March 23, 2019, 12:57:40 PM

Author Topic: What's your take on italics?  (Read 3852 times)

Offline SugoiMe

What's your take on italics?
« on: July 11, 2015, 11:20:51 AM »
I was just reading an article on first chapter blunders and it hinted at formatting issues like too much italics.  I've read other articles that say to shy away from using too many as well.  What's your take on it?  Does too much italics give you migraines like the people who wrote those articles?

I'm asking because I decided to use italics to make the switch between languages.  I found that I was switching so often that I needed to make a distinction somehow without having to say, "he said in his own language" every other paragraph.  That being said, I have a couple of chapters that use said italics language.  Would that bother the reader?  What do you think?

I had a friend read the first chapter and she didn't mind.  She's an avid sci-fi/fantasy book reader, so I took her word as gold.  But I'd like some more opinions.
"And then the time came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

Offline Yora

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2015, 12:07:21 PM »
My instinct would be "use sparingly". Though I've seen plenty of books where all internal thoughts are completely in italics, that also works very well.

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Ringbearer
  • *****
  • Posts: 6866
  • Total likes: 4676
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2015, 12:18:08 PM »
I think your example of using it for different languages, when you're not actualy writing that different language, makes sense.But when yuo have an entire chapter in which dialogue is in language B, I'm not sure how necessary it really is.

A Crown for Cold Silver, which Im listening to as a recorded book, uses three languages - but all represented in English. In one scene, a character is roaring on in his own language not realizing it, and his listening just looks up and says "Crimson or Immaculate?" (the other two languages). The speaker realizes what he's been doing and shifts. While I'm not seeing it on the page, I expect there was no italics. In fact, they would have interfered with this tiny reveal.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2015, 12:20:46 PM by Jmack »
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline Sir Gawain

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2015, 04:32:38 PM »
I see people using italics for internal dialog all the time. I think if you break it up, it shouldn't be a problem.

Offline Francis Knight

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2015, 12:09:01 AM »
Use sparingly

I think every couple of paras would annoy me/my eyes. Find another way? Switch less often? Can't they just have the convo in one language? Find another way to indicate the switch?

Italics are like salt. Some is good. Too much....


My tongue has been in my cheek for so long, I've eroded a new mouth.


Duellists Trilogy (as Julia Knight) coming soon from Orbit!

http://www.juliaknight.co.uk/

Offline cupiscent

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2015, 12:18:10 AM »
Large sections in italics - like putting a flashback scene in italics, or a dream sequence, or similar - can be more difficult to read. If it's whole pages in italics, then that might present problems. (That said, I've read books recently that do this.)

Similarly, if you're using lots of instances of italics, it starts to look a little like a comic book, where it seems like every third word is emphasised, and the whole notion of italics as emphasis starts to lose its meaning for the reader.

There might not be a problem with it. On the other hand, there might be more elegant ways around it. I mean, if the character speaking another language is understood by your viewpoint character, there's no reason to note the language they're speaking in - you can just make a note when another character doesn't understand because s/he doesn't speak that language. If he isn't understood, then should the reader know what he's saying?

Offline jefGoelz

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2015, 04:08:46 AM »
imo, italics are for emphasis (or foreign words). If you use them for all thoughts, you will have some pages flooded with italics, unless your narrator is nearly objective.

I have used them for letters, too.


Offline Justan Henner

  • Barbarian who pronounces are, our and hour all the same way
  • Writing Group
  • Auror
  • ***
  • Posts: 1035
  • Total likes: 563
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #7 on: July 12, 2015, 04:23:51 AM »
imo, italics are for emphasis (or foreign words). If you use them for all thoughts, you will have some pages flooded with italics, unless your narrator is nearly objective.

I have used them for letters, too.

I also use them for emphasis, and for direct thoughts. For direct thoughts, I use them sparingly, but for emphasis I use italics quite liberally. Everyone says that a reader should be able to tell the tone of your dialogue by the words used, but I don't see the harm in clarity.

Personally, I see it as a tool to help with this problem in the English language:

http://imgur.com/gallery/LsbOFpm

Offline SugoiMe

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2015, 06:37:07 AM »
Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.  I'm not sure how I'm going to work around it because using both languages is a big part of the book, but I might find a way around it.
"And then the time came when the risk it took to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin

Offline ScarletBea

  • Welcome party and bringer of Cake. 2nd-in-Command of the Writing Contest
  • Powers That Be
  • Big Wee Hag
  • *
  • Posts: 10331
  • Total likes: 6068
  • Gender: Female
  • Geeky Reading Introvert
    • View Profile
    • LibraryThing profile
Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2015, 11:34:46 AM »
http://imgur.com/gallery/LsbOFpm
Loved this ;D and it's very true about the emphasis/meanings!

As a reader, I don't mind italics that much, and I can stretch the 'use sparingly' to a paragraph. More, yes, it starts getting too much.
If you need to highlight something is different for long stretches of time, use ----- between the sections. I always found that quite interesting.
At home in the Fantasy Faction forum!

"Let us think the unthinkable, let us do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all" - Douglas Adams

Offline D_Bates

  • Story Critiquaire Extraordinaire and a Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Bridgeburner
  • *****
  • Posts: 516
  • Total likes: 218
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2015, 10:12:41 PM »
I use italics quite a bit, though I don't tend to use them for internal monologue unless the character is chaining them out and I don't want to write 'he/she thought' every other line. I've also used them for letters in the past, but am again tending against it these days since it doesn't really add anything when you should already be clarifying that the text involved is a letter.

However, as others have noted, there are times where you just need to emphasise a word for sarcastic notions or even clarity: "Not that he would consider helping me, mind you."

I've always hated that rule of thumb about how you should apparently be able to show the tone/delivery based on the words. That's garbage. You can suspect a tone/delivery with a greater knowledge of the surrounding events and relationship between the characters, but there are many sentences that can have identical words yet their meaning completely changes dependant on the delivery. The link above is a fantastic representation of that.

In the case of your characters switching languages, I would be curious about the scenes point of view. How many people are present in the conversation? If it's just your main PoV character and the foreign speaker, if they can understand each other does each of them speaking in a different language make any sense? And if they can't understand each other, how is the translation happening?

If there are more than two characters present, then people don't tend to speak in languages that are foreign to those around them unless A) they don't know the native tongue, or B) they are trying to hide something.
For A), I would suspect either a translator would be present, or else the details of the foreign speaker's words are likely not important enough that you need to directly translate them through italics rather than just giving a quick overview from the PoV character who understands them.
For B), the comments hidden behind the foreign tongue are likely to be fleeting and direct to a point, something that you can flesh out with your PoV character translating through his own internal thoughts rather than transcribing them word for word, regardless of whether they're translating the words of an enemy who's unaware they speak the tongue, or an ally who's dropping warnings/commands their way.
« Last Edit: July 12, 2015, 10:15:13 PM by D_Bates »
David Bates
Works in progress:
Ciara: A Faun's Tale - 90,000; The K.B.G. - 100,000; Maria and the Jarls of Jotun - 90,000; The Shame that lurks in Stableton - current project; Ezra'il - Plotted. TBC July 2018

Offline Francis Knight

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2015, 11:55:58 PM »
A very good point

OP. what is your point/purpose behind having someone speak in a different language? That may make a difference to how we see it and thus give advice
My tongue has been in my cheek for so long, I've eroded a new mouth.


Duellists Trilogy (as Julia Knight) coming soon from Orbit!

http://www.juliaknight.co.uk/

Offline J.R. Darewood

  • aka Duckly Breadgood
  • Writing Group
  • Master Namer
  • ******
  • Posts: 2327
  • Total likes: 1354
  • Gender: Male
  • Zork. And it was all downhill from there.
    • View Profile
    • Nerd Empire
Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2015, 11:59:09 PM »
I'm an italics lover myself.  It helps me imagine how things are being said.
I use it most frequently to emphasize words, but also for:
Inner monologues
Songs.
Single words in other languages.
Entire sentences in other languages.
Magic spells.

Offline Nora

  • Dropped in from another planet avec son sourire provocateur - et Hades and Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Dragonrider
  • ***
  • Posts: 4498
  • Total likes: 3517
  • Gender: Female
  • The Explorer
    • View Profile
Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2015, 11:39:27 PM »
Joining the italic amateur club.
Emphasis or inner monologue when writing third person.
I don't believe I use them that much, not even for monologue, but it remains a tool I have no shame using.
"She will need coffee soon, or molecular degeneration will set in. Her French phrasing will take over even more strongly, and soon she will dissolve into a puddle of alienation and Kierkegaardian despair."  ~ Jmack

Wishy washy lyricism and maudlin unrequited love are my specialty - so said Lady_Ty

Offline Roxxsmom

Re: What's your take on italics?
« Reply #14 on: July 15, 2015, 10:40:30 PM »
Writers use italics for all kinds of things--correspondences, flashbacks, telepathic communication, direct internal thoughts, emphasized words in speech or narrative. I've even run across entire scenes (flashbacks or dreams) written in italics. It doesn't bother me, as I've long since resigned myself to needing reading glasses, but when I started going back and forth with other writers and critters, I learned that many people despise more than limited use of italics. I've even run across people who insist one should never use them, though I'm guessing these folks don't actually read a lot of published fantasy novels.

So something to consider is that books that have pages of italics are likely wall bangers for at least some folks. My decision in my current projects is to use them only for telepathy (an infrequent occurrence, and the telepathic being is quite laconic) and very occasional word emphasis (like I did with the word despise earlier).

I don't know what to suggest as an alternative to the language issue, aside from maybe playing a bit with the syntax so it becomes clear when someone is speaking in the different language. My suspicion is that at least some readers will dislike using them to denote a different spoken language, at least if such is done frequently and at great length in your novel.