Posted at May 8, 2020

Writing Tips: Italics (The Right Way to Use Them)

Italics?  They’re okay sometimes.  But other times, the reader just gets lost in all the emphasis, because it just starts to lose its meaning.  See what I’m talking about?


To begin, italics are most often used to call attention to a certain word, to emphasize what the speaker is saying.  Notice what I did there.
Here’s the thing: if what the speaker is emphasizing is described well enough, the author shouldn’t have to italicize it.  It’s as simple as “showing” instead of “telling.”


Despite using italics to take the easy way out, there definitely is a right way to utilize this charming little accessory.


1) Inner monologue
Characters often have an inner monologue inside their head which is a fantastic way to catch a reader’s eye.  It allows readers to get into the mind of the narrator and provides raw emotion to the novel.  And, it’s all italicized so readers may differentiate between narration and inner monologue.  This, friends, is a good utilization of italics.  But authors sometimes overuse the character’s thoughts.
For example: I wonder if I should do that, he thought.  I think I will. 
While this is also correct…it’s not what I’m talking about.  By “inner monologue,” I mean a character having perhaps an opposing voice in his head, or a “devil/angel” pushing him to do something.  Make it interesting enough to emphasize his thoughts, not his ideas about what to buy at the grocery store.


2) A flashback
Not all flashbacks have to be in italics, because some flashbacks are brief and sprinkled into your story in light little dashes of reminiscence.  But if the author is writing more than a few paragraphs about the same flashback, AND if the flashback is separated from the main plot by a hedera, then it might need to be italicized to prevent any confusion about timeline for the reader’s sake.  However, if the entirety of the flashback is dedicated to its own chapter, then it is best to leave everything as is; italics can be overdone.
(Here’s a tip: use italics for certain dream descriptions!)


3) Grammar
Yes, italics have a place here, too.  When discussing a magazine, or newspaper, or poem, you need to know what you’re doing if you’re writing about it.  To put it simply, the container of a work is always italicized.
For example: Hit Hollywood has an article about “Italics.”
Another example: The New York Times discusses “The Truth about COVID-19”
And lastly: Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” came from his book Leaves of Grass
     So before you italicize, check to see where that article, or poem, or feature came from.  If it was published under the title of a larger container, it belongs in quotes, and the container needs to be italicized.


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