To Italicize, or not to Italicize, that is the Question

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I have a question, one that I think you guys can help me with. As you might remember from previous posts, I’ve been playing around with dialogue and accents in my current work in progress. Well, now I’ve got it in my mind to play with font styles.

Here me out.

It’s a comedic fantasy novel that centers around a young wizard’s apprentice named Margo whose only companion is a magical talking jewelry piece. How it acquired this unique ability is a secret until book II.

So far, I’m using the traditional dialogue tags (” “) to surround its speech, but was wondering if I should use italics instead, since it’s not ‘speaking’ in a traditional sense. I’ve seen other works of fiction utilize italics or bold font styles to distinguish disembodied voices or nontraditional speakers.

Here’s an example of how it might look both ways:

Traditional dialogue tags:

“Open your hand.”

Slowly, Margo uncurled her fingers. The pin lit up in time with the words, “Hello, Margo.”

“How are you . . .?”

“Magic, obviously,” it said. The voice was hollow as though it were being spoken in an empty room. It was also distinctly female, which cancelled out Wizard White Beard. But who else would try to reach her through a pin? Maybe some magic had gotten into it while practicing in her room. Perhaps if she read the Dullard’s Guide to Wizardry as instructed, she’d understand. For now she’d just have to roll with it.

“Clip me on,” it told her and after some hesitation Margo did as she was asked . . .

Italic font style:

Open your hand.

Slowly, Margo uncurled her fingers. The pin lit up in time with the words, Hello, Margo.

“How are you . . .?”

Magic, obviously, it said. The voice was hollow as though it were being spoken in an empty room. It was also distinctly female, which cancelled out Wizard White Beard. But who else would try to reach her through a pin? Maybe some magic had gotten into it while practicing in her room. Perhaps if she read the Dullard’s Guide to Wizardry as instructed, she’d understand. For now she’d just have to roll with it.

Clip me on, it told her and after some hesitation she did as she was asked . . .

So, what are your thoughts? Do you prefer the italics or the quotes? Or do you have another suggestion entirely? Please provide feedback in the comment section below. Thank you and have a wonderful Wednesday!

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28 thoughts on “To Italicize, or not to Italicize, that is the Question

  1. In my second novel, I have a character who hears a voice in his head. When that voice speaks, I use italics. But it doesn’t happen so much that I worry the reader will get annoyed by all the italics. So I think that’s what it might come down to. If your magical jewelry only occasionally talks, then I think you could go either way. In fact, personally I might prefer the italics, especially if the only person who can hear the jewelry speaking is Margo. But if the dialogue is frequent, I’d probably go with the quotes.

  2. Jon

    Yeah, I like the italics, it points up that the brooch isn’t speaking, as such. Works well particularly if only Margo can ‘hear’ it.

  3. armenpogharian

    I use italics for “non-traditional” communication (telepathy and a secret sign language), for emphasis, and for quotes and words from a different language. Context is everything, i.e., whether others can hear or not, but quotes help distinguish communication from the other uses. In your case I’d probably use italics.

      • armenpogharian

        I think so. I use italics for characters speaking in Welsh, which everyone can hear but not necessarily understand and I use them for the telepathic link between a character and her cat, which only she and the cat can hear. There are scenes featuring both communication forms and I use italics for both. While it’s hard for someone to confuse the two (Welsh stands out even without italics), I’m careful to use context and other cues to keep it clear as to which is universally heard and which is not. Bottom-line, if you think it improves the story, use it.

  4. Marz

    I read right through the italics, and missed the dialogue. Can you just insert some flowery feminine typestyle so i’ll feel the words… quotes are so boring. I’m halfway through The Quest and looking forward to your next adventure!

  5. When I see italics, I think words that can’t be heard out loud — telepathic communication or the character thinking something to themselves. If the magic item is speaking out loud so everyone can hear it, I think quotes would be fine. At least, I would be less confused that way.

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