Italicizing long blocks of text | Proper Manuscript Format | William Shunn

Italicizing long blocks of text

A reader writes to ask:

If you don't mind, I have a very quick question for you. You say that italics should never be used, and italicized passages should be underlined instead. But what if a story has long passages that are meant to be italicized, as a formatting choice? In my case, it's meant to delineate the story from the narrator's asides, and I'm afraid it would look incredibly annoying to have a full page of underlined text. Are there exceptions to the no-italics rule, or should I stay with underlining, regardless of length?

Most people balk at the conventions of manuscript formatting because the results aren't pleasing to an eye used to reading typeset pages in books. A professional editor, however, is probably not going to be annoyed to see a full page underlined in a manuscript. I've done that myself with story submissions. (The editor who originally bought that story did ask me if I was sure I wanted to italicize those passages, thinking it wasn't really necessary, but he did not tell me the manuscript itself looked bad that way.)

If you really feel displeased with the way a page of underlining looks, then do it the way writers using typewriters did, where underlining long passages was not practical. Print the manuscript, then draw a long straight line down the left margin of each passage you want italicized. Write "ital" in the margin next to each passage. If the passage runs to the next page, put "ital" in the margin again on the next page. It's a bit unwieldy, but it's much better than using italics in your manuscript.  

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