Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Font formatting and YOU

Let's talk about italics and bolds and CAPITALS.

Now, I've seen many a writer try to create volume and emotion in argument-based scenes by using bolded and CAPITALIZED letters in their dialogue. I think the idea behind this is something along the lines of the bigger the letters, the bigger the feelings behind them. There's even a semi- hierarchy:

    I hate you! (relatively normal level of hate)
    I hate you! (angry, burning hate)
    I HATE YOU! (angry, passionate explosion of hate)
    I HATE YOU! (this is the hate of a million combusting suns)

Charming, yeah? Only not. Because depending on font formatting makes for lazy writing. Instead of showing how angry your character is, you're letting the ink do it for you, and that comes off as pretty weak. Especially when you start getting multiple characters flinging bolded and CAPITALIZED barbs back and forth.

You should never be using bolded or CAPITALIZED words in your writing. Words in themselves have power, and you shouldn't forsake that with silly font formatting. There is always a more effective alternative.

Now, you might argue, what about italics? You just italicized a word in the last sentence, Sarah, and italicized words are in books all the time! What makes italics so special?

Well, for one thing, italics do something different then bolds and CAPITALS. As discussed, people use bolds and CAPITALS to emphasize volume, which can be done in other ways. But italics emphasize, well, emphasis. Just look at the differences in meaning here:

    I hate you. (as in me specifically, but maybe no one else hates you)
    I hate you. (hate, as opposed to any other feeling)
    I hate you. (as in you specifically; maybe I don't hate anyone else)

There's not many easy ways to evoke those same feelings without italics. However, you should always use them sparingly. In fact, you probably should be using italics the same way as I suggest you use adverbs: when it adds something the reader would miss otherwise.

So how do you guys feel about italics and bolds and CAPITALS? Have you ever used bolds and CAPITALS in your writing? If so, it's okay, because I totally have too, and I even threw in some underlining in for super dramatic effect. Even better, do you have a counter-argument for the bolds and the CAPITALS? Either way, tell me what you think in the comments!