Friday, March 29, 2013
There's a plethora of italics used for emphasis. They're practically everywhere, on every page. And not only are they a nuisance, they portray a level of inexperience this author is way beyond.
See what I mean?
According to Harbrace College Handbook, Eleventh Edition, italics are used for: certain titles (books, magazines, newspapers, plays, films, etc.); foreign words and phrases; words or letters used as illustrations (ex: The letter A is the first in the English alphabet); emphasis; and in a few other instances. Regarding the use of italics for emphasis, Harbrace cautions: "...overuse of italics for emphasis defeats its own purpose." The Chicago Manual of Style backs up the assertion: "Overused, italics quickly lose their force." Evidently, the best-selling author and her publisher didn't get the memo. As a result I was pulled out of a compelling story with every unnecessary italicized word/phrase, because I knew this author should have known better. Compounding the problem was the extensive use of foreign words that were also italicized. And a story within a story that was all in italics.
I was cautioned about the overuse of italics for emphasis in my early writing life, because I used them like they were pepper in my grandmother's chicken'n'dumplin' recipe. There could never be too much. Wrong. Well, not about the pepper, but certainly about the italics. I learned that instead of italicizing any and all words one would emphasize if reading the text aloud, one should only use italics to emphasize a word that would not otherwise be emphasized. It's even becoming less the norm to use italics for internal dialogue or a character's thoughts.
I tend to backslide often and without thinking when it comes to the use of italics. They populate my writing on a consistent basis. But I whack them mercilessly when I edit. In fact, the re-released versions of my novels, Every Good & Perfect Gift and Lying on Sunday, have far fewer italics than the original versions.
Okay, perhaps I am being petty about the overuse of italics. In the case of the novel I just read, they won't make it any less of a best seller or the story less stellar, and the author won't have any trouble getting her next seven-figure advance. But if our hope and our goal is to produce the best manuscript possible, then we'd do well to remember it's the little foxes that spoil the vine. Let's give that editor or agent who reviews our work one less reason to turn us away.
What about you? Does the overuse of italics interfere with your reading experience? Do you have a particular pet peeve when it comes to the do's and don'ts of good writing style?