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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Here's That Italics Question Again

Oh, no! Not Italics Again! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A subscriber to my Sharing with Writers newsletter writes that she read in The Frugal Editor ( she shouldn’t use italics for internal thought and wondered why she is reading that they are a wonderful tool in other places on the Web. I couldn’t reach her for permission to run her exact question, but here is the answer.

My Answer:

UCLA Writers program (my class and all others) discourages use of italics for internal thought. Still we all know that rules were made to be broken. The thing is, there are many techniques that an accomplished writer can use to make it perfectly clear to the writer that a thought is internal. The major ones are the combination of voice and viewpoint. If a chapter is in the point of view of one person, say the protagonist, everything that's being observed (or thought) is really in her head or coming from her head. Thus, italics are redundant.

There is a lot of misinformation being taught on the Web. Things get started with one author and keep ballooning. I have seen internal thought in italics where it is needed. But rarely. Faulkner had whole books in internal thought and nary an italic. (-:

One more point: We tend not to give readers enough credit for internalizing literary technique. They really don't need that much help!

You can tell this is a favorite topic of mine. Maybe I should write a booklet on it. But nobody would read it. People seem invested in repeating what they're told (however incorrectly) and then what they see in books, however poorly published they are. And then, if they’ve used italics in their own books, they really don’t want to hear that they could have done better.

Using italics for internal thought will continue to take hold, especially among the self- and subsidy-published who hire their old English teachers as editors (English teachers may be great at catching grammar errors and typos but they often know little about creative writing and even less often know anything about publishing).

One day using italics for internal thought may be accepted even by the writer's departments of major universities, but for now, a writer getting and MFA would have to make a real case to her professor that italics were needed or desirable.

By the way, if you would like to subscribe to my newsletter, send an e-mail with SUBSCRIBE in the subject window to HoJoNews (at) AOL (dot) com. The widgets you see in this post are for books that will help you with your editing.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.
Find me tweeting writers' resources at And please tweet this post to your followers. We all need a little help with editing. (-:

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