Friday, January 3, 2014

To use italics?

Hello, Mr. Lukeman,
Thank you so much for "The First Five Pages".
I have a question regarding italics, and I feel that I really cannot continue editing until I know more.
My novel is a historical fantasy with elements of time travel and telepathic communication. There are conversations between characters that occur both telepathically and vocally. There are also many POV portions that focus on characters' thoughts. In both situations, I use italics extensively; in the dialogue, especially, this is an issue, as there are places where the only way that the reader can discern telepathic from vocal communication is font change (italics).

Removing the italics is possible, but it will make much of the text difficult to understand, and when I change things in POV from italics to regular font, it will change the tone entirely.

For example, the very first sentences (which use italics in this way, although I cannot use italics on the blog post and have indicated them by asterisks before and after):

"*Bloody good time for Angela to die*, Daniel thought as he navigated his rented Mercedes out of the crowded airport parking lot. The sedan had been Arwein’s single concession to Daniel’s comfort after they had gotten the call. The cream-colored leather driver’s seat smelled of cheap polish, somewhat diminishing the effect Daniel sought as he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. Glancing with annoyance at something flickering in his vision, Daniel noted a ridiculous pine-tree air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror, which he promptly yanked down.

*Stupid thing.*"

I could change it so that it reads: 
'Daniel thought sarcastically that it was a bloody good time for Angela to die. He navigated his...'
'Daniel considered the poor timing of Angela's death as he navigated....'

But that really changes the flavor of the text such that the reader is a bit more removed from Daniel's thought processes... and Daniel's thought processes form the backbone of the book. And what to do about "stupid thing" eludes me entirely.

And then, for the telepathy, consider:
“My Lady, this is a most gracious offer, but I must decline. I have been given a charge, and I must submit; I cannot well protect Her Grace from halfway down the hall, though I am certain that I would be well-fed and well-attended. Please extend my thanks to His Grace.” *I can protect you both here; I can keep Thomas in his place. Leave me.*

In this passage, Daniel is injecting subconscious thoughts into Catherine's mind. How to do that without saying something awkward and clunky like, '...Leave me, Daniel projected' for every instance will make the text unwieldy, especially if I have to do it in paragraph after paragraph.

And then for dialogue (this example comes from the second book, which I am currently writing):
'“Lie down, Daniel,” Arwein said, rather more gruffly than he intended. Stepping to the boy’s bedside, he pressed Daniel back into the mattress.
“What are you doing?”
“Staying with you for a few days, while you get better.” Arwein arranged his documents neatly before turning back to Daniel. *“Would you like to practice?”*
Daniel looked a bit startled, but responded after a few moments, *“With you?”*
Arwein felt a sharp pang of regret at the boy’s surprise. *Ah, what a mistake it was to let this go*, Arwein thought. “*Yes, Daniel; with me.”'*

I really am at a loss about what to do. The first book is over 400 pages; the second is at 250 and is about 2/3 done. Obviously, it doesn't matter at all what the content is if nobody reads it, but... the content will be drastically changed by removing the italics.

Please, I could really use your input. And (she chuckled ruefully), if you should see in the above that there are significantly greater issues than italicizing, don't hold back.

Thank you again. I know you are tremendously busy, but... I really want to get this right.

Take care;
Julie Hoover


Thank you for your question.

The mission of this blog is to answer general questions about writing and publishing, not to address specific editing and revision issues. Thus I will not be able to comment on your piece of writing.

That said, to answer your general question about the use of italics: there is no absolute right or wrong. It is not a science. However, personally, I always prefer to err on the side of caution: if you fear you may be overusing italics, you probably are. In most cases (not all) I find that a heavy use  of italics tends to be distracting. The main point here--and this applies to many aspects of writing, not just italics--is that you never want to yank a reader out of a text, to call attention to your writing, to do anything that might make her have to re-read for clarity and/or put down a book. Your goal as a writer is to make your writing invisible, to allow the reader to settle into a read, deeper and deeper, so they never want to put a book down. If you are using some device that may counteract that effect, then I'd err on the side of caution and do away with it.

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