Someone in a Facebook group I’m a part of asked a question recently. She was wondering whether we used italics ‘to empathize a word, or a thought.’ Her comment was met with mixed thoughts especially from all of us, so I want to take a moment to explain how I feel about italics. I’ll briefly touch on the two ways of using italics that came up during our discussion.
Using Italics To Show Style
I do not like using italics for stylization, nor do I like it when other writers and authors use it for such. It’s great to show style, I support and appreciate all writers who aren’t afraid to have their own style, however I find that when italics are used for stylistic reasons they often take away from the masterpiece the story could have been.
Often times what you may think looks really cool can be too overbearing and heavy handed for the audience to want to read. Stylistically simple is better because it doesn’t pull your readers out of your story or it’s context.
Using Italics For Emphasis or Thought
I enjoy using italics for emphasis but even then they must be used sparingly. I enjoy using italics for emphasis and thought because I tend to write in 2nd or 3rd person rather than 1rst, so there is a need to set aside what my character is thinking/feeling on the inside from what I am describing on the outside.
I do use italics for emphasis once every blue moon but for the most I allow the rhythm and flow of my sentences combing together to inform my audience of where I want they to emphasis in their minds. Instead of using italics on the a word in a line of dialogue to help convert its heavy meaning I’ll write something such as: ‘the weight of the last word and it’s implications hung heavily in the air. The true horror of what he was describing reader it a ugly head as their expressions and body language changed from exasperated to flat out exclaims of denial and protest. Grandma’s chair stopped rocking. Ma’s pipe hit the floor.’ Or ‘his inflection changed mid thought giving the words a twist that send a shiver down her spine.’
A sound description of the affect of someone’s words will go much farther than italics ever will. It’ll stick in your audience’s minds and when that story’s moment is brought up again later, they’ll remember it better because it had a bigger emotional impact.
Trust Your Readers
Overall what I want to say is: trust your audience, trust your readers. Your readers will catch on things like inflection and emphasis in your writing on their own, it’s OK to trust them.
Italics can be distracting.
Italics can be unnecessary.
Use italics with care, maybe a sprinkle or two here and there.
With all been said and done: what are your thoughts on using italics?