1. yournamehere
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    yournamehere Member

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    italics=thought

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by yournamehere, Oct 9, 2009.

    Let's hear the debate. Should italics be used to communicate thoughts.

    example:

    Johnny got off the tractor. Ugh, my head. He walked to the end of the field.

    Johnny got off the tracter. Ugh, my head. He walked to the end of the field.


    I think both work. I can seperate it in my mind either way. In fact, I actually perfer the first because it seems less gimmicky than the second. My argument in support is that you should never label a certain idea as off-limits as that can hinder the creative process and your enjoyment of good writers.

    I need to hear some thoughts.

    -nick
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Well, for the first case, it could just as well be the narrator who makes the comment about his head. Given the two, I would prefer the second case with italics. Another option I don't like is putting thoughts in quotes.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No. Italics are used for specific purposes, and denoting literal thoughts is not one of them.

    Literal thoughts (unspoken dialogue) are written in normal text, without quotations marks. If it is unclear, as in your example above, the use a dialogue tag, e.g.:

    Johnny got off the tractor. Ugh, my head, he thought. He walked to the end of the field.

    One proper use of italics is for a foreign word or phrase within a sentence:

    Martin graduated summa cum laude from Harvard.

    Now consider Elaine absorbing this fact about the clumsy, shy Martin:

    Elaine couldn't believe her ears. That clown actually graduated summa cum laude? I didn't know Harvard offered a degree in social ineptitude.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    If you search google for this issue, you'll find that there are many ways writers denote thought, one of them being in italics. Can you provide a book or some other source that explicitly states that italics shouldn't be used for thoughts? Honestly, I don't see any problem with it at all.

    Ultimately, it's the publisher's stylistic choice on how to show thoughts, so if they don't like italics, then you can always change it, and vice versa.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Very few authoritative writing guides go into any detail about unspoken dialogue. The one that I have found that does is The Chicago Manual of Style. It talks about two ways of denoting unspoken dialogue: Either write it the same way as spoke dialogue, with quotation marks; or write it without quotation marks. Examples are given. Italics are not mentioned there. I have to add that writing unspoken dialogue without quotation marks is clearly preferred, although the example in the CMS illustrating the use of quotation marks is very natural-looking as well.

    However, other parts of the same volume do enumerate the proper uses of italics. Denoting unspoken dialogue is not one of them.

    I have searched many respected grammar and style handbooks for the answer to this very question, precisely because of the heated controversy. Although there are numerous blogs, homegrown writer's sites and articles saying that italics are ok for that purpose, I have not found a single authoritative reference that supports it.

    This comes up so frequently that I get very tired of explaining it. The example I gave at the end of my first reply to this thread is one reason why italics should not be used for unspoken dialogue - it is in direct conflict with well-defined, legitimate uses of italics.

    Well, if a publisher decides to typeset the internal dialogue that way, that is their decision. In your manuscript, you cannot go wrong by adhering to the standards, but you can lose credibility by ignoring them.

    But no matter what I say, or Maia (and she has forgotten more than most writers on this site have ever known about writing), many of you will go ahead and write your internal dialogue with italics anyway.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    A lot of grammar and style books are intended for nonfiction writing (essays, etc.), and I would argue that it's better to just look through lots of books and see if the writer uses italics or not. Probably the most famous example of a writer who uses italics is Dan Brown. But like you said, not many fiction writing books go into details about thoughts, so it's not entirely clear if there's a rule for this or not.

    I do, however, know of one book that explicitly talks about thoughts and italics. It's called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King. They have a page saying that it is acceptable to use italics in denoting thoughts or interior monologue. However, they recommend using it in short "bursts" rather than in long passages.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Do not mistake the typesetting choices made by the publisher for proper writing practice in a manuscript. They are not the same thing!

    By authoritative manual, I mean a reference work like Strunk and White, or the Chicago Manual of Style, or The Little, Brown Handbook, or even a style and grammar guide at a major university. It is true the CMS is aimed at a broader audience than fiction, but I ask you: outside of fiction, how much application IS there for internal dialogue? Therefore, I claim that absent any other accepted authoritative source, the CMS recommendation stands as the most reliable guide.

    Don't follow the lemmings over the cliff. Using italics for unspoken dialogue is a cheap stunt, too often used to disguise poor writing.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Books like CMS and Strunk/White are books I use in college for essays and such. I wouldn't use them and haven't heard of anyone in the Creative Fiction department who uses them for anything besides quick reminders on things like grammar. Since thoughts are specific to fiction, we should look at authoritative texts dealing with fiction. Unfortunately, there aren't any texts like that for fiction (and even if there was such a text, I'm sure people would question how authoritative it really is, even if an extremely talented author had written it). So, I'm always wary when people make bold claims like something should or shouldn't be done.

    Also, the CMS doesn't state that one can't use italics for thoughts. And that's why I wasn't sure how you could make such a claim.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Yet, another option.

    Johnny got off the tractor. Ugh, his head. He walked to the end of the field.

    Notice, his head, instead of my head. Then no tag is needed.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, indirect thoughts avoid the issue entirely. Sometims, however, you will want or need to render the thoughts literally.
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    True. But for things like this, we don't usually say the words in our head, ugh, my head. But we feel, ugh, my head, so I would write, ugh, his head.

    "Hey, let go smash some pumpkins."
    I'd like to smash your face, she thought. "I have this thing I have to go do."

    Times like that, I would want the thoughts literal, though. And as you've said many times, common tags virtually go disappear.
     
  12. yournamehere
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    yournamehere Member

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    @architectus, that's normally what I use, but I just say that it's creative license. No writer should be forced to write towards any rules other than the ones they wish to adhere to. It's kinda like telling Picasso to paint more 'accurately'. He'd probably reply 'I am'.

    peace,
    -nick
     
  13. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Yourname, but I never mentioned any rules or how others should write. I only mentioned how I write.
     
  14. yournamehere
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    yournamehere Member

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    No, I wasn't accusing you at all. Your perfectly free of blame.

    I just feel that this forum in general leans too much on rules when they should encourage creativity more. :(
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as a writer, of course you can be as 'creative' as you want and toss all rules aside, if that makes you happy...

    but if you want to get your work published [and be paid for it], you'll follow most of the rules 'n regs, 'cause that's what the publishers want... and when we advise posters to stick to the rules, we do so because we know that's what will maximize their chances of having their work bought and published...

    if this was a site for hobby writers only, i'm sure you'd see what you call 'creativity' encouraged more often... but it's not...

    most who come here want to make a living at being a writer, or at least make some money with their writings... so, those of us who stress the importance of rules will continue to do so, in order to help folks reach their goal of selling their work...
     
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  16. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    Imagined dialogue: quotes or no quotes?

    In my novel that I'm currently working on, I'm using a first-person present POV, and I've run into situations where I want my main character to imagine what someone else may be thinking, or saying (if they can't speak). I've experimented and found that I greatly prefer using italics for it, but I don't know whether to put the imagined dialogue in quotes or not.

    For example:

    (Main character is speaking to his frightened dog)

    “What’s the matter?” I ask him.

    He’s come back for me, I imagine Corgi saying in response, and he’s brought more minions this time. Hurry! We must all hide under the bed!

    Is that acceptable? If not, what if I add quotes so it's like:

    "He’s come back for me", I imagine Corgi saying in response, "and he’s brought more minions this time. Hurry! We must all hide under the bed!"

    I personally like using the quotes, but I feel odd using them in a situation where the dialogue is imagined. If anyone knows the "rule" for this, I'd love to hear it. If there isn't a defined rule, then have you seen authors do it with the quotes before? Thank you!
     
  17. Cheeno
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    Cheeno Contributing Member

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    Your character imagines the dog speaking, so whatever the dog is imagined to be saying should be treated as regular dialogue and set in quotation marks, but not italicized.
     
  18. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    The italics are something that the publisher decides if they want to use for this sort of thing. There really is no rule about whether to use quotation marks or not.

    Anyway, I know you weren't asking this, but it jumped out at me:

    I don't like the way you word this, especially using it twice so close together, We should be able to tell from context that he's imagining it.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No quote marks, and no italics, for unspoken dialogue.

    I need to set this to music.
     
  20. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    Do you want them in italics? she wondered.
     
  21. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I believe, as Maia and Dave have already pointed out so many times that Dave is ready to write a minuet on his pianoforte to set the advice to music and a quaint little Victorian ballroom dance for people wearing impractical clothes - breathe, Wrey. Breathe - this thing with fancy smanshy typeset trickery is just plain silly and a complete derailment for your actual writing.

    It says, "I didn't write this bit right here well enough so now I'm going to trick it up with some visuals."

    Is that really what you want your writing to say? Really?

    And yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. An infinity of yeses. We have all seen published works filled with Dance of the Typeset Fairies all through it. This was hashed out later at some meeting between the author and the publisher. It was not in the original manuscript else the original manuscript would have ended up in the hands of this fellah.

    [​IMG]
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in his hands, or under his lid, wrey???

    thanks for the chuckle... i love the name of that piece, would love to hear it... does anyone but me remember leroy anderson's wonderful typewriter song?

    here it is, for you young'uns, thanks to some nice my space-poster, complete with old-time 78 record player:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9vuDMInQMYQ
     

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