Showing posts with label stylebooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stylebooks. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Italics How-to

Creative writers use Italics to draw attention to certain words or phrases in the text, often implying emphasis.  How familiar are you with correct italics usage?  Most style guides agree with the following list of guidelines for when italics should be used.  (Except the "Associated Press Stylebook," the go-to reference guide for journalism, which states never to use italics. Following the AP Stylebook guideline for book titles, I put their title in quotation marks instead of italics. *grin*)

1. Italics draws emphasis to a word or phrase.  Consider how the following sentence changes each time I put a different word in italics:

How did she do that?
How did she do that?
How did she do that?
How did she do that?
How did she do that?

By changing the emphasized word, the implicated question is altered.  Also, did you notice the question mark in the last sentence was not italicized?  Neither line-ending punctuation marks nor quotation marks are ever italicized.

2. Put into italics the titles of complete works, including books, films, television shows, movies, paintings, sculptures, plays, very long poems, short stories (although some style books state shorts stories belong in quotation marks), newspapers, magazines.

But, shorter works are not italicized and are instead surrounded by quotation marks:  book chapters, articles, poems, and song titles.

And, very long religious works, such as the Holy Bible and the Koran are not italicized.

I once wrote a poem called "The Empty Fish Tank," and believe me, it was no Iliad.
I've read The Grapes of Wrath in English and in French.

3.  When you use a foreign word in your text, put it in italics.  However, if the foreign word has been so used in English that we no longer think of it as foreign and sort of claim it as our own, it doesn't need to be in italics.

There's something magical and energetic about her, a joie de vivre you seldom see these days.
He respects her, and vice versa.

4.  Words as words are in italics.  (Wait, what?)  Here are some examples to illustrate:

I cringe every time I see an author confuse there and their.
The word flabbergast flows most delightfully right off my tongue.

5.  Proper names of vehicles are italicized, including names of ships, airplanes, missiles, and trains.  You don't italicize modifiers such as the.

The survivors of Oceanic 815 were indeed lost.
I'll never forget how I felt watching the Challenger explode on live television.
The U.S.S. Cole was the target of terrorism.

6.  Use italics for legal citations and certain terms in scientific fields such as biology.

Roe vs Wade will be debated until the end of time.
Homosapiens emerged as the dominant species.

7.  Examples of onomatopoeia are italicized.

The bang at the door woke me from my reverie.

8.  This last one may not be in style guides, at least not stated as a guideline for italics usage.  However, I use it in my own writing and feel it is recognized as a useful and legitimate usage for italics:

Use italics to denote internal dialog.  I don't suggest putting every sentence of the character's voice in italics.  But sometimes the character silently speaks directly to herself, and in those cases I use italics:

The crowd on the Florida beach was growing as the evening sky darkened. Murph’s bare feet slid back a little with each step in the powdery sand so different from the coarse grains of Iraq’s barren landscape. Iraqi sand stung the soles of bare feet like walking across hundreds of tiny horseflies. Just one more comfort of home, he thought dryly.
- Excerpt taken from my short story Homage.

So there's the skinny on italics usage.  I think the best way to ensure you have your edits correct is to invest in a style guide for quick and frequent referrals.  The most widely used style books in the United States for literature are:

The Chicago Manual of Style
The Elements of Style
The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers
Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association

And, of course, the AP Stylebook, is the reference guide for journalists and article writers.

Do you own a style book?  I'm in the market to purchase one, so any recommendations are greatly appreciated!