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Up From Down Under June 2007 by (c) Les Stephenson

 
JUNE 2007 COLUMN
 

Italics for Thought

 

A fellow writer asked me about using italics to represent thought in stories. I researched and found some relevant information. The material has been sitting on my desk taking up space, so it’s time I wrote an answer.

 

Confusion about the legitimate use of italics arises from the old practice where publishers required underlining in manuscripts. Prior to computers and word processing programs, handwritten manuscripts and those produced by typewriters needed underlining to indicate any words that should be italicised when typeset for printing.

 

Leigh Michaels, Moderator at The Romance Writing Book Club, endorses the use of italics for direct thought. In February, 2007, this query was posed to Leigh, “I thought that italics were a no no in a MS. This is probably really old information, but I read somewhere that you should only underline.”

 

Leigh answered, in part: “The rule used to be underline anything you wanted to end up in italics. This rule is relaxing, however, and now most editors say either underline OR use italics.”1

 

I recommend you check any submission guidelines before finalising a manuscript. 

 

Using italics to represent thought in published works is common. Wikipedia states, as a matter of course, that italics are used, inter alia, “Sometimes in novels to indicate a character's thought process …”2

 

A random check of my family library revealed the following fiction published between 1989 and 2006 that includes the use of italics for thought:

 

 

Year

Author

Title

Publisher

Location

1989

Elizabeth George

A Great Deliverance

Hodder & Stoughton

London

1990

Melanie Rawn

Dragon Prince

Pan Books

London

1994

Stephen King

Insomnia

Hodder & Stoughton

London

1997

Kate Forsyth

Dragonclaw

Arrow Books

Sydney

2000

Chris Claremont

Shadow Star

Bantam Books

New York

2001

Ian Stewart &

Jack Cohen

Wheelers

Simon & Schuster

London

2002

Jude Fisher

Sorcery Rising

Simon & Schuster

London

2004

Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code

Corgi Books

London

2006

Wendy Harmer

Love & Punishment

Allen & Unwin

Sydney

 

 

Of course, many books in my library don’t show italicised thought. Perhaps they didn’t bother with thought at all, but I only looked for italic print, rather than re-read.

 

During a web-search, I did find one publisher who, while accepting the practice, offered this caution:

 

Often, an author uses italics to indicate thoughts as contrasted with words spoken by a character. While this is effective in short phrases or sentences, if a character gives rather long expository passages in this manner, it might be better for an author to either devise a different way to provide the reader with the material or to choose another way to contrast thoughts from spoken words.”3

 

 

To sum up:

          it is okay to use italics for thought.

          avoid excessive use.

 

  

 

References

 

  1. Leigh Michaels sourced at http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/ “The Romance Writing Book Club – Questions for Leigh” bulletin board.
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Italics
  3. http://www.aeonix.com/comntypo.htm Edit Text

 Copyright 2007 by The Muse Marquee. All rights reserved. All authors hold individual ownership & copyrights of any material contributed. No unauthorized usage of any published material within the Muse Marquee unless permission is first granted by copyright owner of said material.