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ITALICS – WHEN AND WHEN NOT TO USE

August 2, 2017

The other day, someone on one of my forums brought up a question about italics. “How much is too much?”

That’s a great question and I could’ve sworn I’ve covered it before. However, when I did a search of article titles and descriptions, I couldn’t find said article, so maybe my memory isn’t what it was, or I blended use of italics into some other subject.

Probably so.

IRRITATIING

Italics can and sometimes are way overdone. To me, as a reader, there’s nothing more irritating than reading page after page of italics. I mean, we’re talking possible “skip vital information” reading. I know I’m not alone because I’ve seen others voice their displeasure in reviews and on forums. There are books out there that have overdone italics and paid the price with plenty of negative comments, even though there were others who didn’t seem to mind.

Remember my mantra about not going out of your way to alienate your readers? Unless you either don’t care or are deliberately trying to do so, your goal should be to write something that has the widest appeal within and maybe even without your genre or subject.

Italics are just plain hard to read, or if not, a labor in long stretches. If I were to convert this entire article to italics, how many of you would read the whole thing?

PURPOSE OF ITALICS

The generally accepted purpose of italics is to emphasize something, not to be a font!

Just like bold, which is like shouting (as is all caps), italics is another way to emphasize.

What can you use italics for?

Internal thoughts.

Word emphasis (as opposed to shouting or screaming).

Make a particular paragraph or phrase stand out for demonstrative purposes.

Diary entries.

Flashbacks.

Proper titles, such as names of ships, song titles, etc.

LENGTHS

This is where authors get themselves into trouble, when they don’t know when to quit.

For effect, some authors write the good guy in one point of view, the bad guy in another point of view. Other authors write the good guy and bad guy in the same point of view, but with different voices or personalities.

Now, there are authors that’ll write the good and bad guys using the same point of view, but write the good guy in normal font and the bad guy in italics. This can add a lot of italic real-estate which can frustrate the reader.

If an author relies on flashbacks, which is another pet peeve of mine, they often put the flashbacks in italics. This results in entire chapters, like the good guy/bad guy scenario, with pages after pages in italics. I, for one, when browsing, will spot something like this and put the book right back down on the shelf and move on to something else.

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Obviously, there’s no set rule. There are plenty of books published by the big six full of pages upon pages of italics. However, as readers, we have the choice of leafing through these books, if we can, and deciding whether to purchase them (at least as long as there are bookstores still around).

Many people find italics irritating and hard to read, especially in longer passages. It’s best to keep them to short bursts. It does no good to torture your readers.

How about the phrase, “too much of a good thing?”

SUMMARY

Remember, italics are an effect, not a font!

Use italics to emphasize, which means, if you use them too much, that emphasis becomes meaningless.

Happy writing!

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