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

Italicizing long blocks of text

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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.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Italicizing long blocks of text:

» Indicating literal thoughts from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask: How should I differentiate the character's thoughts from the rest of the narrative? Some people have suggested I put them in quotation marks, but I find that when I read novels in which the character's... [Read More]

» Some fine points of underlining from Proper Manuscript Format
A reader writes to ask: I scoured your blog as well as the Internet, and am still having problems with underlining for italics. I am definitely using underlining but am fuzzy on the following:Do I use "underline words only" like... [Read More]


How come some published novelists submit their manuscripts with their italicized words in Courier New italics rather than underlined?

The same reason that some published novelists use alright instead of all right—because they prefer doing it that way.

Guidelines are guidelines, not law. Using italics instead of underlining is not necessarily wrong, it's just not the standard. You probably won't be docked for it, but why take the chance?

(On a personal note, I find Courier italics just plain ugly.)

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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 11, 2009 12:20 PM.

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