Distinguishing one small section of your wording from the rest is a very powerful tool to add to your writing arsenal. But let me emphasize one thing—doing it incorrectly can really throw a wrench into things for your reader. Let’s look at some ways to get their attention without making them roll their eyes in the process.


By far my favorite method of emphasis is employing italics. They can indicate a multitude of nuances, making it important to use them responsibly and consistently throughout your work. If there is, for example, telepathic dialogue at points within your novel, italics might be a good way to distinguish those sections of dialogue from spoken sections. Sarcasm can also be indicated using italics, as in this example.

“Oh, sure, I love sailing in stormy weather.”

Italics are generally good anytime you want to make one word, or even a few words, stand out within a sentence. Changing what gets italicized can vastly alter meaning.

I don’t want to hoist the sails yet.”

This sentence implies that the person speaking doesn’t think the sails should be hoisted yet, but that others might disagree with him.

“I don’t want to hoist the sails yet.”

This sentence makes the speaker sound lazy or whiny.

“I don’t want to hoist the sails yet.”

This makes it sound as if the speaker might want to do something else with the sails.

“I don’t want to hoist the sails yet.”

This one, on the other hand, makes it sound as if the speaker wants to hoist something other than the sails.


Italics can even be used to communicate how a character is saying a certain word, as in the below example.

“No, foolish boy. The currents are the real problem, not the waves.”

Italicizing part of a word is totally fair game when used in the context of dialogue.


Next let’s talk about using capitalization in the place of italics. Italicizing an entire sentence can make a portion of dialogue seem urgent or like the speaker is shouting.

What do you mean we’re fifty miles from land?

Some writers think they need to resort to capitalization to make it known that their character is yelling.


But this is not a good tactic to employ within professional writing. In addition to the fact that it is not condoned by any rules of grammar, a sentence formatted like this looks bad on the page. Moreover, it makes is seem as if you don’t know how to properly emphasize a sentence. Save the all-caps for the aggressive office emails.


While not technically kosher according the rules of proper sentence formation, sentence fragments, when used sparingly, can lend immense power to a piece of writing. Note the key word here: sparingly. Inserting them too often makes it seem as if you don’t know how to construct a sentence. With that being said, let’s examine what a well-thought-out sentence fragment can do for you.

The wind whipped past the boat, making the sea froth and foam. The tiny craft was entirely at the mercy of the elements. The skipper watched nervously as the sails cracked in the gusts of wind, the canvas protesting loudly. Suddenly, on the heaving horizon, a hulking shape appeared. The skipper’s eyes widened in horror as the shape closed in on the boat with terrifying speed. As something sinuous rose up out of the water to tower over the mast, the skipper realized what he had summoned. The kraken.

You can almost hear the “dun dun” in the clipped, decisive sound of the last two words. Herein lies the power of the sentence fragment.


Hopefully these tips made understanding how to indicate emphasis within your writing at least a little easier.

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