Apparently, I think you’re stupid.

From the post ‘4 Writing Crutches That Insult A Reader’s Intelligence‘, on Kristen Lamb’s blog, after the usual “NEVER USE ADVERBS OR YOU SUCK” advice*:

In fiction, bold font and italics are almost never acceptable. Again, if the prose is well written, the reader will stress the word(s) in his head. Trust me. We don’t need to hold our reader’s hand, or brain, or whatever.

Bold font I’ll give her, because in fiction, bold font is the exclusive domain of things like chapter headings and the like. Italics, on the other hand… I don’t agree that “well-written prose” automatically equals the reader “stress[ing] the word(s) in his head”. Let’s try an experiment!

Here I have a passage from First Flight, italics removed. Can you tell what’s supposed to be emphasized?

The top came open easily, and he stared. Eggs. LOTS of eggs. More eggs than he’d ever seen in his whole life, as far as he knew. Chris picked one out and held it up, suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how to get them open. He needed help. He needed a tool. He needed… a spoon.

And here’s the same one, with the intelligence-insulting italics in place:

The top came open easily, and he stared. Eggs. LOTS of eggs. More eggs than he’d ever seen in his whole life, as far as he knew. Chris picked one out and held it up, suddenly realizing that he didn’t know how to get them open. He needed help. He needed a tool. He needed… a spoon.

I don’t use italics because I think my readers are stupid. I use italics because I want my readers to have the story the way I see and hear it in my own head. That’s what they’re looking for, after all–the story that I am telling. Don’t I owe it to them to tell it the way it and the characters demand it be told?

As usual, the post ignores dialogue entirely. Here’s another little experiment with italics, this time with Benny and Phil. (This scene is in first-person, from Phil’s agrammatical POV.)

“Will was drunk and he was being silly. Was that it?” I was gonna say no, but he kept talkin’. “Or are you planning to kill me?”

“Kill–Sweet Jesus! What the hell?” I stared at him, my mouth flappin’ ’cause I din’t know what to say about that. Din’t he know me? “What the hell? Why the hell would y’think that? I ain’t gonna kill you, Benny; I ain’t even thought about it. Kill you? You lose your mind or somethin’?”

Benny shrugged. “You’ve heard the other guys talking about that kind of thing. It’s happened before.”

Where does Phil’s emphasis fall? How do those words sound, what cadence do they follow?

Here’s the original version:

“Will was drunk and he was being silly. Was that it?” I was gonna say no, but he kept talkin’. “Or are you planning to kill me?”

“Kill–Sweet Jesus! What the hell?” I stared at him, my mouth flappin’ ’cause I din’t know what to say about that. Din’t he know me? “What the hell? Why the hell would y’think that? I ain’t gonna kill you, Benny; I ain’t even thought about it. Kill you? You lose your mind or somethin’?”

Benny shrugged. “You’ve heard the other guys talking about that kind of thing. It’s happened before.”

So did that make you feel stupid? I hope not, because all that was supposed to happen was that you were supposed to hear Phil’s voice, loud and clear.

I’m the sort of person who, if they were going to insult someone, would make it a bit more obvious than through the use of formatting in my writing.

* Which, to be absolutely fair, she did** temper with the note that one can use adverbs as long as you weren’t pedestrian about it.

** This is non-fiction, so it’s okay to use italics.