1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Italics for the past - still done?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by peachalulu, Sep 25, 2013.

    I don't know if I'm asking this in the right spot but here goes. Has anyone seen this done? Personally, I'm not crazy about this technique, I've seen it done in several books - chapters delving into the past were done in italic and given certain fonts it can be really hard to read. I think the book I was skimming the other day was from the late 80's. But do they still do this now? I was thinking of doing a chapter that slipped into the past - but I'd rather just have a little warning date at the top than use italics.
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I don't see why you need to. The story itself should make it clear you've jumped into another time. If so then what is the purpose for the italics?
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Maybe it's only done for a certain genre? - the book I was skimming was some ghost story, mild-horror thing.
    Very weird technique. I thought I've seen it in more literary books maybe not though.
     
  4. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    I haven't seen that done lately, at least not in the literary journals I've been in. I put a past event in italics in a recent publication but my editor put the format back to standard font. She did the same with thoughts in italics or quotes or marks of any kind. My experience in publishing is well and truly limited, but the editors I've worked with seem anti-crazy-format.
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I've never seen this before, and I wouldn't recommend doing it because I don't think agents/publishers will be too pleased to see italics used this way.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    People use italics like duct tape to fix anything they don't know how to handle directly in the phrasing. Resist the temptation, and stick to the formal uses of italics. These can be pretty much summed up in three uses.

    1. Placing emphasis on a word or short phrase which would not ordinarily receive emphasis: She was one of those people who feel entitled to special treatment.
    2. Foreign words and phrases: He delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce, and his opponent lay motionless on the canvas.
    3. Names of certain categories of creative works and constrictions: The ship in Moby Dick was the Pequod.

    Other proper uses of italics are few, and rarely encountered in fiction.

    Don't bother arguing the issue. This is intended solely for information, and I won't debate it. Use it, or don't.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2013
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not all choices are based on lack of knowledge of alternatives. Perhaps you should reconsider your false assumption or at least add the qualifier 'some' in front of "people".
     
  8. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    I've seen this done, not only for representation of the past, but also of "dream-scenes," in which the narrator is explaining a dream. I find it bothersome and irritating to read, when such large chunks of text are italicized. It's completely unnecessary. As Ginger said in her first post, what the author has written should be more than enough to convey to the reader that we've switched time periods, based on differences from the rest of the story (particularly when we're travelling much further back in time and we have horses and wagons instead of cars).
     
  9. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Personally, I think it is something to be decided by the writer and the publisher together when the book is finally to be printed. While you are writing your book assume that there isn't going to be italics used for thoughts. This will improve the quality of your writing for the reasons cited in the above posts.
     
  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Prove it. No one has presented any evidence other than bald faced assertion that one's writing quality is damaged by using italics for internal dialogue or it is in any way superior writing not to. It's only been demonstrated to be personal preference and nothing more.
     
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  11. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Well, the idea is that, if one refuses to allow him-/herself to use italics for inner dialogue and the like, they must rely solely on the words to portray a message. One cannot deny that it's easier to just press the italics button and write what the character is thinking than it is to portray thought without using some sort of change in font/text. If, instead of relying on italics, a writer works to this end, then, in the, end it is likely to improve his or her writing.

    It's exactly the same argument you already made about italics used to represent the past, Ginger. If its written well enough, you don't need italics, because the writing will portray that in and of itself.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the point is that what you see done in a published book is not necessarily what you can get away with doing in a ms that will be submitted to agents and publishers...

    and large amounts of text put in italics within your ms can brand you an amateur to both, thereby possibly narrowing your chances of having it accepted...

    so why risk minimizing your chances by departing from the norm, instead of maximizing them by sticking to what the majority of agents/publishers expect to see in a ms?

    it's not a matter of right or wrong, only of what will best serve your purpose as a new an unknown writer who needs to appear to be professional, at least, in order to get the desired result--snagging an agent and paying publisher... wise newbies will save indulging their penchants for breaks with the norm till they've made it to the upper rungs of the success ladder...
     
  13. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Tonight on "It's The Mind", we discuss the strange phenomenon of deja vu, that strange feeling you sometimes get when you think you've been somewhere before...
     
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  14. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Your argument is no more valid than saying, using quotation marks to show dialogue is evidence of incompetence.

    I refer you back to the sticky thread where I cited more than one style guide and established expert who approved of the choice. There were no references to "beginning writers" or "less experienced writers" or anything of the kind in the approval of the choice. In addition, forum members noted several well known, best selling and clearly skilled writers who use italics for inner dialogue in their work.

    This thread is on a different topic, and I didn't drag the italics for inner dialogue over here, Cog did with his passive aggressive reference slipping it in. People can argue all they want for their personal preference, and no one, least of all me, can fault them. But stating an unsupported insult about skill was thoroughly debated in the other thread and there was no evidence skill level was any more than a bald faced assertion.

    So let me state your arbitrary claim of 'more skilled' another way:

    Things change and internal dialogue has become a well established usage of italics. But there are some people who are anal about an old style who have a harder time changing what they initially learned.

    Does that sound rude to you? Unfair? Unsupported?
     
  15. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I just dropped by to say that italics isn't an issue of right vs. wrong or good vs. bad writing, and I'm not convinced that doing it one way over the other is more professional. We should be looking at what editors/agents want because they're the ones you're going to be submitting to (unless you self-publish of course). I haven't been able to find a consensus among the editor/agent community, and I'm sure there isn't one. I'll just mention that most of the novels I've read in the past year or so didn't use italics for thoughts. Just something to consider.
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    A lot of people know by now that I am a big fan of italics, used for many purposes, including thoughts and differentiation. However, I also admit that big blocks of italics can be off-putting and difficult to read. I don't think anybody is going to be too fussed at having to read a couple of lines in italics, but paragraph after paragraph? That might not be the best plan. If it were me, I would try to think of some other way to present a huge chunk of 'past.'
     
  17. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Well, it did sound a little rude, but that's completely beside the point.

    I would like to point out, though, that I never used any of the following words/phrases in my post:

    Incompetence
    beginning writers
    less experienced writers
    approved methods
    preferred methods
    (more) skill(ed)​

    I simply stated that, if one uses a method other than italics to portray internal thoughts, it is likely to improve his or her writing. This is not to say that those that do use italics for thoughts are sub-standard to those that do not. However, it can't be denied that it's easier to use italics, and so, not using them puts the writer in a position in which they must use those creative little brain cells to concoct a different way, which could, possibly, lead to more skill in the writing process.

    You're confusing my support of one technique as admonishment of the other, which I think is very narrow-minded of you. If you would, please, take the time to re-read the post you were so kind to quote and show me where I ever said any of the things that you claimed I said, I will gladly retract my statements in this post, as well as the previous, with the heartiest of apologies for, apparently, insulting your writing method. However, I think it more likely you'll find, on re-reading, that I never said that one should not use italics, but rather than, if you took the time to find another method, it could lead to better writing, or more skill on your part, simply due to the fact that it forces you to think about the situation and hone your writing in a different manner.
     
  18. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    (Tentatively) I think I was the one who brought up using/not using italics for thoughts, context being I used italics to indicate thoughts--thinking they needed to be differentiated from the narration somehow--but my editor corrected me when the piece in question was accepted for publication. I was surprised by this action and thought I'd share my experience with italics with the thread. I did not intend to derail the thread or muddy the topic; I apologize for doing so.
     
  19. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's off topic here, Thornesque. We should take this to the other thread.

    I don't buy the claim that not using italics requires any more skill than using them. If you'd like to pursue your assertion, answer my question in the other thread and we can discuss it.

    How is using italics for inner dialogue any different from using quotation marks for dialogue?
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    And here's to the two to whom we owe these italics kerfuffles...

    ...the personal computer and word processing software.

    Back when I first started writing - in the mid-1960s - my only two choices were longhand (which even I couldn't read) or Mom's trusty Smith & Corona typewriter - manual, not electric. Italics weren't available to most newbies, and so the only way we could indicate italics to a would-be publisher would be via underlining. Except that underlining required one to type a letter, backspace, type the underline character, next letter, backspace...etc etc. Underlining a word or phrase was irritating (let alone an entire paragraph or more) and we avoided it at all costs.
     
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  21. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Publisher preference has been discussed in the other thread. No one disagreed we'd want to use whatever convention a publisher expected. You have a sample size of one. There are plenty of publishers who do not require the older convention as evidenced by all the published best sellers and classics that use italics for inner dialogue.

    Interesting to note here though is, it sounds like regardless, your manuscript was published and not rejected.
     
  22. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    That's an interesting insight.
     
  23. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    I'll have to check out the other thread. I wanted to mention my experience since we were on the subject of italics; didn't think it would hurt the discussion, but my bad! I'll be more careful next time.

    I've read published works with italicized thoughts, hence my mention of being surprised by the rejection of italics in my original post. Thoughts look so odd without any indicators, but I guess that's just my opinion and what the heck do I know, anyway? :) I wanted to get published so I didn't argue the point when my editor brought it up. I argued other things, of course, but that one was minor enough to let go in light of the other fights I had to pick.

    Only a few lines of the piece in question were italicized, but you have a point. I'm reluctant to think that an experienced editor would begrudge a formatting error by a newbie author--especially if the newbie author is submitting for the first time or has never been published. I indicated that such was the case when I submitted my aforementioned piece with accompanying cover letter. My editor was quite kind to me, explaining where I had blundered and why/how to fix the issues. Italics (or any formatting snafu) shouldn't kill a piece so long as the writing itself is worth merit. If editors rejected pieces due to formatting errors despite evidence of worthwhile writing, I doubt we'd have many books on the shelves these days.
     
  24. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    No, I don't think that it's overly likely that an editor or agent will reject an MS because it's got italics in the wrong places (though, nothing's impossible!). Though, that's assuming that that's the only "error" or problem that the editor finds. But italics could be that one grain of salt that topples the pile down to the ground. There's a line - an invisible line that changes location based on editor, agency, publishing house, season of the year, time of day and whether or not they stubbed their toe that morning - where an editor says, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! This is rubbish!" If you happened to get them on a toe-stubbing day, they may be in the mood to say, "I'm not going to teach this amateur how to use italics!"

    Now, that's not to say that you are an amateur, or that the rest is utter crap. But if it doesn't fit an agency or publishing house's guidelines and they aren't feeling very lenient one day (keeping in mind that, with the amount of submissions a single editor can have to look at in one day and are therefore looking for an excuse to get rid of your manuscript) then that might very well be all it takes.

    An agency/publishing house's job is not to teach you what you should have done with your manuscript, be it following generally accepted guidelines, or reading their specific guidelines. Their job is to sort through the piles of rubble to find the occasional diamond, polish it, and put it out there to make money.
     
  25. graphospasm
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    graphospasm Senior Member

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    I agree with a lot of this. If your manuscript is riddled with errors an editor must consider the worth of your story versus the time it would take to make it presentable in light of those errors. Truly valid point. Errors are simply annoying and a waste of time! However, more than a few of the "American Greats" submitted manuscripts that took months, even years, to make presentable. The editors of those manuscripts saw the diamond, as you put it, and thought it was worth the time to polish.

    Authors can and should make every conceivable effort to produce a work both technically and artfully sound. In the end, however, I think art takes precedence over format. Or it should, anyway. I'm not a contributing editor so clearly I'm not an authority on this issue. :)
     

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