Italics Inside Italics
1: Rarer Effects
Another use of italics
is to show that a character is thinking. (Or in first person, it is
perhaps used to show thinking in words.) Examples:
secretly thinks, I
knew all British girls were heifers.
(Shopaholic to the Stars,
Sophie Kinsella, page 8)
looked at the work on his desk and thought, Why
am I here? Why do I still work this job?
Anyway, suppose you
want to emphasize a word using italics, but the passage is already in
italics. Is there anything you can do? It turns out the answer is –
in theory -- yes: Unitalicize the word you want to emphasize.
But does your reader
know this rule? Probably not. There's nothing intuitive about it.
(Did you know this rule?) If your reader doesn't know this rule,
unitalicizing won't work.
I know the rule, yet
that knowledge doesn't help me -- my brain has never been able to
grasp the idea that within italics, the unitalicized word gets
emphasis. So, unless I put in extra thought and effort, I never read
Did you correctly read
the emphasized word in the passage that began this chapter? (Did you
even notice that one word was unitalicized?)
And that is not the end
of the problems. On the next page of the same book that started this
chapter, we find:
so Luke doesn't find them and say What's
this? or You
mean you bought it even though you knew it didn't fit?
might look like
a long passage with one word in the middle unitalicized for emphasis.
But it's not -- it's two italicized thoughts separated by a word of
normal narration. Here's another -- they're common.
few from Mom asking how things are going, all met with a bland fine
or it's great.
(Being Sloane Jacobs,
this is the opposite:
like do and
die, sweetie. (Written
in Fire, Sakey, page 298 trade)
a ghost, she appears suddenly behind me in the hallway, smiling as I
turn in surprise: How
(Girl in Pieces,
Glasgow, page 13)
sometimes the unitalicized word is a return to narration, and
sometimes it's used to show emphasis. Do we really expect readers to
sort this out? The following are two examples where both happens:
voice was hoarse. Like she'd been yelling, or crying -- or,
I told myself, trying to be rational, like
she has strep throat and that is
why she hasn't been at school. (Fixer,
Barnes, page 107)
we'd be better off with his
paintings, Jay thought. There's
so much the ranch needs. (Perfect
Touch, Lowell, page 10)
And the following
unitalicizes one word for emphasis and unitalicizes the very next as
a return to normal.
they can say: It could have been me. So they can say: I
could tell something wasn't... (How to Be Safe,
McAllister, page 6)
So, unitalicizing a
word for emphasis is pretty much a waste of time -- it's more likely
to create confusion and error than accomplish what you want it to.
All-caps is a potential
solution to showing emphasis within an italicized passage. It's not
ideal, assuming that All-Caps shows an emphasis slightly differently
from how italics shows emphasis. But if you decide you need emphasis,
you might be willing to sacrifice that small difference.
can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am
able. I CAN.
King used "small
caps" -- the capital letters are smaller than normal. It's an
interesting idea, but apparently it did not catch on.