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Hi, I have written a short story in which the two characters alternate, i.e. one is listening to the other tell a story and her comments and thoughts are interspersed. In my original, I indicate the change with a paragraph change, with the thoughts of the listener in italics. I read that italics are a no-no in standard formatting for manuscripts being submitted for publication. How can accomplish this without using italics or a change in font?

Dear Kathy:

First think seriously about the wisdom of using thoughts at all, because thoughts always tell, rather than show, and the best stories show, rather than tell. Consider putting the thoughts into dialogue and resolving the issue that way, which often improves the story and resolves the issue of italics.

If the thoughts are truly ones the thinker must keep to himself or herself, though, do not distress. You are correct that italics are a no-no in standard manuscript format, but only because standard manuscript format follows the rules we used when we had only typewriters, and in that era we used underlines to indicate italics. Yes, underlines and italics are the same thing, which is why both should never occur in the same manuscript.

I hope this answers your question. Keep up the good work and keep paying attention to details, such as formatting, and you'll be ahead of most other writers!

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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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