1. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    Font changes - acceptable in short bursts or not?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sillraaia, Oct 1, 2009.

    Okay, I have a chapter rearing to go, I have written a paragraph of thought, (as the opening part of the chapter), and I need to express that there is something special, something different about these thoughts. (First time in the book a dragon is introduced - the thoughts belong to the dragon.)

    Instead of just using italics to express this one paragraph of thought, (since I have used italics throughout the book to suggest the thought of the MC), I wanted to make it stand out a little more; make the reader think a little about why and how this is different.

    Would a change of font be acceptable to use for this paragraph of thought, to differentiate it? It would have to remain highly legible, of course, and font choice would also set a feel for the mindset of the dragon.
    Or are font variations frowned upon for any reason?

    (Excuse me if this is the wrong section of the forum, I wasn't sure where to put it.)
     
  2. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    No. You should never depend on special fonts of any kind to indicate thought. . or anything else, for that matter. The use of italics to indicate thought is, in itself, frowned upon. Should you manage to snag a publisher, they may not even publish the book with italics. The choice is up to them, so you shouldn't depend on that either.

    Besides, as Cogito explained it to me, if you use italics to indicate thought, you can't use italics properly (for foreign names, etc.) within those thoughts. . .

    Get your point accross with clear, quality writing.
     
  3. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    I have read a few books that made use of italics. Both for speech in foreign languages, and for thought. I liked it, thought it was a nice, clear way to handle it.

    How to express thought as thought, then, in a first person book, without having the reader mistake it for speech? Throw an "I thought" tag on the end of everything? That is a lot of tags, in a first person book.
     
  4. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    As a reader, I also enjoy the use of italics that way. . . But it is technically incorrect usage, and generally not a great idea for a new writer. If your publisher doesn't publish your book with italics used in that manner (again, the choice is up to them) you'll be screwed.

    It's not hard to indicate thought without using a tag. . .

    I slapped my arm. Damn mosquitos! <--- The latter is obviously a thought; there's no need for a tag or italics.

    I watched as Danny scrubbed at the stain for what must have been the tenth time. Pointless. The blood would never come out. <--Again, the last two sentences (okay, one sentence, one fragment) are obviously thoughts that "I", the narrator, am having.

    Hope that helps.
     
  5. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    I guess it wasn't really that big of a deal. I mean, realistically, there wasn't a reason that italics couldn't be used for long chains of thought, or different brain patterns or whatever else. But, thinking about it as I sat in front of my computer, typing, one-and-a-half hours late for my lecture, I realised that the OP had forgotten about the fact that narratives can drift- they can dip into and out of heads and thoughts without needing tags. It's quite possible to start a paragraph in first-person and then drop into a kind of omniscient state where you stop thinking in terms of the narrative and start thinking in terms of explanation or concepts. Thoughts are even easier to convey than dialogue.

    I smiled, clicking the "submit reply" button, and took another bite of my steak-and-cheese pie. I was late, and if I was going to get to class on time, I'd need to call on the Doctor himself. Feeling a slight chill, I stepped out onto my tiny balcony and pressed the button on the Tardis-Summoner 4000.
     
  6. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Hah, that was a great example, B-Gas.:)

    Sometimes it becomes necessary to use tags when other characters are present and there is some possibility of confusion, but most of the time, you can avoid them.
     
  7. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    yes, that helps, thanks.
    I have found I use normal thought like that as well, but it doesn't feel right for a lot of the thought I do use. Like, there are different types of thoughts.. I can safely argue with myself and not sacrifice clarity for the reader..
    I will quote a couple of times, as an attempt at an example (this is all first draft stuff though, kind of raw).
    :

    "There was a car over beside the trees, in a ditch. It must have rolled down the embankment to land there - it was upside down, and partly covered with green branches, torn from nearby bushes. Nice touch. I don't think I would have thought to do that."

    I think the move from 'nearby bushes.' to 'Nice touch' is a bit sudden, but the italics breaks it up somewhat, inserting direct thought.

    One more:
    "Would he do that? Trade us away? Betray us like that? This is his brother we are talking about. If he would (do what he did, then he would do anything)."

    Not the exact quote, but enough to give an idea, hopefully, of what I am talking about with the italics. It is difficult to explain. Like, two voices, and they are allowed to contradict each other. Or answer her own questions, as such.
    Just that, imo, makes it clearer than if I were to cut the italics out altogether.

    And I don't see using fonts (as long as they are used very sparingly) as cheating, but more as simply using all the tools available as a writer. Personally, I think seeing a different font every other page could get totally distracting from the story - so there are certainly limits.

    edit: By very sparingly, I mean only a few times in the whole novel.
     
  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You can try, but a publisher will 1) know right away that you are an amateur, and 2) change it anyway if they don't like it. Chances are that when/if you see font changes used like that in a novel, it will have been the decision of the publisher rather than the wish of the author, simply to clarify meaning for the reader if the text is unclear or they feel it will improve a reader's experience of the text for some reason. But it really isn't a good idea to do it yourself if yo plan to submit the manuscript.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't use font changes. Your entire manuscript should be written in one font, in most cases 12 point Courier or Courier New is preferred.

    Do not use italics to indicate literal thoughts. There are legitimate uses for italics in writing, and that is not one of them. Italics in manuscript are traditionally indicated in manuscript by underlined text.

    If you have multiple paragraphs of dialogue, spoken or not, consider using a block quote. A block quote is indented from the normal text by about 0.5" both laft and right, and without quote marks enclosing tje quoted text.
    Yes, font changes are frowned upon.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    You should point out important passages in your writing by clear prose, not by using font changes.

    As for italics, I don't see anything wrong with using them to indicate thoughts. But it's best to avoid it since most people (including publishers) don't seem to like it. There are other ways to denote a character's thoughts, but I still claim that it's sometimes best to use italics.
     
  11. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    There have only been a few times that actual font changes have worked for a manuscript.

    In House of Leaves, the various authors and editors are differentiated by font (Zampano uses Times New Roman, Johnny uses Courier New and "The Editors" use a Georgia variation), and the word "house" is always blue, always in TNR and always slightly misprinted- this started out as a gimmick, but the existential nature of the story had you dreading the next time, and, when you saw it coming a full page away, begging the word to be the same colour and stay on the same line as all the others. And when it is, it scares the **** out of you.

    In the Discworld series, there are a few font jumps. Death always speaks in capital letters because he doesn't have the normal speech equipment that normal people do, and in stories where Death and any other character play major roles, Death's segments are written in a slightly arty font whereas the normal people get TNR.

    But, see, in these two works the changing font is used as a metafictional reminder of something, and is used for a direct effect- not just for emphasis or a reminder.
     
  12. Sillraaia
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    Sillraaia Senior Member

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    Well yes.. I have only changed fonts once in my story so far, and that was right at the start for one newspaper clipping.

    This time I am considering it not just to emphasize something said.. that would cheapen the whole thing; I feel it is more in the spirit of the 'Death' you referred to. Let me explain a little more..
    For the first time in my book, I am breaking away from the first person narrative (and the mc) that I have followed so far, in order to explain what happens elsewhere in the world as my mc is dealing with her own problems.

    To do this, my chapter opens with the introduction of a dragon as a (temporary) character - it won't play a big role, but it will be a vital one, for this scene. During the paragraph of thought that opens the chapter, there is no tell who is thinking it. I am not divulging that yet.
    All I was hoping to accomplish with the font change is that it is not a human doing the talking (thinking). And it seemed fitting, for a dragon with a superiority complex.

    Maybe I will think of a better way to do it when I am not so over-tired. Thanks for the input.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    B-Gas, have you actually seen the manuscripts for those works?

    Please don't mistake publisher typesetting choices for good manuscript practice. Publication house typesetters will make choices like these for aesthetics, but they are not part of writing. The same piece of writing republished may not exhibit the same typesetting features.

    Write without such gimmicks, and your writing will be better and more saleable. If you take the typesetting play away from the typesetters, they will be grumpy and whiny, and badly in need of a nap.
     
  14. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Not the manuscripts, only the finished works. House of Leaves went through multiple editions. All of them have the same three font choices. Some of them reduce the number of colours- the edition I read was in black and white, with "house" being in grey. They all have it slightly misprinted in TNR, though.

    House of Leaves relies on the insanity of its own typesetting- and even its page count- for some of its horror. It actually references its own chaotic layout and fonts at multiple points. One late page has one of the writers- in a brand new font- rambling about how he should have changed the middle section and killed one of the surviving characters. There's a large section in the middle where the second author accidentally spilled ink all over the first author's draft, blanking out an entire chapter except for the copious footnotes- which actually makes things much scarier. Another section has been sporadically but methodically burned away by the first author. Whole paragraphs have been struck out in an attempt to silence some entity the first author called "The Minotaur." It's the kind of thing that starts to gnaw at you as you read it, and makes the whole thing seem much more real.

    NB: Because it's written as (a.) an edited version of (b.) a manuscript which is actually (c.) an intensely literary criticism and discussion of (d.) a documentary- that is, as if it were a piece of nonfiction, that is, an actual book, rather than a story- it has a much easier time getting away with metafiction.
    [/aside]

    Anyway.

    Font changes jar readers out of the flow of the narrative and make them remember- brutally- that they're reading a book. And while certain metafictional works can pull this off, most stories don't survive beyond the first blow to the suspension of disbelief. Readers stop reading for the moment when they wonder, "What does this font mean?" If it doesn't mean anything, they wonder why it's there; if it does mean something, then it still is an akward way to do it- unless, of course, it's done w
     

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