2009-01-21 : Italics

I just noticed that my first-stab first drafts always have too many italics.

Later on, when I've gone over the text and have more confidence in it, I guess I can relax and let the reader bring her own sense of rhythm.

(Worth my time noticing. Worth your time, my bringing it to your attention? Unlikely. Oh well, at least it's a short post.)

1. On 2009-01-21, John Mc said:

But I love italics!


2. On 2009-01-22, Ron Edwards said:

My writing-detail habits include way too many instances of "of course." Not so much certainlys and actuallys, I usually delete those as the drafts progress, but the of courses tend to stick and they shouldn't.

The other thing is too many parentheses. I look back over a paragraph and find that the parenthesized sentence or phrase would do just fine in the paragraph without them. I have no idea why I put them in in the first place.

Since none of that is ungrammatical, that means no one catches it except me, and if I don't remember to go after those things specifically, then too many stay.

(Of course!)


3. On 2009-01-22, Jim Henley said:

I have that italics issue!

When I did nanowrimo two years ago, I was using a writing program with rich text, no formatting buttons and non-standard keyboard shortcuts - I later learned that Ctrl-SHIFT-I got you italics; while I was writing all I knew was that Ctrl-I didn't. Happy result: I wrote the whole book without any italics at all. Er, I mean, without any italics at all!


4. On 2009-01-22, Seth Ben-Ezra said:

My hangup is writing in the third person, often in the passive voice. "Players will now wish to accumulate additional points", which happily turns into "Now you'll want to get lots of points."


5. On 2009-01-22, Matthijs said:

Apparently every writer has little habits like that ??? words they like to use, or specific punctuation they use all the time. For example, I like using the em dash. I even looked up its HTML code to write this post.


6. On 2009-01-22, Brand Robins said:

So Professor Athy, back in Uni, told me that em dashes are for 16 year old girls writing breathless love poetry and not for use by serious writers.

(I still use too many em dashes—they feel right.)

Professor Ramjerdi told me, back in Uni, that the word "however" is not a word that should be used blankly at any bridge or transition, and that its overuse is the sign of a weak mind.

(However, I still do it too much.)

Professor Solomon told me, back in Uni, that unnecessary insertion of clauses is a sign of a disorganized mind.

However, I think—actually I'm sure—that I still do this, to this day really.)

You can tell how many drafts I've done of a text by how many of those things remain.


7. On 2009-01-22, Jesse Burneko said:

I don't use italics but I do use CAPITALS to try and create a rhythm.  I'm one of those people who hears the text being spoken out loud and writes as if I were delivering a lecture intended to be heard with my very careful inflections and emphasis rather than read.

Although, opposed to that "lecture" voice I have a very hard time breaking up sentences if I feel the concepts need to be understood simultaneously.  I don't write Simple Sentence A, Simple Sentence B, Simple Sentence C and instead try to write really complex Sentence ABC.  It's as if I don't trust the reader to relate the concepts if they're presented as three distinct textual units.



8. On 2009-01-22, ironick said:

Matthijs is right: all writers have little habits like this.  I teach composition and see it all the time.

Personally, I do things like writing "form" instead of "from" and "and" in place of "an."


9. On 2009-01-22, Vincent said:

Ha ha! I never spell Mechaton right on the first try. It's always Mechation.


10. On 2009-01-22, Graham said:

Game Chef, last year, had a restriction that you could only write in plain text.

At the time, I thought it was silly: what was wrong with RTF? But it was interesting having to emphasise things without having to use italics.



11. On 2009-01-23, Jim Henley said:

My wife made me stop using the word "anent" on my blog in . . . 2004? Somewhere around there.


12. On 2009-01-23, Ben Lehman said:

I generally just skip steps in my drafts.

Also, I tend to use the same analogy several times without realizing what I'm doing, like in Polaris, where "dark like dreams" appears, uh, an embarrassing number of times.

P.S. Apparently I can use HTML formatting in my name. Neat!


13. On 2009-01-23, Weeks said:

Blinking text is notorious for crashing braille readers.


14. On 2009-01-23, Vincent said:

That's poor design. I mean, blink tags are ... wow, so it's not the same thing as if braille readers choked on italics or headers or whatever. But blinking text exists and is a well-known phenomenon, so any browser (even a braille one) ought to be prepared to encounter it.

If I were blind, I think I'd still sometimes want to follow links from, right?


15. On 2009-01-23, Weeks said:

I totally agree.  Actually, my info is kind of dated at this point.  Hopefully they're better by now.  I know that there were standard web-systems that disabled the ability of the users to include blink tags because of that.  State-sponsored institutions are concerned about complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.


16. On 2009-01-23, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Ben, man, thanks for revealing the obnoxiousness that is now available! Sadly, I can't seem to get it into Comic Sans, though.


17. On 2009-01-23, Vincent said:

All right that's enough of that.

Your punishment: <small><small>


18. On 2009-01-23, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Oops, I just did it again in another thread due to autofill.



19. On 2009-01-24, Jerkbutt A.C. Newman said:



20. On 2009-01-24, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

Man. Your homepage has gotten so annoying lately!


21. On 2009-01-26, Abkajud said:

Jesse, I think I do the exact same thing.
I have this battle within myself over whether or not my reader receives the correct inflection of the dialogue. I go back and forth as to what needs italics, and then end up with some kind of happy medium.

I think em dashes convey a certain tone, one that's less halting or abrupt, that semicolons lack. It's like putting ellipses between clauses to give that slightly more contiguous feel, without looking like a wombat for using ellipses too much.

I think back to cranky, dead, ol' John Gardner and his hatred of italics; in his book about writing, he said that italics-users were slaves to a sort of guileless, pitiful optimism (somehow, he inferred this), and that using italics meant that your words didn't carry enough punch on their own.

I say that sometimes you need to point out where the sentence really gets emphasized, but then again, I've looked like a knob on many occasions by italicizing the wrong word.


22. On 2009-01-28, Joshua A.C. Newman said:

I'd like to point out that all sorts of devices have been used in the history of writing ??? em dashes (of the sort that blows anyway's mind) are just the beginning. People used to use color, size, weight, placement, space, angle, illumination, and little pictures before the advent of the printing press.

We have this idea that words are written in black on white paper into rectangular spaces, that every character looks just like another of its sort, that they're all the same size, that pictures are some sort of corruption of the language, that you read from the first word to the last without jumping around, but it's simply not true. There's a regimentation that came with the printing press. It comes from a technical limitation to which we are no longer beholden.

Check out Goodbye Gutenberg for one lucid look at the subject. Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics addresses it a little bit, too.

Myself, I'm a little sick of a wholly lexical view of the Universe and the assumption that it's somehow a more mature view than visual, structural, or musical perspectives.

To whit, my view of a wholly lexical paradigm:


23. On 2009-01-28, Brand Robins said:


Pictures are for cavemen. We have evolved past that.

Which is why I cannot tell what you mean with the picture you included. It means nothing to me, because it is not a letter.


The Internet.


RSS feed: new comments to this thread