Andy, Editor at Zondervan, Stops By…
November 16, 2007 | Written by admin
Things to Unlearn.
I don’t know if I’ve been around long enough to be a curmudgeon. There’s got to be an age cutoff, or something. I would eschew the term Luddite, for obvious reasons, though I have yet to create a Facebook page or post home videos to YouTube or upgrade to Vista or the iPhone. I do have a wireless Media Center Extender so I can watch recorded TV that I have stored on my external firewire drive through Media Center (with dual tuner). I’ve only met one other person who does that. So perhaps I’m just really really progressive, and forward-thinking. Yeah, that’s it.
But I do have enough things on my list to call this post the beginning of a series. A series called “Things to Unlearn.” And in this series, I will be making the case for a change in the status quo when it comes to telling stories in books. Chances are you just learned at a writer’s conference from some published writer to do exactly the thing that I’m telling you never to do again. Sometimes it happens.
And so my first curmudgeon’s rant—I mean, discourse on the bleeding edge of the craft of writing for postmodern times—is this: Please stop using italics for interior monologue.
I’ve heard that the Chicago Manual of Style used to recommend italics for interior monologue. Currently, in the fifteenth edition, the options given are quotes, or no quotes. (I looked at the fourteenth, and it lists all three possibilities. So it is a distinct change to no longer include italics.)
That might be the only evidence I need, but even if CMS gave unction to italicized thoughts, I would disagree. As readers become more and more sensitive to authorial intervention, italics seems another way of saying, “Look here, see what I’m doing?” It distinguishes the narration from the interior monologue, distancing the reader from the character and creating a false dichotomy.
When it comes to the point-of-view character, there is no need for italicized thoughts. That’s the beauty of the limited third-person or the first-person POV: the character’s voice is integral to the narration. A switch from third-person narration to first-person monologue can be done skillfully and easily, without confusing the reader, and without needing to distance the reader through a this-is-narration, this-is-interior-monologue indicator like italics.
In the rare case of the more omniscient third-person narrator, I would even advocate the much-malaised thought attribution in order to work around the italics problem, if absolutely necessary. Though, still better to use paragraph breaks or just ease into the thoughts by going from third person to first person.
There’s only one instance in which italics are appropriate, in my opinion, and that’s when a voice is speaking inside the character’s head. You know, the voice that tells you, Great job, Meisenheimer, could this sound any more arrogant? Because to the point-of-view character, this is a voice, unheard, but with the possibility of being an independent entity, although, of course, in my case, I sure hope not. It represents an actual dialogue within the character’s head, and a distinct voice separate, we assume, from the narrator’s thoughts. Though, I admit, there’s a good possibility this could be done without the use of italics. And if a writer figures out how to do that, then even better, I say.
ANDY MEISENHEIMER is married to Mandy and is a proud father. His best friends: Duncan, part Jack Russell and all bark, and Barnabas, a chubby and aloof shar-peagle. By day, he is an acquisitions editor at Zondervan. By night, he is an avid recorded TV watcher, novel reader, Wii player, and diaper changer. Likes: Phish, About Schmidt, the Enderverse, Berry Punch. Dislikes: Serial killer novels, Celebrity news, Biopics, Soda pop.