An Intense Discussion on Italicizing Thoughts

Barbara Custer loves her Mylar balloons and science fiction tales.One evening, I headed to a writers’ group meeting where of all things, we had a discussion on whether or not to italicize thoughts. Why are we talking about this, I wondered? My mind kept wandering back to my visit to the Giant earlier in the day, when a humongous Disney Princess Mylar balloon waylaid me. I still kept reliving the touch of the balloon against my hair as it blocked my view from the other balloons that wanted my attention.

Italicizing thoughts? Indeed. All of my writing life, I’ve been taught that anything in thoughts should be italicized in fiction manuscripts. Actually that’s not true. In the early days, when I submitted, I had to underline my characters’ thoughts, with the understanding that the editor would then know to italicize. That’s not required now unless you’re doing a college term paper. Mind you, people send me work with stuff underlined, and I’ll change it to italics without complaining.

Ah, but when I went to my trusty references, I found that while italics can make a useful tool, something too many is overkill. Italics might definitely work for thoughts that are especially significant. Otherwise, find an unobtrusive way to express thoughts.

Barbara Custer edits Night to Dawn magazine, featuring horror, zombies, and science fiction.So let’s figure this out with a scene describing my balloon purchase. Example 1: The Disney Princess balloon called to me as soon as I entered the Giant. Whoa, I thought, that looks like one pricey balloon. (Internal dialogue) Using “I thought” and italics serves to distance me (the character) from this internal dialogue. Example 2: I examined the balloon, smiling, holding it up to the light, wondering how it would look near the butterflies in my living room. This sentence gives a different way to word thoughts, without italics, along with body language to demonstrate my feelings. This technique brings the thought closer to me. Which way is best? Either will work. It depends on your story and the effect you’re trying to achieve through your character.

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We also had a debate on whether intent was an adjective, and that maybe intense should be the adjective, while intent is the noun. So I headed to my trusty references. Sometimes Google, but often times Chicago of Manual Style.  Here’s another one just to confuse y’all: intensive. So let’s clear up the mystery.

Intense is in fact an adjective, meaning exerting extreme force, or being having strong feelings. So … if you want your book to read well, it may need intense editing. I have an intense interest in Mylar balloons.

Intensive means focused on one topic. So an intensive edit might be focused on characterization.

Cross genre horror / science fiction book by Barbara CusterIntent can work as an adjective or a noun. Intent is synonymous with intention which means a general plan to get something done. Intent is stronger, meaning a firm resolution to get something done. Example: In spite of the distractions from the Mylar balloons, I was intent on finding every item on my grocery list.

As a noun, intent can mean aim or goal. Example: My intent was to get all of the groceries, but the Mylar balloons got the better of me.

So … I’d like to hear your thoughts on italicizing and the use of intent versus intense.

I’m offering two giveaways: A signed copy of Steel Rose and a copy of Night to Dawn 28, to be given to a random commenter during this blog hop.

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About Barbara Custer

Author of: Twilight Healer Steel Rose Life Raft: Earth City of Brotherly Death Close Liaisons Infinite Sight When Blood Reigns Infinite Sight Publisher / Editor of Night to Dawn Books & Magazine
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4 Comments

  1. Hi, Barbara,

    You’ve written another interesting blog. I prefer not to use italics for internal monologues as it distracts from the message. I liked your example and how you pointed out that it shows how the body language shows your feelings. In the past, of course, most people used italics, but I like the new way better.

    As far as the two words you mentioned, I see them as entirely different words. I like how you showed examples of using the words so that readers would better understand them.

    Excellent blog!

    • Thank you! 🙂 There’s a part of me that wants to hang onto the italics, but I’m trying to keep my mind open. I think in general, writing has changed a lot in the last twenty years. Barbara of the Balloons

  2. To be fair, you used to have to underline internal dialogue to signal the typesetter to italicize the words…. 😉

    • I think it depends on the publishing house – many of them prefer the italics. Underlining might be best with submitting to nonfictions journals & newspapers. ~ Barbara of the Balloons 🙂

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