That’s What it Sounds Like

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I’m in editing mode this week. Specifically, I am unsure about the use of italics.

Yes, I understand that they are used to denote titles, and foreign words. They are also used for book titles, poems, plays, television shows, musical compositions, newspapers, radio podcasts, names of ships, and airplanes.

The list goes on and on (See the 7th edition of the MLA handbook for more of the above.)

However, here, I want to share about the three most common uses of italics by authors.

The first is to show emphasis for readers. For example, “She dated five men at the same time.” If you italicize the word “five,” it helps to emphasize the fact that you feel this is extraordinary and you don’t want your reader to miss it. Thus, the sentence would read, “She dated five men at the same time.”

The second is to set apart a character’s inner thoughts and/or  dreams. This avoids confusion for readers by signaling that those words were not spoken out loud. Longer italicized portions of text show the reader that the character is dreaming. This is important because otherwise they may think that those actions are taking place in the here and now.

Finally, I come to the rule that has been confusing me as I give my own manuscript a final pass. That is, should sounds be italicized? 

I did some research and I found the answer to be very simple:

The name of a sound does not get italicized, but the sound itself does. 

Here is an example:  The dog growled. (I named the sound, so no italics.) vs. “Grrr” (this is the actual sound, so it should be italicized).

Simple?

That’s what it sounds like to me.

 

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Think About It

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One of the things that makes our writing strong is sharing our character’s thoughts with the reader. This is done in two main ways: by indirect and direct thoughts.

Thoughts are simply a character talking to themselves. We show this inner speech by using italics instead of quotation marks.

For example,

Indirect: He thought his friend’s remark was funny.

Direct: Now, that’s funny!

Most narrative writing is in the past tense.

But, characters’ inner thoughts are written in the present tense.

Here is an example:

Indirect:  He refused to give up.  (This comes from the narrator. Past tense- third person.)

Direct: I refuse to give up.  (This thought comes directly from the character. Present tense- first person.)

So, when should you use indirect thoughts and when should you choose to include direct thoughts?

Ask yourself two questions:

1) Does it feel like it’s in third or first person?

2) Does it feel like the character is saying this?

It’s just that simple. 

Or, at least I think so…