Saturday, February 09, 2008

More on Italics and Internal Thought

I'm adding some more of my answers to writers on the thread that started on italics. I knew I'd stir up a hornet's nest! Scroll down to see the original post. (-:
Here it is:


Here's the thing, fiction writers. We all want to become the best writers -- and the best readers for that matter -- that we can be. If you were paying $400 to $800 for a course from one of the best writing schools (including UCLA's) you would get this info in a class. I know. I took those courses . I probably spent a cool $3,000 taking those courses. And now I'm teaching there.

These fine schools of writing are trying to make writers reach for the best they can be.

I haven't seen Stephen King use italics for internal thought. Or, Grisham. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Using italics for internal thought is done more frequently among romance writers, often unnecessarily (i. e. without a good reason).

What's happened here (with the proliferation of the use of italics) is that many writers are making it easy on themselves and training us to expect it to be made easy on us. They use them. Then someone who admires them sees them in that book and so he or she uses them, too. It's like gossip. It's fun and easy but it doesn't make using them right.

Using punctuation that isn't essential (or punctuation that is different from what tradition has taught--indeed trained--us to expect) can be distracting. (There are no italics for internal thought in the classics you'll note.)

The secret is to think, "I'm already in this person's head. My reader knows it. I know it. So why am I pretending like we both don't know it." That's why we also have to be very careful with our Point of View as well. No one would think of suggesting that we shouldn't be careful with that. Right? We work at great transitions so we know exactly who is doing the observing and all of that. (-: So why would we. as writers, usurp what POV is supposed to do with something as obvious and intrusive as italics.

Now, I know most of you don't think that using italics to indicate internal thought is intrusive. But, the Frugal Editor is written so that writers (those who want to) can eventually sell their work to the nation's best agents and so those agents can sell their clients' work to the nation's best publishers.

Those who want to continue to have the control over their work (one of which might be to continue to use italics for internal thought without an exceptionally good reason for doing so) will continue to do so, I guess. But if you are interested in going in a different direction, please don't take this guideline on italics lightly.

If you use italics for internal though in the first chapter and that chapter isn't so absolute above-board great that an agent will figure she can sell your work IN SPITE of them (or talk you out of it!), you will be doing yourself a disservice.

Of course, it's up to each of you to decide. Do try to judge, though, based on what's best for your writing career, rather than that you already have a book out that uses them. That would be investing in the past, rather than the future. And when you run across a book that uses them -- a very good book like LIsa See's Peony in Love published by Random House (and she uses them very sparingly!), try to determine why she broke the guideline.

Now, that's an exercise in better writing.
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author THIS IS THE PLACE; HARKENING: A COLLECTION OF STORIES REMEMBERED; TRACINGS, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, THE FRUGAL BOOK PROMOTER: HOW TO DO WHAT YOUR PUBLISHER WON'T; and THE FRUGAL EDITOR: PUT YOUR BEST BOOK FORWARD TO AVOID HUMILIATION AND ENSURE SUCCESS.
Her other blogs include TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com and AuthorsCoalition.blogspot.com, a blog that helps writers and publishers turn a ho-hum book fair booth into a sizzler.

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