Home « Forum « Author Hangout

Forum: Author Hangout

Bold and Italic

Slutsinger

Hi. I'm totally blind. While the tools I use will allow me to discover whether text is bold or italic, it requires special attention. So, while I read a lot, I don't pay attention to font styles that are used.
I'm at a point in my writing where I need to come up with my style rules for bold and italics. I am not talking about uses in headings, titles, or even things like telepathy in a science fiction story. The first two are covered adequately by style guides, and I think I have a handle on those sorts of special uses.
Instead, I'd appreciate input on how you use bold, all-caps, and italic for emphasis in running text. How often do you use them and which do you use for what?
If you're talking both about your own writing and Please make it clear whether you answer applies to your own writing or things you've read.
I really appreciate any help people offer.

Switch Blayde

@Slutsinger

I'd appreciate input on how you use bold, all-caps, and italic


I do not use bold or all-caps in my stories.

I use italics for internal dialogue (thoughts), emphasized words, and foreign words.

Replies:   Bondi Beach
Bondi Beach

@Switch Blayde

I do not use bold or all-caps in my stories.

I use italics for internal dialogue (thoughts), emphasized words, and foreign words.


Same here, plus book titles.

bb

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

I tend to use them (in my own writing) for a variety of different uses. I don't use bolding much, and rarely use all caps (shouting), but I use italics for:

1) Internal thoughts of primary character

2) telepathy (associated with single quotes to differentiate it from internal thoughts)

3) emphasis to highlight how the speaker (in dialogue) emphasizes and pronounces his own words. This might be trickier for you, but if you emphasize certain words, I'd italicize it (you can surround the term with Underscores if you don't want to mark it with html commands).

4) Plays, movies or books (although you can also use quotes, but using quotes for these conflicts with dialogue.

I only use bolding for special instances:

1) book entries, like dictionary definitions or newspaper headlines.

All caps, like stringing together twenty exclamation marks, is overused by amateurs, so I use it sparingly to denote someone caught by surprise: (ex: "CHRIST! You just scared the shit out of me.")

I don't use italics for foreign words (I just have characters use foreign phrases, with the meaning explained by the context/response).

Hope that helps, but somehow I think it'll just confuse an already confusing situation. If you don't notice highlights in text, it's difficult understanding how they're typically used.

Replies:   Slutsinger
Slutsinger

@Crumbly Writer

O, no that was not confusing at all and was very helpful. I find it hard to explain why that wasn't confusing, but I guess I have enough context over the years from formats where I have noticed the type face to relate. Thanks so much for all the help. (And thanks for your comments on my introduction a few weeks ago in email. You helped me see how my authorial intent was muddled. I'm really happy with how the rewrite of that chapter went.)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Slutsinger

(And thanks for your comments on my introduction a few weeks ago in email. You helped me see how my authorial intent was muddled. I'm really happy with how the rewrite of that chapter went.)

I'm glad I could help, though I'm afraid I was a bit harsh (it really wasn't intended).

I'm curious, though, does your speech reader not denote italics, or have you just never paid much attention? I was under the impression they did.

But getting back on topic, italics and other highlighting methods are best kept subtle. A big failing of new writers is trying to tell the story thru bolding, italics, exclamation marks and plentiful moaning.

When I first started writing, I mixed bolding, italics and uppercase so you couldn't figure out what was happening. Over time, I simplified them to make room to add foreign phrases, accent and publishing marks and formatting (blockquotes, etc.). You can tell, I've never quite gotten over those initial impulses!

Replies:   Slutsinger
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Slutsinger

Outside of headings I use italics for internal thought, for nicknames, for the titles of things the first time they're mentions, also for notes and documents within the story, plus I use bold to emphasis things, usually in dialogue.

Other format aspects i use are blockquotes for displaying notes and what are printed documents within the story, say a letter etc. I also use blue text for this.

Replies:   Slutsinger
Slutsinger

@Crumbly Writer

Orca, the Linux screen reader, allows you to select some text and learn the font effects by pressing a keystroke. Window-eyes, one of the Windows screen readers I sometimes use does for Word documents permit you to turn on all formatting. That's really distracting for doing anything but proofing. I'd never want to use that mode for reading a book. I can guess that the chapter heading is going to be bold and larger. It might even be centered. As a reader, I don't care one bit. I don't know what Narrator, Voiceover, and some of the other common screen readers do in this instance. Thanks for all the excellent advice. My natural inclination would have been to use italics for foreign words and titles only. I think I have enough information to expand a bit beyond that. I fortunately went through the bold and italic everything phase with school papers 25 years ago. Let's hope I can avoid that for fiction:-)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Slutsinger

@Ernest Bywater

When you say you use italics for nicknames, can you give an example? I'm guessing you're not talking about using it for Sam instead of samuel. Is it cases where a nickname might not appear to be a name to the reader?
When you talk about titles being in italics the first time, are you talking simply about titles of long works that I'd also use italics for in a scholarly work?
Thanks so much for all the help.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Crumbly Writer

@Slutsinger

Thanks for all the excellent advice. My natural inclination would have been to use italics for foreign words and titles only. I think I have enough information to expand a bit beyond that.

I think that's your best bet. Virtually all the books published by the major publishers for the past 70 years don't use italics at all (at least not that I can recall), and you can easily substitute quote marks for italics for titles.

The key with italics is that they're generally not recognized, but readers (supposedly) pay more attention to them. If they see an entire sentence italicized, or a phrase, they'll stop and investigate, thus they'll recognize a book or movie title for what it is, but for individual words they won't consciously recognize it, but when reading aloud (for those that do that), they'll tend to emphasize the highlighted word. However, I've never seen any research to say this has been demonstrated with actual readers over time. The publishers don't seem to think so.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Switch Blayde

@Crumbly Writer

Virtually all the books published by the major publishers for the past 70 years don't use italics at all


That's not true. They use them for thoughts and to emphasize a word. And of course for foreign words which is more rare.

Replies:   Slutsinger
Not_a_ID

Don't the style guides still claim that named Ships are supposed to have their name italicized in print?

So when you refer to, say, the Starship Enterprise, as the USS Enterprise proper form would be to italicize it. Likewise for the RMS Titanic, USS Arizona, etc.

A quick Google check indicates that ship names are properly italicized. But it gets more entertaining from there. ONLY the ship name gets italicized. So if you're talking about the USS Enterprise's crew members, you can get an interesting style result. Which is probably why many authors will turn the sentence around and instead write about the crew members of the USS Enterprise instead.

Slutsinger
Updated:

@Switch Blayde

The biggest thing I have learned from this conversation is the use of italics for thoughts. I wonder how I missed that?

Is the above usage in line with what is done? Put thoughts in italics in running text much as you would put dialogue in quotes.

If you are going to use dialogue words like `he wondered,' or `he thought,' do you still use italics or would single-quotes (or even double-quotes) be more appropriate in this instance.

I really am curious how I somehow managed to be aware of italics for telepathy, but not for thoughts.

It's great to have a place where I can ask questions like this.

Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Slutsinger


When you say you use italics for nicknames, can you give an example?


The first time a character is introduced with his full name it will be done the nickname before the surname in single apostrophes and italics: Moses Kent 'Smoky' Grey - in this case the nickname of Smoky is in italics with an apostrophe before and after it.

For the proper name of something (other than a well known international business like IBM) I do it the same way as for a nickname, because both are done as a name. Thus a business could be 'Kevin's Kitchen' and book would be Heinlein's 'Door into Summer' and the P&O cruise ship 'Oriana' are example. I hope this helps you.

And yes, the same for foreign words, which I rarely use and often forget to mention doing it. For internalized thoughts I don't use apostrophes, just italics.

Slutsinger

@Slutsinger

Hmm, and now I learn that my screen reader lies when it says it indicates italics. I can look at the html source of my post and see that tags are present around "I wonder how I missed that?" but even when I select that text it doesn't indicate italics. Nor does it indicate italics around Ernest's examples. That...is annoying.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Switch Blayde
Updated:

@Slutsinger


Is the above usage in line with what is done? Put thoughts in italics in running text much as you would put dialogue in quotes.


Yes, that's how it's done. And since the reader knows who the POV character is (in 3rd-person limited) and you can only hear his thoughts, then you don't usually have the "he thought" tag.


If you are going to use dialogue words like `he wondered,' or `he thought,' do you still use italics or would single-quotes (or even double-quotes) be more appropriate in this instance.


Yes, you still put the thoughts in italics.

Now we're talking about 3rd-person limited, not omniscient. In omniscient, you can't hear any character's thoughts. It's the omniscient narrator telling the reader what they're thinking. So in those cases the thoughts are not in italics because they aren't internal dialogue. For example in 3rd-omniscient:

Joe wondered where Sue was. Meanwhile, Sue thought Joe had run away from her.

Ernest Bywater

@Slutsinger

Nor does it indicate italics around Ernest's examples. That...is annoying.


This is an issue with the code of the software being sued to turn the text into speech, and the code of the webpage. Some text to speech software is good at the job for normal text, as used by word processors, and at converting html and xhtml, into speech, but not so good at turning java and javascript or ruby and perl into speech properly, they miss the different code symbols for the display options. That's one of the reason why i prefer to use plain html for webpages. not sure how well the text to speech software handle style sheets in html either.

In normal html and word processing code the format code is given at the point it starts, and the closing command where it finishes. Thus text to speech software would read it out as - his name is Moses Kent italics apostrophe Smoky apostrophe close italics Grey. With a style sheet at the start the heading has code to indicate italics is shown by the letter i and the actual code would be read as - his name is Moses Kent span class equal i Smoky close span Grey. How the text to speech software interprets the code and reads it out I'm not sure.

Replies:   Slutsinger
Slutsinger

@Ernest Bywater

name is Moses Kent italics apostrophe Smoky apostrophe close

I don't know any screen reader that would do that in normal operation on a web page. As I was explaining to cw, you just don't care enough.
Modern screen readers probably will treat CSS formatting the same as inline markup. They tend to inspect the document object model directly, which is after the CSS information has been integrated and applied to the element.
In the case of SOL, the italic tag is applied directly in the markup; if anything is going to get detected, that will. Interestingly enough, bold markup is correctly identified as bold when I ask, but italic is not. I think it's just a bug in my screen reader. I probably have the technical skills to dig through the code and figure out what's going on, but I'm certain I don't care enough. I'm having far more fun writing and revising in my spare time than I would debugging accessibility software.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Slutsinger

The biggest thing I have learned from this conversation is the use of italics for thoughts. I wonder how I missed that?

Is the above usage in line with what is done? Put thoughts in italics in running text much as you would put dialogue in quotes.

That's how I'd write it, I thought while scratching my head due to the lice my kids had unintentionally given me.

But no, when you italicize thoughts, you don't use either double or single quotes. Though as Ernest points out, you can use single quotes instead of italicizing thoughts. Just don't use both, as that's a genre-specific format for telepathy.

By the way, I spoke to one of my blind friends, who gave me a refresher on screen readers. The Linux screen reader is notorious for being difficult to use, though the settings for any of the screen readers make them difficult to adjust. Simply turning on the details for formatting and it details fonts, font sizes, indentations, etc., so I can see why you'd skip such details. But apparently you can streamline the results so it only details certain formatting styles. Though the Windows screen readers, specifically Window-Eyes, are much better at emphasizing italicized words so you can hear the difference (if you're paying attention).

But you're right, since we have not only authors but independent publishers here, we have a lot of collective experience in various techniques (many of which most authors don't care about).

Crumbly Writer

@Slutsinger

Interestingly enough, bold markup is correctly identified as bold when I ask, but italic is not. I think it's just a bug in my screen reader. I probably have the technical skills to dig through the code and figure out what's going on, but I'm certain I don't care enough. I'm having far more fun writing and revising in my spare time than I would debugging accessibility software.

I sent you a link to my friend. Hopefully he can help you adjust your screen reader. He's pretty good at most of them, as well a helping you navigate how to get Social Services to cover the cost if you need a new one. Just as an aside, he was the inspiration for Ben, the blind radio operator at the beginning of my Great Death series, and we discuss technical issues in regard to stories all the time.

Replies:   Slutsinger
JohnBobMead

My understanding, which may be wrong, is that i and em are detected differently by screen readers.

This sentence is italicized using i

This sentence is italicized using em

The above sentences will display as italicized, but I have no idea how the screen readers will treat them.

Replies:   Switch Blayde
Slutsinger

@Crumbly Writer

I suspect that depends on screen reader and browser. I don't see a difference with Orca on Firefox, but for exabmple didn't try Chrome or anything on Windows. If I cut&paste the text into an office program, everything italic is correctly identified as italics.
The only interesting take-away for me here is that you can never depend on your story being formatted exactly the way you'd like. Even if you go rub goo all over dead trees, someone might choose to read your story aloud, and they might not render your formatting the way you intend.
If blind readers find they are confused without italics, they will find a way to get them. Same for bold. There's even a wide variety of choice in how much punctuation people choose with your screen readers. There are probably some out there reading your stories without quotation marks and only pauses for commas and periods. And for the most part it all works. If you're a good writer your story will work for a good reader across all these variations.
I remember talking about Venor Vinge's Deepness in the Sky and his use of focus. In context, the word meant far more than its denotation would suggest. Someone pointed out to me it was Focus and that it referred to the will-control technology in the book. "O, it was caps? I figured he used caps or italics or something. I never bothered to look," I said. his writing was good enough that even though he had bothered to hint with his formatting that something interesting was going on, you could follow fine without that hint if you were a careful reader.

Switch Blayde
Updated:

@JohnBobMead

From what I understand, em does not equate to italics and strong does not equate to bold. It seems that way because that's what the browsers do.

For speech recognition, when you use em you want the content to be emphasized more. That's not italics. And if you use strong, you want the content emphasized even more. That's not bold.

I think in the palm pilot, it's already in bold so when you use strong it underlines it. I think I remember reading that somewhere. (So strong actually turns out to be underline.)

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Switch Blayde

I think in the palm pilot, it's already in bold so when you use strong it underlines it. I think I remember reading that somewhere. (So strong actually turns out to be underline.)

Luckily, the last of the Palm readers (Obama and Hillary, apparently) were forced to upgrade after the Palm quit supporting their devices. Meaning we no longer have to worry about those devices. It takes time to age device formats out of existence, but it does happen.

The 'browsers' simply formalized the existing formatting standards. Most people assumed < strong> meant 'strongly delivered' speech, which they translated into bold (rather than italic, which looks more like a hyperlink). The same is true with < em>, italics represents it better than the alternatives, so the browsers simply forced everyone to get on board with the generally accepted conventions.

samuelmichaels
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


The 'browsers' simply formalized the existing formatting standards. Most people assumed < strong> meant 'strongly delivered' speech, which they translated into bold (rather than italic, which looks more like a hyperlink). The same is true with < em>, italics represents it better than the alternatives, so the browsers simply forced everyone to get on board with the generally accepted conventions.


For as long as people rendered text, they have tried to separate semantics from style. At one point, "emphasis" and "strong" was encouraged over "italic" and "bold" since the former were more representative of semantics. However, over time this became moot since 1) as CW pointed out, in nearly all cases em/i and strong/b are rendered the same, making then aliases of each other, and 2) emphasis and strong are not truly semantic. It's not like they are tags like "bookTitle" or "foreignWord" that would, indeed, be conveying semantic information.

Ernest Bywater

@Crumbly Writer

so the browsers simply forced everyone to get on board with the generally accepted conventions.


except the word processors don't recognise them while they do recognise the italics and bold commands. With people using software to turn text works into web documents the italics and bold will stay in regular use, more than the em and str commands wills.

Back to Top