by Erin
(Rockton )

Question: When a first person character is thinking something or express their feeling in thought, should I type it in italics? For example: She rummaged through a drawer and held out a pamphlet. A pamphlet? What's she going to do, smack me in the face with it? (So, should I just leave the font the way it is, normal..or should I put "A pamphlet? What's she going to do, smack me in the face with it?" in italics?) Also, when is the right time to put sentences in bold or italic?

Answer: Some writers prefer a character's thoughts to be in italics, but not all do. It's a matter of choice and whether it would seem confusing not to use italics. But if you italicize thoughts in one part of a manuscript, you must italicize them throughout to be consistent.

That said, in standard manucript format, you don't actually use italics for words that should be in italics. (Yes, you read that right.) Here's why...

The standard font for manuscripts is Courier 12pt, because this font mimics the old typewriter fonts in that each character takes up the same amount of space on a line, making it easier to estimate word counts. However, in Courier, italics don't look a lot like italics which makes it easy for editors to overlook them.

In the old days, when writers used typewriters, the standard technique was to underline anything in the manuscript that should be in italics in the printed book. Underlining was a signal to the printer that those words should be italicized, and this is still the standard. So underline, don't italicize.

Apart from thoughts, italicize (underline) foreign words and phrases, the titles of books or artistic works that are standalone (not part of a bigger publication) and the proper names of ships (e.g. Titanic).

Don't use bold at all in a manuscript. Stick with the same font and font size throughout. And don't use any other font effects. Let the words themselves communicate, not the typography.

Comments for Fonts

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May 10, 2015
Formatting Characters' Thoughts
by: Dana

Thank you for all this information! I love knowing the reasons things are done certain ways. A few more questions (for someone seeking to be published in the U.S., Canada, or U.K.):

1. Don't major, legitimate publishers and printers now use computers and therefore the actual font attributes that authors want for emphasis, names of ships, and movie or book titles, etc.?

2. Do the major, traditional publishers want leading characters' thoughts italicized? If not, how do they want them set apart from narration and dialogue?

3. My (freelance) editor says to separate characters' thoughts from narration in paragraphs. But if a thought is just one or two sentences related to a narrative statement or description, it seems odd (to me) to separate it from that narration. Creating additional paragraphs can also make the whole book longer than it needs to be. (My novel is 418 pages in the first edit stage, and the editing, so far, is making it longer.)

Thank you again for all the great information and advice you provide aspiring authors!

May 10, 2015
To Dana
by: Glen

1. Of course publishers use computers and many will now accept manuscripts as electronic files. However, Courier is still the most common font in manuscripts, and italics in Courier are not very distinct. Underlining is still the clearer way to indicate text that should be italicized. Editors like manuscripts that are easy to read, which is why the standard format has persisted for so long.

2. It is common to italicize thoughts, though some writers don't. Instead, they leave it to the reader to infer what are thoughts and what is narration. In first person, this is not a problem. In third, it can be. You have to balance the goals of simplicity and clarity.

3. I don't want to argue with your editor. But I think you have to use your own judgment on a case by case basis.

May 10, 2015
Formatting Characters' Thoughts
by: Dana

Thank you, sir.

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