1. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Writing whispers?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by essential life, Jul 22, 2009.

    Hi, I'm new to these forums. I've recently taken up writing and there is one thing I'm not sure about. How is it best to write the words of a character who is whispering? Should I use italics or just plain text or something else?
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Plain text, and if the context doesn't make it obvious that it is meant to be whispered (which is probably ideal), then you can always change the dialogue tag to reflect it - he whispered, or he muttered under his breath or something like that.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Plain text in quote marks. It's still spoken dialogue.
     
  4. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    "I think it's over here," she whispered.
     
  5. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    *points up* Yeah, what they said.
     
  6. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    And remember, if you want to be sure that the reader doesn't have to say it again in their inner whisper voice once they realize that the dialogue should be whispered you can always flip the tag to the front.

    She whispered, "I think it's over here."
     
  7. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Thank you! I have another question that's semi-related.

    Let's say I'm writing in the first-person present tense. My character is listening to a few characters who are having a private conversation a distance away from him.

    For some reason I'm tempted to put the dialogue in this conversation in quotations but also in italics in order to differentiate it from the rest of the dialogue in my story, which takes place close to my protagonist.

    Is this a bad thing to do?
     
  8. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I don't see why it would need to be differentiated because of distance alone...I'd write it like any other dialogue. Unless you meant that there would be these two separate conversations running at the same time...but that sounds too confusing...its been done in plays and films and things, but in a novel I'm not sure if it would have quite the same effect as actually hearing two conversations at the same time...
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Before answering the second question you have posed, I would ask you to reconsider this choice.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why is it that everyone seems to want to find reasons to italicise dialogue? You sbould italicise foreign words and phrases within dialogue, and can italicise a word for emphasis, but other than that, you shouldn't.

    Whether it's a whispered conversation, or a shouted conversation between mountain peaks, or over a radio link, or a telephone connection, dialogue is dialogue. It is all punctuated according to the same rules. The only exception is literal thoughts, which are written in plain text without being enclosed in quotes.

    This may be helpful: He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think it simply comes from publication houses taking artistic license with such things. The novice writer sees such things in print, is unaware of correct submission format, and believes that the way it ends up in the book is the way it was turned in to the editorial staff.

    *shrug*
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, it's a bad thing to do!

    listen to cog!!!
     
  13. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Do you think that for a novice, past tense might be easier for me to write? Is it also easier to read?
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Emphatically yes.
     
  15. essential life
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    essential life Member

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    Okay, I'm going to pick your brains a bit more, if that's okay.

    Let's say, you have first-person perspective. To me there are basically two ways of writing the character's thoughts down.

    1. "That looks like a red ball," she said. To him, it also seemed to contain a hint of blue. He wondered if she was a little bit color blind.

    2. "That looks like a red ball," she said. To him, it also seemed to contain a hint of blue. I wonder if she is a little bit color blind.


    In #2 is it okay to use both ways to portray a character's thoughts, or is only #1 acceptable?
     
  16. A2theDre
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    A2theDre Active Member

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    Umm, in first person perspective, you wouldn't say "To him..." when referring to the narrator. It would be "To me..." So in saying that, number two would be correct but you wouldn't need the italics. It would read like this:

    "That looks like a red ball," she said. To me, it also seemed to contain a hint of blue. I wonder if she is a little bit color blind.
     
  17. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    I agree with Cog, past tense is generally easier to write in first person past tense. However, for me, I only apply this to longer pieces of work...in a short story I might use present tense to increase the drama and urgency of the short story. You can always try it both ways, see which you like better. Most things I write that are intended to be longer, novel length, I go with past tense.

    As for your other questions, the second one is correct, if you were either doing third person, or change the "to him" to "to me." If you are doing first person, you have to make sure to stay in the person's head. You also don't need italics if you are in first person for their internal thoughts, since the whole story is told from inside the MC's head. However, if you were doing third person POV, then how you have with italics is how I would write it. I usually italicize internal first person thoughts when writing in the third person. Usually this is considered an extreme close up on the character who's head you are in, in the third person.

    Italics should be used sparingly, like ellipsis, bold font, or underlined things.

    As for an over heard conversation... It should be in the context that your reader should know from you showing them that the MC is overhearing something they shouldn't be. But don't put it in italics, because it is dialog, no matter how far away it is from the MC. If you tell the setting right, like your MC is hiding behind some books in the library and is over hearing people in the next isle over, then the reader knows it is not a direct conversation that the MC is involved in.
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    actually, there should be NO underlining anywhere in a ms, other than to show where you want the text to be in italics...

    as for the question, a2's example is the way it should be done, except for the fact that since it's in past tense, 'wonder' must be 'wondered'...
     
  19. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    There are two ways to write thoughts that I know of, whether in first or third person. One is indirectly, and one is directly.

    It's easier to see the difference in third person.

    "That looks like a red ball," she said. To him, it also seemed to contain a hint of blue. He wondered if she was a little bit color blind. (Indirectly.)

    "That looks like a red ball," she said. To him, it also seemed to contain a hint of blue. Is she colorblind? he thought.

    When the person is saying the words in their head at the time, the thoughts usually have a tag.
     
  20. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    And if it doesn't? How do authors differentiate unspoken words compared with dialogue?

    Most often than not, they italicize.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not true. Unspoken dialogue is generally written exactly as spoken dialogue, but with the enclosing quotation marks omitted. Italicizing unspoken dialogue is NOT standard, and is a misuse of italics.
     
  22. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    So italicizing thoughts is wrong by your definition? Do you get mad when you see this?
     
  23. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    That's not italicised thought...?
    Using italics for emphasis (sparingly) is accepted, and obviously they're used for foreign phrases as has been noted.
    Also (as has been said), it is ultimately the publishers who have the final say in the formatting - if the publisher thinks that the thought is unclear and wants to italicise it, that's one thing; the writer going against the general expectations as far as grammar goes is something else entirely.
     
  24. EyezForYou
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    Aaron. That's weird. I hate Cormac McCarthy because of his lack of punctuations, because he thinks his different and special.

    Yet now, you tell me I can't use italicization for thoughts?
     
  25. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Cormac McCarthy's style was much more conventional when he was first published. The minimalism is something he developed into after becoming a successful writer of more standard fare, and so he retained the support and trust of his publishers.
    I'm not saying you absolutely cannot ever italicise thought, I'm just saying that a) its not standard as far as publishing guidelines go, and b) (IMO) its not a particularly well-advised idea. I would prefer it to be either incorporated into the narration or differentiated by context, not by simply italicising it. The second point is a matter of personal taste; the first is not.
     

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