Imitating the styles of famous authors may not be the most effective way to go about writing your own work, but there’s something to be said for playing around with different fonts and a few well-placed italics here and there.
The difference between using italics and all-caps in your writing is subtle but crucial. With the latter, you are shouting at the reader. With the former, you are indicating something is being said but the reader should not necessarily take it as critical or important information.
Why Use Italics At All?
The short answer is because writers like Shakespeare and Austen did it and you are trying to emulate their work. But there is more to it than that. It’s about letting your writing drink from the well of poetic language. And that well can be both fresh and deep depending on the style and voice of your works. It can evoke thoughts and feelings that may not even be present in your head. You may just discover that your stylized punctuations and all-caps words work perfectly in the setting of a fairy tale.
Emulating the styles of great authors is a fantastic way to learn how to write. However, you must be careful not to imitate your idol’s spelling errors and juvenile usages. There is a reason why these authors are considered to be greats and your goal as a writer should be to reach that stage. As you write, you’ll discover your own voice and what makes you unique. You must be willing to step out of your comfort zone and into the unknown, in order to do this. And that is what makes this process so valuable.
How Do I Use Italsics In My Own Work?
If you’re wondering how to use italics in your work, the answer is simply, you don’t. Not all of it. You can use them for emphasis or to show that something is being said but not in every case. Even the most legendary authors only used italics in certain parts of their works. And when they did, it was not always for emphasis. Take a look at the opening paragraph of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for example:
It was evident from Mrs. Bennet’s letter that she considered her son’s marriage extremely mortifying, and that she had not yet recovered from the shock of it. This was the first indication that Elizabeth’s good sense and amiability had not been unanimously praised by her family, and that she might have some difficulties in her marriage. It was also clear that she meant to be accommodating and kind to her younger daughter-in-law, and to make up for the mortification of the previous day. (Pride and Prejudice, p. 1)
Notice how Austen uses italics to show that something is being said but it’s not exactly what the reader thinks. In this case, Mrs. Bennet’s letter is said to be both “evident” and “indicative” of these qualities in Elizabeth. The reader doesn’t necessarily have to agree with Mr. Bennet’s assessment of his daughter’s marriage, but they may appreciate the nuances of Austen’s choice of words.
In another part of the book, when Elizabeth is visiting Jane for the first time, Austen uses italics to show us that the conversation is funny and a little bit sarcastic:
“Though they appear to be well-bred and amiable, Elizabeth and Jane must still feel awkward and constrained in each other’s company because of their differences in station. Jane is a Bennet, and Elizabeth a little Fitzherbert. They were not expected to get on; yet here they are being polite, and even friendly.” (Pride and Prejudice, p. 23)
“Good heavens!” cried Mrs. Bennet, “what will people say? How can you be so silly? You’re really quite charming, Lizzy. I always said you’d be the best of the bunch. But, Mr. Bennet, you’re wrong. She’s the one.” (Pride and Prejudice, p. 24)
Here, Austen uses italics to indicate that her readers should not necessarily take these comments seriously. It is a style that is both gentle and light, and it makes the reader smile along with the characters. It’s one of the reasons why Austen’s work is considered classics today.
When using italics in your own work, avoid doing it all the time. If you overuse it, it will seem a little forced and even a little bit vulgar. You can also use other parts of speech, such as metaphors and similes, to show that something is being said. And, remember, let your writing breathe. The more natural you make it, the more effective it will be. You may find, as you get more experienced, that certain styles and tones work better for you than others. And that is all part of the learning process.