Italics Are Not Your Friend

I have begun to notice the over use of italics in fiction. It’s always bugged me but lately it seems to be on the rise. So I am going to say it now and you are free to disagree. New writers, if your “literary style,” involves italics as a means to show what your characters are really thinking get a new, “style.” Better yet read a few more books on writing.

Italics can be used effectively. In cases where something is being read by a character in the story or they are listening to a recorded message, italics can set this apart from the rest of the text and call attention to it. Another good use for italics is when you have a word in dialogue that needs that extra bit of emphasis.

If that is not the case it is just sloppy writing. The writer is using format to do the work that they should be doing. Would you let a pencil sketch in the margin replace your description of a character? I guess if it is a graphic novel or a picture book, but that is not what I am reading. To demonstrate this, I came up with a couple of examples to show how italics are a crutch, and a wobbly one at that. Mind you they were created to exaggerate my point so take with a large grain of salt.

As I headed to the cafeteria, Morgan passed me in the hall. Her long black hair shone even in the florescent lights and her tight navy blue skirt hugged her hips. What I wouldn’t do to put my arms around those hips. She stopped, turned around to look at me and took a couple steps closer. This was it.

“Great job on figuring out that numbers error. That could have set the whole project back weeks.”

“Thanks, just part of my job.” Would this be a bad time to ask you to marry me?

Morgan nodded, turned around and continued on her way. Another golden opportunity squandered. Great job idiot.

Here is it without the italics.

As I headed to the cafeteria, Morgan passed me in the hall. Her long black hair shone even in the florescent lights and her tight navy blue skirt hugged her hips. The city is full of stories of unrequited love; this one is no different. Still, a guy can hope and dream, right? What I wouldn’t do to put my arms around those hips. She stopped and turned around to look at me. I looked up at her and our eyes met. The world moved us closer together.

“Great job on figuring out that numbers error. That could have set the whole project back weeks.”

“Thanks, just part of my job.” The corners of my mouth turned towards the ceiling. She looked at me and I at her. I could see her in a white dress and veil and me in a tux standing on a beach somewhere in Hawaii. I longed for the words, “I do.” Did that just come out of my mouth? Morgan stood there silent and just  a little confused. “I do that as part of my job, I meant to say, you know error checking.”

Morgan nodded, turned around and continued on her way. Another golden opportunity squandered. I stuffed my hands in my pockets and headed back to my desk. For whatever reason I wasn’t hungry any more.

I would much rather read the latter than the former. So remember if you have something you need to convey nothing does it better than plain black marks on white paper or screens.

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About Vincent A. Alascia

Vincent is the author of, "In the Presence of Gods," "Xristos: Chosen of God," and coming soon, "Undead Heart," available on Kindle and paperback, as well as works that have appeared in anthologies and online. Originally an East Coast native, he makes his home in the Phoenix area of Arizona with his wife and three attention grabbing felines. Vincent is an active member of the West Valley Writers' Workshop and an Adult Services librarian at the Maricopa County Library District Northwest Regional Library in Surprise, Arizona.
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2 Responses to Italics Are Not Your Friend

  1. Yes . . . italics used to indicate a character’s thoughts have always driven me nuts. Stephen King does this a lot, though I still enjoy the guy’s books (at least the early stuff!).

  2. writerwilke says:

    I don’t know… I kind of disagree. I do agree that they can be WAY over used. However, if the work is VERY HEAVILY from the person’s perspective, then the internal dialogue use is valid. But if you are writing a universal perspective piece, then they are not as appropriate. Sometimes I do really like to hear just what the person is thinking, sometimes not.

    Again, as with most things, I think it comes down to style.

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