How To Narrate Audiobook Content Set In Italics

Hey there, hero!

The other day, a client asked me a question: how would she narrate a passage that included some of the copy set in italics?

GREAT question.

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 somehow 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.



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  1. Thank you for the tips on emphasis and indicating an aside from the internal voice. So helpful!

    If I may, I’d like to suggest that use of italic font is very commonly an indication of foreign words.

    The performance master in my book on this, is the host of Jeopardy! Alex Trebek. Whether its Slovakian or Greek, Sanskrit or Mandarin, his pronunciation is as close to a native speaker’s as you’ll ever find. I happen to know for a fact that every Friday, his team of writers review special pronunciations with him before they tape the week’s shows. Those writers use on-line tools to make sure pronunciation is accurate, so voice actors can, too.

    There are several on-line sources for this, but frankly I’ve not yet found one that makes if fast and easy. For me that means no user name/password step and a recorded pronunciation I can play, hear and mimic, as opposed to a dictionary -style pronunciation suggested in text. Can anyone suggest their favorite foreign pronunciation site?

  2. Context is everything. I find also that italics are used (as they are supposed to be) for TV & film titles. Specifically with TV, the italics are used for the show title itself, not individual episodes (which are done with quotation marks).

    In regards to Marlon’s comment, I run into italicized foreign words a lot in my audiobook narration work, especially with nonfiction. If you’re looking for a good online site for reference, I recommend and use Forvo as my first go-to spot. It’s similar to Wikipedia in the sense that people can record and upload pronunciations for words. While it’s not 100% perfect, it’s hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

  3. Every now and then, I find that the performance can benefit from completely ignoring italics. Not very common with audiobooks, as there, the text is gospel, but particularly in animation or video games where you’re safe to take liberties on at least one take, it’s not a bad idea to just blow past any italics or punctuation that isn’t flowing.

  4. I think you addressed this correctly. Whenever I come across text that is in italics or is parenthetical, I treat it as an aside and do just as you described. Drop the tone, give the feel as if you are listening to what the player is saying in his/her head.

  5. Also, it can be “another voice” like the character’s dark side or the voice of a magic icon speaking to or through the character’s mind or actual psychosis. Those I make a separate character so it’s distinct enough to be clear that it’s not actually the character speaking internally but thoughts being pushed into the character’s mind by a separate entity. If that makes sense.

  6. Have you ever narrated content where the italics where used for more than just ‘aside’ moments? I recently read a story where a character had a terrible trauma flashback and kept flipping back and forth between the past and the present throughout an entire scene. Italics were used to distinguish what was memory and what was current action, and where much needed for how intertwined the two were at times. How would you differentiate the narration then? Would that be one of the few cases where an audio effect (like a little reverb) would be helpful?