This writing tip pretty much defines the way I write, whether in my book or my blog, and the way I speak. Last week, I was talking with my good friend, John Morgan, author of Brand Against The Machine (which, by the way, is an awesome book that you should immediately read, if you haven’t already). During our chat, John mentioned that the guy who reads his audio book has a very nice voice, but he emphasizes many of the wrong words.
I said, “This is why I use italics so heavily, because I want my readers to emphasize the right words. I want them to hear my voice when I write.”
John then insisted that I write a blog post about this italics tip, using one of his favorite blackmail techniques, also known as, “If you don’t write about this, I will,” which always, always works on me, darn it. So here you go.
When I write, I write the way I speak.
For the most part, if you’ve listened to my radio show (whoops, just realized it’s been far too long since I recorded an episode!) then you can probably read my blog (or my book, upcoming in Spring 2013) and hear my voice. Because it’s the same voice. I write that way for a very specific reason.
Back in the days when I worked in the magazine publishing industry, I learned that one of the best strategies for keeping your readers interested and engaged is writing in a clear voice. In the magazine world, where many authors are writing for one publication, sometimes there’s a style guide that specifies the voice of the magazine, which allows the writers to write consistently in the same voice so that readers stay invested with that “personality” from cover to cover.
For my blog, though, I use my own voice, the voice I’ve developed over my lifetime of just being me. So the way you “read me” is the same way you’d hear me if I was standing right in front of you.
My voice tends to be pretty consistent across the board, and ideally, that’s how you want to write, too.
But more importantly, when people are “reading you,” you want them to read your words the way that you hear them in your head when you’re writing (I can’t be the only one who hears voices when I’m writing, right? Right?), and so that they get the full and original intent of what you were trying to say when you were writing. And, if someone should happen to read your writing aloud, in, say, an audiobook, they’ll know exactly which words to emphasize.
So, don’t be shy. Use italics when you really want to make a point or need to emphasize something. That’s what they’re there for.