Sorry for the delay. I was out of town all of yesterday and a lot of today’s been spent playing catch up. Of course, if I’d been thinking ahead, that wouldn’t’ve happened. And I’d have that post about thinking ahead done.
Instead, let me give you a quick tip. This one’s inspired by a book I just finished reading. It frustrated me on several levels…
One of the joys of being an author is finding clever ways to influence the reader. When I know I’ve guided the reader down one path of assumptions—or maybe away from the correct set—that’s a great feeling. There’s a lot of ways we can do this, but the most common one is formatting. After all, the way the words sit on the page affects how the reader takes them in, and if I’ve got a good grasp of how said reader will interpret that layout, it lets me manipulate them a little more.
The catch here is that I can’t use the same formatting trick for multiple things. If we were watching a movie and I told you all the people dressed in red were robots, and then the movie introduced a dozen characters in red who were aliens, there’d be some serious problems with my interpretation of the movie. If I establish that every scene with blurry edges is a flashback, I can’t also use blurry edges to mean a character is having a clairvoyant vision.
In Ex-Heroes the character of Zzzap always speaks in italics without quotation marks. Like I mentioned above, it’s a visual trick to show that, in his energy form, he doesn’t sound or talk quite like a normal person. His voice has a buzz, an edge, that separates it from normal dialogue.
The catch is that it means I have to be very, very careful about using italics anywhere else. A lot of authors use them to indicate a character’s thoughts, but that was right out for me. It’d get too confusing—especially in any scenes Zzzap was in. And confusion is one of those things that breaks the flow of a story.
The same with emphasis. It’s common to use italics when you really want to accent something. But I had to be careful using them in Ex-Heroesbecause if I led off a sentence with italics it’d look like Zzzap was speaking. And if that causes a moment or two of confusion, well… there goes the flow again.
In the book I just finished, the author used quotes for dialogue, but he also used them for character’s thoughts. So more than once there were paragraphs like this…
“Okay, nobody move!” shouted Phoebe. “The shock of me yelling should keep them off guard for a few moments,” she thought. “Put your hands behind your heads and get on your knees,” she continued out loud.
See the problem there? There were maybe a dozen points in the book that shook me for a moment, and at least half a dozen where it broke the narrative and I had to look back to figure out if that last bit had been spoken or thought. That’s almost twenty chances for me to put the book down in frustration.
If I want to do something different in your manuscript, format-wise, that’s fantastic. Hell, Cormac McCarthy has pretty much built a career of it. But I need to be consistent. I can’t say that all dialogue will be in quotes and also have thoughts in quotes. I can’t tell you that writing in all caps means text messages but also have it indicate telepathy two pages later.
Thinking ahead to next time, I’ll have that post about keeping ahead done by then.
Until then, go write something.
And be consistent about it.