Stay Current: Keep Italics Out of Your Fiction

© 2016 Angela Hunt

  • Kathy watched as Tom entered the room and circled the punch bowl. He hasn’t changed a d4426767-1459-4612-ab2f-29b560434d69bit…and that’s why my heart is pounding!
  • Kathy watched as Tom entered the room and circled the punch bowl. He hadn’t changed a bit…which probably explained her pounding heart.

Twenty years ago, the standard practice for writing interior monologue (a point of view character’s thoughts) was to put the thought in italics and switch to first person. Writers believed this gave the writing a more intimate peek into a person’s mind, and beaucoup writers handled thoughts this way.

But writing practices change, and today’s readers want faster and smoother—we are a technological generation. We’re accustomed to getting information instantly, we see words as images that play on the backs of our eyelids, and we want our reading experience to be as seamless as possible. So cut the unnecessary italics (and prevent your reader from squinting). Don’t switch from third person to first. Why force your reader to change gears when he can simply keep reading what he already knows is coming from the character’s consciousness?

When you are writing in limited POV per scene (what most writers use no matter whether it’s first or third person), the reader knows that everything you write is coming from the point-of-view character’s head. So why clutter up your prose with phrases like “she thought” or “he wondered?” Just write the thought, already! Don’t use unnecessary words that only dilute the power of your paragraphs.

Keep your point of view consistent in each scene, but be aware of the “shifting camera” which continually varies the distance between character and reader. In every novel, writers use a variety of shifts to ease into a scene. Consider:

  • Mary woke as gray light streamed through the window. Raindrops streaked the windowpanes like tears. Why had George picked up and left her?

This is third person limited point of view, but notice where the “camera” is.  At the first sentence, the camera is outside Mary’s head, revealing a woman in bed by a window. Then the camera moves into Mary’s POV, because the phrase “like tears” comes from Mary and reveals her sadness without revealing much else. The third sentence is her direct thought, the most intimate position of all, but there is no reason to italicize it or to switch it to first person. The reader quickly gets the point and moves on.

So reserve italics for their proper use: emphasis, first use of foreign phrases, and book titles. You don’t need to employ them for a character’s thoughts.
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Christy Award winner and NYT best-selling author, Dr. Angela Hunt writes for readers who expect the unexpected. With over four million copies of her books sold worldwide, she has written more than 130 books, including The Tale of Three Trees and The Nativity Story. Her novel The Note was filmed as Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie for 2007 and became one of the channel’s highest-rated original movies ever produced. This lesson is adapted from Point of View, the third lesson in her instructional series, Writing Lessons from the Front.9f3c4d87-c5fc-4b49-909a-06b2c1e2fd89


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Stay Current: Keep Italics Out of Your Fiction — 1 Comment

  1. Once upon a time—-long time ago, there was a wounded warrior-type attending the Presentation where Angela Hunt and Nan tried to gift us wanna-beeeees with writing tips. Your seminars fueled my furnace and I’m continuing to think-type-stash (and submit) with the belief that I’ll have another opportunity to sit-in and absorb more how-tooo and what-not-to……..Keep on keeping on….the seeds you plant continue to sprout. Gratefullllly. Marie C. Senter San Antonio, TEXAS.

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