The other day, I got a note from my client Tom asking me an interesting question.
How would he narrate a passage that included some of the copy set in italics?
GREAT question. Here’s the answer.
This is one of those questions that is kind of like the word “bimonthly.”
It can mean one of two very different things: occurring twice a month, or occurring every two months.
Same word, two different meanings.
Copy set in italics (these words are set in italics, in case you didn’t know what we’re talking about) can have meaning and performance that is very different from example to example, depending upon the context.
Most of the time, writers use italics to indicate unspoken thoughts:
“How’s your coffee, dear?” she said. That’s odd. He used sugar. I wonder what’s wrong.
In this case, dropping your register and speaking confidentially is the order of the day for those italic-set sentences.
But sometimes, italics can simply mean to highlight the word or phrase:
“How’s your coffee, dear?” she said. “Do you mean my espresso? Sucks.” he sneered.
Here, a slight sarcastic emphasis on “espresso” is what’s called for.
There’s another common use for italics, and that’s to express loudness (the opposite of the first example):
“Drink your coffee, dear,” she said. “Drink it, and drink it NOW!“
Obviously, you’d voice a sharp interjection for the word “now”.
Everything depends on context. And trust your instincts – what you hear your voice saying in your head is exactly what should be coming out of your mouth. If it’s a bit confusing, read over sentences like that a time or two to get the exact meaning of all the copy together, and you’ll hit on the performance you need.
One other thing…
This approach will also apply to content that is written as a subjunctive clause, or side note, or parenthetical. Here’s how that might be done:
Williams made the deposit that afternoon (he was already on his way to the liquor store, and the bank was conveniently next door), and made sure he put the teller’s receipt in his wallet.
Note the “under the breath” quality and the change of pitch to a different note for the content within the parentheses (and no, you never say something like “parenthesis/close parenthesis” or “left paren/right paren” as you would if you were dictating).
Hope this helps.
Have you come across any other ways you might have to change your performance to accommodate italicized copy? Use the comments below to tell us all about them.