Italics, Who’s Talking? and Hypocrisy

In today’s Journal

* Quotes of the Day
* Italics, and Who’s Talking?
* The Hypocrisy of Writers’ Organization Magazines
* Of Interest

Quotes of the Day

“After you learn to write your whole object is to convey everything, every sensation, sight, [smell, sound, taste,] feeling, place and emotion to the reader.” Ernest Hemingway

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.” Ernest Hemingway

“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration…. For a writer to put his own intellectual musings… into the mouths of artificially constructed characters… does not make literature.” Ernest Hemingway

Italics, and Who’s Talking?

In today’s Kill Zone blog, Elaine Viets references an article by “Ron Charles, the Washington Post book critic,” for “Writers Beware: Here’s what readers really hate.” See

I generally agree with the list, but I took exception to points 5 and 6, both because they aren’t explained very well.

5) Readers hate long italicized passages.

Okay, but why? Well, because long passages of italics are difficult to read. Italics attribute tires the reader’s eyes.

I cover that and a great deal more in the second edition of Punctuation for Writers, as well as the appropriate uses for italics and the importance of consistency within a work.

The next point is not only a massive ball of ugly, but a category error besides. The response does not address the problem in the complaint:

6) Readers hate when writers don’t use quotation marks. “Sometimes you have to reread a passage to determine who is speaking.”

Yes, but that’s two different problems.

Like at least some other readers, I too dislike the lack of quotation marks. Quotation marks, which readers don’t consciously notice while they’re reading, are a subliminal signal to the reader that the text within them is being spoken aloud by someone. Text that is not set off with quotation marks is narrative. The lack of quotation marks can leave a reader confused.

But all of that said, when readers have to reread a passage to determine which character is speaking, that isn’t because the quotation marks are missing. That problem is caused by

  • a missing dialogue tag line (he said, she said),
  • a missing brief descriptive narrative (both enhances the scene and identifies which character is about to speak or is speaking), and-or
  • the writer not differentiating between the characters’ voices (no two characters should speak in exactly the same way, especially when engaged in dialogue with each other).

To learn the difference between dialogue tag lines, brief descriptive narratives, and character voice—and how each works—please read “Real Dialogue Tips” at I recommend reading this brief article even if you believe you already know.

Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is an excellent example of the momentary confusion that might ensue if you omit too many character hints in a row. At one point in that story, the characters exchanged 14 lines of dialogue without the writer indicating which character was talking.

Then came a descriptive paragraph, then a much shorter paragraph that included the dialogue tag “she said,” and then another volley of 12 lines of dialogue without any indication of which character was speaking.

Perhaps most importantly, Elaine Viets’ entire article falls under one overall rule of fiction: Don’t put anything on the page that will interrupt the reading of your work. If you adhere to that one rule and strive to improve in that regard with every story you write, your writing will improve much more quiekly.

The Hypocrisy of Writers’ Organization Magazines

For the magazine of any professional writers’ organization to offer less than professional rates for articles it seeks or accepts for publication is the absolute height of hypocrisy.

But writers are as much to blame as the magazines. Writers who are so lacking in self-confidence and professional demeanor that they will accept “contributors’ copies” in lieu of actual payment or a pittance in lieu of professional rates should not be writing articles that endeavor to explain anything at all to their fellow writers in or out of the organization.

And any professional writers’ organization who refuses to offer professional rates to those who write articles for their official magazine should be ashamed of themselves. You are “serving” your membership with articles written by amateurs.

I wonder, do the editors of such magazines pay their plumber with a photo of the pipes the plumber fixed? Do they pay their automobile mechanic with a photo of the engine he recently restored to running order? And in their day job, do those same editors accept anything other than cold, hard cash in exchange for their skills or labor?

I’m a professional writer. Pay me what I’m worth. Contributors’ copies don’t put groceries on the table or pay the rent. Just sayin’.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Ghostwriting 101” at Interesting. I’ve heard Dan Baldwin talk about this many times.

See “How Bad Publishers Hurt Authors” at Sigh. Yet one more complaining writer. Yet they keep lining up to be abused on the Agents and Publishers Ride.

See “Slavery in the Americas: Separating Fact from Fiction” at Story ideas.

See “Is History History?” at See PG’s take. I couldn’t begin to agree more.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 870 words

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)

Day 1…… 3231 words. Total words to date…… 3231
Day 2…… 2990 words. Total words to date…… 6221
Day 3…… 1805 words. Total words to date…… 8026
Day 4…… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 10051

Total fiction words for March……… XXXX
Total fiction words for 2023………… 52824
Total nonfiction words for March… 7100
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 48430
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 101254

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 9
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. See My Best Advice for Fiction Writers at

5 thoughts on “Italics, Who’s Talking? and Hypocrisy”

  1. I’m reminded of this classic rant from Harlan Ellison ( about writer’s being paid for their work.

    I always encourage my friends who are beginning writers to submit to a professional, paying magazine. Always. Why not try and get paid for your work at $0.05 – $0.12 a word? Whenever I read the bios of slush readers at magazines, I find that many are published writers in various publications. Then I look them up and find 90% of the time, they were given copies instead of cash. Hmm. I guess that’s fine if your goal is to have your name/story in print, but I’ve got different ambitions. I want to be a professional. If pro magazines want exclusivity of your work six to twelve months, then you should expect to be paid.

    As Harlan said in the clip, “cross my palm with silver”.

    • Absolutely right, Frank. And in my mind, it’s even worse that the magazine OF A PROFESSIONAL WRITERS’ ORGANIZATION offers to pay only in copies.

  2. Sounds like how certain producers will ask beginning screenwriters to write for them for ‘exposure’ or to ‘gain a credit,’ and not pay them at all.
    I have nothing against those who choose to do it, ‘you do you’ as one of my aunts say, but every professional writer, whether in the beginning of their career or a veteran pro, deserves to be compensated for their work and time in my opinion. And, one would think, other professionals would understand this, but sadly that’s not the case.

    • Yep. The amateurs undermine the professionals. And for those who quote “beginning writers” giving away their work, how about beginning plumbers or beginning lawyers or beginning doctors. Just sayin’.

      • It would be unthinkable and no one would dare suggest it (rightly so). Yet when it comes to writing (and other art forms or crafts) people have a different mindset and I’ve never understood why. If you wouldn’t ask a beginning carpenter or plumber to do free work, why ask a writer to do it?
        Its a crazy world haha.

Comments are closed.