo. This site was created to help people learn to write and to improve. You don't ask, you're not going to find out the answer.

Take the first asnwer thrown at you, you could easily be wrong.

If you don't like non-issues as you put them Lin, don't reply to or even read them. Simple.
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Old 03-01-2008, 04:12 PM
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Maybe I'm wrong, but the way I read it, Lin is just saying use italics if you want to; if they worry you, don't use them. Non-issue is just a way of saying that it's small potatoes.

I know when I started reading advice on forums, I was intimidated by all the Don't do this and Don't do that that goes on. It's like being back in university. (Don't start me on my university English prof!) As a writer, I think you just have to find what works for you. Maybe that complies with other people's rules, maybe not. But I don't think non-compliance means someone is a bad writer; just that it's not that other person's cup of tea.

So if Jimbo is comfortable using italics, he should use them. If he'd rather get his meaning across in another way, that's fine, too.
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Old 03-01-2008, 07:16 PM
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Well, kal, like you say, it's a site for learning writing. And as the Queen says, new writers get intimidated by SHALT NOT'S and taboos.

I'm trying to clear the air a little and unwind some the contradictory confusion on the issue. Drawing from the little tidbits I picked up in a couple of decades for writing for money.

I think it's odd you should tell me what or what not to do. (Not to mention really ineffective) Because what I'm trying here is the opposite of bossiness or laying down the law based on second-hand information as some of this stuff has been.

And as you also have said, the first answer could be wrong. Absolutely true.

My answer is what you've read: don't be intimidated by the DONT's. Especially if you pick up a book and seeing successful authors doing it. Which in 90% of the cases is exactly what will happen.

So, you can take what I say as a seasoned writer and editor and publisher for what it's worth, or not. If you don't like it, don't answer it or read it.

Actually, if you're a writer I'm on your side.
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Old 03-05-2008, 04:16 PM
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I feel that once you've laid the foundation of the character's tone, italics are still perfectly acceptable for strong emphasis, especially for single words.
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Old 07-14-2008, 02:34 PM
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I use italics sparingly. But sometimes, especially in dialog, they're very helpful.

Example:
"What are you looking at?"
"What are you looking at?!"

A similar effect can be achieved with ALL CAPS, but that sounds more like shouting.

Right now I'm working on a fantasy-type story. My main character learns another language to talk to the people around him. In order to give the flavor of another language, I occasionally use "foreign" words, usually for things there's no English for. So I'm trying to decide whether to italicize them or not. For now I'm not doing it, but I'll keep hemming and hawing...

HoiLei.
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Old 07-14-2008, 02:43 PM
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Okay, I'm going to post something here that a lot of people aren't going to like, but I have to in order to save my sanity!

Who made this rule? I have never, ever heard of it in my life. I have an A-Level in English and I was implored to use italics in my writing. Notice how I stuck one in there for emphasis? Without italics, you can't emphasise a word, just like Hoilei is after pointing out. I've seen italics used in dozens upon dozens of published books. So I ask you again: who made this rule?

One more thing: don't take everything someone else tells you about writing as the Gospel truth, even if they appear to know what they are talking about. On other forums, I've noticed people coming up with rules that are unheard of, and they'll insist that they've heard this from proper authority.

Maybe I'm mistaken, but my English professor berated me on a lot of things regarding English, but never about how italics were wrong to use.
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