1. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    Dialogue Use of Bold, italic and underline in dialog?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by UnrealCity, Feb 13, 2014.

    What do people think about the use of bold, italic and underline in dialog? Does it aid in emphasizing characters' words/sentences, or does it distract the reader? As long as it's not overdone like an exclamation mark!!?
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Italic for emphasis works for me. The others don't.
     
  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've often seen italics used to emphasize words, though I would definitely use it only when necessary so it doesn't lose its effect. I believe the way to denote italics in MS format is to underline the passage/word that is meant to be italicized, though that comes from the time when you used a typewriter. I don't know if that's still the requirement.

    I'm not used to seeing underline or bold in an actual published page, and I don't see any real reason to use either. The publisher would likely determine stylistic font matters like these anyway, if they deem it necessary. I'd expect the use of such font settings to be a turnoff for most publishers, if coming from a new unknown writer.

    But then again, I haven't submitted anything yet, so this is speculation. Always check agents' and publishers' guidelines first and foremost.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    If you are planning on seeking publication, use of bold, underlined or italicized text to add emphasis in dialogue will mark you as an amateur and your work will in all likelihood not receive serious consideration. If you feel the need to rely on font enhancements to communicate emphasis, then there is probably a weakness in the way you are writing the dialogue. You should be able to use words to communicate all the emphasis you need.

    Good luck.
     
  5. UnrealCity
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    UnrealCity Active Member

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    I can always rely on this forum for quick and helpful replies. Thanks all:)

    I kept rereading my passage to see if it required a specific word bold or not but I also believe it's strong enough without it. I shall be removing it as to not feel like an amateur (so I can delude myself a little bit).

    Hopefully I can reach a point where I feel more comfortable in my writing to receive specific criticism, so that people can catch all the amateur mistakes I make.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You're not deluding yourself. You just took a step forward.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!... good writers don't have to resort to fancy fontery to let readers know when a character is placing emphasis on a word, or is thinking something...

    that said, if it's absolutely necessary to emphasize a word, or if it's a foreign one that should be italicized, the standard is to underline the word, not actually type it in italics, in the ms... the reason being in some fonts it's hard to discern italics from standard font and regardless of font, the printer can see them more quickly/easily, if underlined...
     
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  8. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Don't use bold or underlined. Use italics or an exclamation point for emphasis—but sparingly. (Underlining in typescript means italics in print.) When you're thinking of using either device for emphasis, I'd suggest a two-part screening test:

    1. Do I really need to emphasize this word or phrase? Better judgment will often tell you no.

    2. If I really do need emphasis here, can I create it structurally rather than by italics or an exclamation point? Better writing skills will often supply alternatives.

    One valuable tool (not rule) of thumb to keep in mind in all your writing is this: Readers of English generally expect to find the most important idea or information at the end of a sentence. So, if you want to emphasize a word or phrase, that's usually the best place to put it. In fact, for that very reason, it's called the "stress position." That's why I placed sparingly at the end of my second sentence above, and even set it off with a dash.

    Suppose I want to emphasize the word no in dialogue. Compare:

    A.
    I asked my professor if I could turn my paper in late.
    "No," she snapped, staring at me as if I had two heads.

    B.
    I asked my professor if I could turn my paper in late.
    She stared at me as if I had two heads and snapped out her answer: "No."

    For me, and I suspect for most readers, B lays greater stress on no. There are other ways, of course. One is to frame the word with scenic description or additional dialogue.

    I asked my professor if I could turn my paper in late.
    "No." She stared at me as if I had two heads, and I could see she wasn't finished. "No." She rose from her chair, walked to the window, then spun around and aimed her finger at me. "Heather, this is the third time you've asked for an extension on an assignment, and my answer is the same as before. No. The next time you feel inclined to ask that question, here's the answer. Take it with you and save yourself the trouble of another trip to my office: No."

    There are many ways to emphasize words and phrases, and it's time well spent to study how other, better authors have done it. Sometimes, though, even the best will use the simple device of italics or an exclamation point. Remember David Copperfield's Aunt Betsy when donkeys wandered into her front yard: "Janet! Donkeys!"

    Lots of great writers use italics for emphasis. Henry James in The Bostonians:

    The young lady thought it necessary to give her a very firm answer. "I always feel it—everywhere—night and day. I feel it here," and Olive laid her hand solemnly on her heart.

    Also notice how he gives everywhere emphasis by setting it off between dashes.

    George Eliot in Middlemarch:

    "You would like those, Dorothea," said Celia, rather falteringly ...."

    It isn't a question of whether to use such devices. It's only a question of when and how.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2014
  9. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The convention began when the only writing tool other then the pen was the typewriter. It had no italic capability, but it could underline.
     
  10. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Absolutely correct, and anyone who wants to say otherwise is just leading someone down a rabbit hole that can potentially ruin their career before it even gets started.
     
  11. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Fact still remains, regardless of personal opinion, that what Maia has said is what's expected on MS' turned in.
     
  12. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I'm afraid the "fact" isn't one. Most submissions these days are done electronically, as a file. And there is no longer a universal requirement for Courior, underlining, and the other artifacts of the typewriter era. Editors are perfectly comfortable with TNR as a font, and italics are shown as italics.

    If the one reading the work wants double spacing they can have it at the push of a button, just as they can have any font and size.
     
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  13. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    It's funny this subject should come up. I was just re-reading Catcher in the Rye last week and noticed that there are a lot :)of Italicized words in there. I don't think they were excessive, but there were definitely more than I have seen in the average novel. I guess in this case it did not affect the outcome.
     
  14. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Jane Austen's novels are littered with words emphasized by italics.

    “Miss Bates, let Emma help you to a little bit of tart—a very little bit. Ours are all apple-tarts. You need not be afraid of unwholesome preserves here. I do not advise the custard. Mrs. Goddard, what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you.”

    And as you know, it ruined her reputation as a writer. Let that be a lesson to you kiddies.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, check the markets. There are some that want you to format the text as it should appear in the final version, which means italicizing words that are supposed to be italicized. Others hold to the traditional rule about underlining italicized words. Always read the submission guidelines and follow what they say there.
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    You are confusing what you see in the finished work with what is in the submitted manuscript. The two are not the same. As @JayG pointed out, the standards for ms submissions evolved when writers used typewriters and are still much the same. Don't worry about what the published work will look like. That's the editor's job.
     

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