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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Editing Tips Every Friday on Word_Mage!

Billie Williams invited me to contriute an editing tip for her e-group every Friday. This is my first week, so I'm sharing it here, too. If you care to subscribe to Billie's group, send an e-mail to Word_Mage-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. When you introduce yourself, please tell the group how you found them. (-:

Anyway, here is the post. I thought I'd start of with something controversial. (-:

So, you're all going to hate me for this.

Avoid using italics to indicate internal thought. You probably don't have to use them. You will be writing from a specific POV and your reader will know those words are in that character's head anyway. Plus, there are several ways to get around having to use them that are part of a skilled fiction writer's stable of writing techniques. It's not that exceptions can't be made. (All rules were made to be broken.) But don't break guidelines or rules unless you have a really, really, really good reason for doing so.

Caveat: "Because I like it that way," is not a good enough rule.

Caveat #2: Neither is, "My reader won't understand. I'm trying to make it easy on my reader." Your reader may have read Anna Karenina. Not easy reading. No italics. We all know your reader understood it. I mean, 1,000,000 Oprah fans can't all be geniuses. Smart, but not geniuses. So I guess that's another tip. Trust your reader to be a reasonably good at what she/he does which is to read.

More to come later on how to make internal thought work without italics. Actually, how to make internal thought work well. Maybe even some related topics on something like stream of consciousness. How does that sound? (-:

2 comments:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

This is an answer to the uproar I knew I'd cause when I posted this article on the e-group as part of my weekly post on editing:

"Well, I knew I'd hear from Janet on this. LOL. And I knew it would cause a stir. Mission accomplished.

"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 spend 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. Higgins is obviously doing that. I haven't seen Stephen King use itals for internal thought. Or even Grisham. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

Itals are used for internal thought 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 their book and that writer uses them. It's like gossip. It doesn't make using them right.

"The theory behind using any punctuation that isn't absolutely essential, though. or punctuatiion that is different from what tradition has taught us to expect (There are no italics forinternal thought in the classics you'll note) is that it can be distracting.

"The biggest 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 POV. No one would think of suggesting that we shouldn't be careful with THAT. Right? Great transitions so we know exactly who is doing the observing and all of that. (-: So why would 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 them is intrusive. But, the Frugal Editor is written so that people (those who want to) can eventually sell their work to the nation's best agents and they to the nation's best publishers. Those who want to continue to have the control over their work (one of which would 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 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.

"I won't argue this one any more. 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. That's an exercise in better writing."

Best,
Your Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor
www.howtodoitfrugally.com

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

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! (-:
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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