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Interpreting rejection letters

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Steve C

Mar 1, 2019
I am writing in third party and have used italics to show internal thoughts of the MCs.
Recently I came across a discussion online where it was said this was not a done thing. In fact it was supposedly a novice mistake which any creative writing course would frown on and seek to stamp out imediately. Bit strong I thought especially as someone else said it was a normal thing to do.
So what is the situation? Anyone know?
This is my opinion only.

If you're writing in third person (especially close third, but I'd recommend for most, if not all forms of third person), then the narrative belongs to the POV character, so every word is his/her mind working. That makes the only time to use italics is for short, sharp bursts, as in a Merde moment.

Does that make sense?
I'm with @CageSage :) If we're already in a character's head, it feels odd to show their thoughts in italics, except for those 'in the moment' thoughts, and even those should be sharp and used only for impact. At least, that's my preference.
Okay thanks, but as I understand it is alright to use italics for a few words say for emphasis or perhaps instead of 'he thought' but not for a whole sentences? Ie they are not verboten?
I agree with @CageSage, @RK Capps and @Carol Rose. And as far as using italics for emphasis, some people will tell you that doing so is amateurish because you're forcing your readers to read the way you want them to, which (according to this school of thought) means that you haven't written the sentence well enough to trust that your readers will understand it.

It's probably best if we all make up our own minds about that.

But it is true that reading a lot of italics is tiring on the eyes.

One thing I have seen is the use of italics to switch between third and first person.

He ran to the end of the jetty. I must be mad. The boat was already pulling away. What the hell am I thinking? He jumped.

I'm not a fan of it myself for the reasons the others have already stated, but I'm not sure we could definitively say it was wrong.
I'll be the dissenting voice then, shall I? Even if the entire narrative belongs to the POV character, you want to distinguish verbal thoughts from non-verbal thoughts. Most of our thoughts are not in words, but sometimes we recite a word, a phrase or an entire sentence in our "inner dialogue" voice. I use a mix of non-italics (for what the character thinks) and italics (for what the character thinks in words). Verbal thoughts are those the character could as easily murmur to himself (under his breath, not for the purposes of communicating with others). The italics distinguish the verbal POV thoughts from the non-verbal.

"Tom sat and watched the crowds celebrating in the street. The lanterns rising into the air were like a thousand birds on fire, just as beautiful as Mei-Mei had said. He smiled to himself. You wouldn't want to be in Gerald's hot-air balloon over that lot."
@Dan Payne Just when I thought I had come to grips with things you go and throw a spanner in the works :) Great distinction and what I have been doing instinctively without knowing why.
My entire WIP is close third person with lots of first-person internal monologues in italics. Maybe it's a terrible mistake. But it feels right for the story!
Which brings the conversation conveniently to what I was thinking as I read your question ... genre is probably important here. Things that are absolutely forbidden in some genres are the norm in others. I've seen a lot of italics in fantasy (and I can see why Stephen King does it, too--somehow it feels right for horror, no? Italics are kinda creepy ;) ). I do try to limit my use of italics, simply for the readability issue (and because I publish dyslexia-friendly editions of most of my books, in which I eliminate italics, so if they're important to understand the story, that's a problem).
I used italics for internal thoughts in my last novel which was third person POV. A lot of these thoughts occurred during dialogue exchanges so it was easier to have them in italics to distinguish them from dialogue.

Maybe it is frowned upon, but it has been done in professional texts; Frank Herbert did it a lot in Dune, although that is multiple POV.

I'm not sure if it really matters that much?
It's probably not wise to think because some famous author does it, so can I. It's a trap. They have an established audience, we don't (well, most of us). Until we build our own loyal followers, it's safer to limit the amount of italic thoughts as @Robinne Weiss suggests. Italics happen, especially in fantasy, so there's no harm in what you propose @Dan Payne, as long as you keep the above in mind @Steve C. Agents are your first readers, and just watch this to see how easily they're turned off:

In fact, @AgentPete might be interested in this, it's effectively a rival to Pop Ups and it's just popped up (pun intended) yesterday (for me).
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Give me a genre, I'll raise you a trope

Interpreting rejection letters