Hope all our American readers enjoyed their 4th of July holiday. ('pendence day as my 4 year old calls it.) My husband had the day off work, which was great, but it felt so much like a Saturday yesterday that when he left for work today, the kids and I were both feeling a bit dazed.
So ... putting a character's thoughts in italics...
(How was that for a smooth segue? Let's blame it on too many hot dogs last night - they're not exactly brain food.)
There are no hard rules about "Don't italicize your character's thoughts" but it is rather frowned upon. I know I'm not a fan of reading books where the author does so. If it happens a couple times, fine, but I've read books where it happens every page or two, and I find it incredibly distracting. Especially when it's a book written in first person (I walked, I sat) since you're so obviously already in the character's head.
The first person thing might be a no-brainer but I'll throw in an example anyway:
I walked through the door into eerie silence. Why is it so quiet in here? "Mom?"
Revising it with no italics makes it so much smoother and - I think - deeper:
I walked through the door into eerie silence. Why was it so quiet? "Mom?"
For those writing in third person, I better understand the writer's temptation to italicize:
John walked through the door into eerie silence. Why is it so quiet in here? "Mom?"
The writer wants us to know what John is thinking, wants to dip into John's head so we can see the thought scrolling through his mind. We, the reader, want that too ... but we don't need the italics to communicate it to us. Consider this:
John walked through the door into eerie silence. Why was it so quiet? "Mom?"
You still get that's a thought, don't you? Again, it's because the writer has already established who we're following - John. Therefore we understand - without help from formatting - that John is the one wondering why it's so quiet.
But what if you write your stories in an omniscient POV, the way Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, the Luxe series and countless other books are? I won't pretend to be an expert on using omniscient POV, but I still think you should avoid italicized thoughts. Because even with an omniscient narrator where we, the reader, might pop into the several different minds in one scene, the writer still needs to have established which character we're talking about in that moment.
Like Cecily von Ziegesar does here in You Know You Love Me (Gossip Girl):
Blair nodded impatiently. What did Ms. Glos think she was, a moron?
Even though that book is written with an omniscient narrator, the writer signals "Hey, it's Blair's turn on the stage" by starting the sentence with her name.
So when do you italicize sentences?
- Sometimes dream sequences work better in italics. Especially if it's a book that has several short ones throughout. (Out with the In Crowd does and my editor suggested putting the dreams in italics. It worked well for that situation.)
- Prayers, especially "breath prayers" like Thank you, Lord or Little help here, God?
- You might run across the occasional thought that just plain works better in italics. I've had that in a few manuscripts and the only common thread I can pick out is that they're extremely vulnerable, involuntary character thoughts. I actually spotted one in You Know You Love Me:
Dan nodded. Do you have to go? He was afraid to open his mouth...
That works and falls into that category I mentioned above. He desperately wants Serena to stay there with him, and that's his gut reaction to her saying she's heading home.
So don't automatically unitalicize every thought in your manuscript, just determine why you chose to format it that way.
Any questions I can (attempt) to help with?