Paddy from Ireland sent in the following email: I'm reading a Jennifer Johnston novel at the moment. I notice that whenever she goes into flashback, she uses italics. Is this necessary, desirable or purely at the discretion of the author?
The important point is to avoid confusing your readers. The author has to signal that the writing is moving into flashback scene. You can do this by using italics, as Jennifer Johnston does, but it isn’t strictly necessary.
Leaving a clear line of space and not indenting the opening paragraph signals to the reader that you have moved to a new scene, so as long as your opening sentence shows clearly that we are now reliving a moment from the past, you don’t need to use italics. Having said that, lots of writers prefer to show the entire flashback in italics – it’s up to the individual author and also the publisher’s house style.
Julia from Cambridge had a formatting concern. She said: When we submit email entries to competitions, or any email submissions really, should we indent paragraphs by pressing the space key or by setting the tab? Which do you prefer? I ask you this because you once commented on my tabs in a competition critique not being right and I wondered if this was because I indent by pressing the space bar?
I would advise against using tabs or the spacebar. What I do for my own work is set automatic indents using the paragraph settings from the menu. When I’ve finished the document, I go back and simply remove the indent in the opening paragraph by backspacing.
I know editors prefer writers to set indents in this way because it is easier for them to change the formatting when it comes time to laying out magazine or website content. If you indent with the spacebar or tabs, each indent has to be manually removed (or the editor has to remove all formatting from the text), which, of course, causes more work in the layout stage.
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