What’s your style, baby?

30 Jan

No, I’m not talking about wearable fashion – I’m referring to the various ways we use language. In particular, that of spelling, grammar and most notably, punctuation!

As a long time reader who was taught English by a really persnickety elderly lady (my grandmother) I learned early on about all those good things so important to writers and readers!

It came as a great surprise to me to discover that not everyone had such a martinet in their past – and they’ll certainly not have one in their future, either, by the looks of things.

Anyway, among the list of things I do to earn a living, one may find editing and proof-reading, along with writing and photography. Sometimes there are others, but they’re not important at the moment.

When my first book (Secret Shores, Berkley Publishing, 1993) was published, I was astonished to discover the existence of more than one way to present the language used in writing the book. Wow! What an eye-opener. I worked for a magazine at the time, and each of these publishers had their own particular ‘style’.  I learned it did no good to argue. The publisher has the right to create his/her own style, and that’s the end of that. So okay, one adjusts or one doesn’t get published. I never batted an eyelash at the style of my second publisher – Ellora’s Cave, in Akron, Ohio. They’ve now published three books and a novella of mine, and I’m proud of all of them.

However –

I worked on a book last week, which will be self-published by the author. Nothing wrong with that – I’m a firm believer in doing it yourself.  So, does it then follow that if the publisher is the one who determines the style used, and oneself is the publisher, then the style may be anything you like. Right? Well, maybe. Or not.

I’d always been taught that internal thoughts and/or monologues (in other words talking to oneself!) should be distinguished by being presented in italics, with no quote marks. This is to separate these words from other dialogue between two or more people, and/or standard prose. A lot of people talk to themselves – out loud – as opposed to merely thinking things. In silence.

So, is there a difference between how these two types of monologues are presented on the printed page to make it easier for the reader to figure it out? Some say the spoken thoughts should be in quotes, while the unspoken are in italics. There are some proponents of the opposite approach, as well as all in quotes or all in italics.

Granted, there is a notable trend toward casual in everything lately, witness the sort of language in texting. One needs to be a translator sometimes in order to figure it out! But I think books require some adherence to time-proven rules. And one of these is the use of italics for inner thoughts, etc.

What do you think? I’d love to know. And so would my client!

And, in the meantime, you might enjoy reading this blog entry — from the editors at Ellora’s Cave.  It’s about the ‘Style Wars’. I thought it was hilarious!



4 Responses to “What’s your style, baby?”

  1. Judy Scott January 30, 2013 at 2:45 am #

    I have an opinion on this one: quotes for standard prose, italics for internal conversations. If the internal conversation is vocalized, perhaps as a Shakespearean monologue, then quotation marks.

  2. Debbie Alferio January 30, 2013 at 4:29 am #

    I tend to use italics for any internal thoughts or monologues. No quote marks unless it is part of dialogue.

  3. Cathy Jo January 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I was also taught that you use italics for internal thoughts and quotation marks with external dialogue. Great post, by the way!

    • susan February 6, 2013 at 3:16 am #

      I would agree that there should be adherence to time proven rules. However when I think of prose I have found enjoyable, I don’t think the author has used italics or quotes. Rather, through the skill of the writer, the reader knows she is reading the character’s innermost thoughts. However, I am not encouraging a total abandonment of rules as seen in the work of e.e. cummings. I think when the author has found the voice of the character it is quite easy to follow the thoughts of the character. A good example of that is the Poisonwood Bible. Each voice of each character allowed you to discover the personality of each character. But voice, I suppose is a different subject? Or not? Two last points: one, I don’t like when authors randomly switch to a foreign language without much context to decipher what is happening as seen in Five Quarters of the Orange; two, I believe I have quite a large vocabulary and I had never seen the word martinet before. Great blog, by the way. My first visit.

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