>> Thursday, November 5, 2009
Boris Legradic asked: I am participating in the NaNoWriMo this year. Still going strong at day four, but one thing in my writing is starting to bug me:From time to time I will fill the need to use italics for emphasis, as in "Now I was curious."This I feel is a bad habit, much like using smileys in written communication, an unnecessary short-cut to something that could be better expressed through superior prose. Also, I just checked my most favourite fantasy book in the world, Rothfuss's "The Name of the Wind", and HE doesn't use any italics. Neither did Tolkien, or Shakespeare for that matter. Herbert does use italics to great effect in "Dune", but only to denote thoughts.What do you think? Do you use italics? And how could I re-write "Now I was curious." without italics, and be sure that it is read as intended and not as "Now I was curious.", for example?
Really? Cool. I have never been tempted to jump into NaNoWriMo, because writing when I'm not inspired inevitably leads to garbage (that's what happens when I do it - not saying it doesn't work for many people). Ironically, I started a novel 10/16 that does inspire me and I'm 32K+ words into it, which means that, inadvertently, I'm pretty close to doing the same thing (50K words in 30 days if the pace continues).
Do I use italics? Yes, for emphasis and to denote thought (several of my novels include telepathy). Although I've read several authors (especially classic authors when type was less readily manipulated) who don't use italics except to denote foreign languages and the like. However, when I take a survey of my favorite current authors, I don't have one that doesn't use italics for emphasis (and yes, sometimes for thought).
According to Wikipedia, emphasis is at the top of the list of "When to use italics" which argues that at least someone else advocates the use.
Are there authors who don't use it? I'm sure that there are. I'm sure there are authors who feel that it is "cheating" and that, if you wrote effectively, you wouldn't ever need italics (or adjectives or adverbs, etc - I've heard it all).
Could you stress "Now I was curious," without italics? Sure, you could say, "Before it didn't matter," I said, "Now, I was curious." (Though it should be noted that "now" with "was" seems somehow problematic). The comma, as a pause, can add a stressor but isn't always available. Dashes and ... can also emphasize a word and make the speech pattern more obvious. In the end, though, only you can decide if going down such a path makes the work better.
For me, the story's the thing. As an author, it's my job to tell the story as effectively as I can, communicate all the salient information in a way that the reader feels and experiences those things I want them to feel with as little conscious effort on their part as possible. That's my goal and I have to use the methods I think best to do so. For me, I tend toward things I like when I read.
What I'm saying is that, when it comes to your story, "rules" don't outrank your story. If you find a way to convey it within constraints you think are pertinent, great. But, if you can only do so at the expense of the story, you're not doing the story justice. So, if you like what you wrote better with the italics, I'd say, use 'em. If you don't, find an alternative.
In the end, you have to be the first and last one happy with what you've written. After all, it has your name on it.