In the current draft of my book, the evil dictator whose body is encased in a silver alloy talks basically by allowing magic to move to seep into the silver shell, dispelling it and causing vibrations.

This voice sounds alien, imperial, and metallic. In order to represent this, I'm currently using a different font. (Specifically Kino MT.)

I do something similar with a group that constantly wear helmets that filter out certain wavelengths of sound, and use the 'Cracked' font.

They also sometimes speak in an imperial dialect which I represent with angle brackets.

Is this just going to reek of tacky amateurishness and such?

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    I think the best way is to just describe his voice. I feel that if you were going to change font each time he spoke, it would look awkward on the page and also be a little unprofessional. Furthermore, to certain readers, a font won't necessarily represent what you are trying to make it represent. Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 7:25
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    Do not do that unless your book is a comic or a graphic novel. Most of the publishers of regular books have very strict rules for manuscript submission, which often limit you to a single monospaced font.
    – Lew
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 20:51

5 Answers 5


Think about it: Are you reading this answer on paper, or on a (color) screen? The convention may change quickly, if readers accept changes

Conventional wisdom says not to play 'games' with typography (until/unless one is a big-name author), but that convention is based back in the history/technology/economics of movable type and printing presses. However, if we write and read primarily on screens, (thus freed from the constraints of paper and printing processes), we can do it differently -- if (and only if) the changes tell the story to the intended audience sufficiently better. So much so that the readers' approval is evident to the current gatekeepers.

That said, conventions change with the technology and reader expectations/enjoyment. If using different fonts, italics, bold or punctuation unconventionally tells stories more effectively, I think that will eventually win out. At present, the expectations of agents, editors and publishers are the gatekeepers, but those gates aren't locked -- and effective storytelling is the key.

Two examples of interest: In Startide Rising, author David Brin used a variety of typographic signs (uppercase, paired punctuation marks such as '::') to indicate alien/telepathic 'speech.' It was his second novel published, and won the Hugo award.

In The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester uses some interesting language-on-paper techniques to convey synesthesia (a scrambling between senses.) Most serious fans consider it one of his best books.

Your mileage may vary; I'm hoping the conventions evolve.


This is generally inadvisable (which is not to say that it is not done sometimes). The reason it is inadvisable is that every artform has its palette, its set of devices and conventions by which it tells its story. Mastering any art form is about learning how to tell the story within the confines of that palette.

One of the limits of the prose palette is that is does not support sound effects. You can describe sounds with words, but you cannot reproduce them.

One of the limits of the movie palette is that you cannot describe sounds, you can only make them. This means that all sounds in a movie are presented literally, and that it is impractical to present sounds that are injurious or painful to humans. (Movies have to fake this by using non-painful sounds and having the actors writhe dramatically -- something every third Star Trek episode seemed to indulge in.) Prose, by contrast can describe sound by metaphor, suggesting a far richer experience than a mere speaker can produce.

So, you treat sound differently in prose and on video.

What you are proposing is to represent sound through a font change. This is not part of the common palette of prose, so reader will not know what to make of it. This will tend to pull them out of the story world to ponder the meaning of your typography. But more importantly, there are other, richer, and more conventional ways to handle this in prose.

You can describe the nature of the sound the first time it is heard, but if you really want to make a voice distinctive in prose, your best tools are distinct diction and distinct message (what is said, and the words chosen).

Don't try to extend the palette of prose; try to become a master of the whole of the existing palette. It is more than adequate for any story you might wish to tell.

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    don't you be knockin' the Shat, man. I'd still rather watch Kirk's overwrought dramatic writhing than three-quarters of what currently passes for prime-time TV. Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 21:06
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    Oh, 19/20ths for me. Those scripts has writing. Actually, the whole show belongs to that era of TV when it was still very much like the theatre (compare Upstairs/Downstairs to Downton Abbey for the contrast). Effects were cheap, scripts were dense, and actors were expected to make up the difference. If there is a medium that may not be better off for growing into its own pallette, it may be TV. Still, they did the unbearable noise dance a few more times than they should.
    – user16226
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 21:13
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    It can be jarring and take the reader out of the work, but I would say it's possible to get used to it enough that you notice it but it still seems natural. In K.A. Applegate's "Animorphs", she represented "thought-speech" (telepathy) by surrounding the text in << and >>, as well as changing the font slightly. Sir Terry Pratchett's character Death began in the early novels always speaking in all caps, but quickly switched to speaking in the Copperplate Gothic font. It became iconic of the character. I know, I know, exception proves the rule and all.
    – Michael
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 22:23
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    Generally, yes. But it depends whose brand is more powerful. If JK Rowling wanted to publish a book in 5pt Comic Sans, the publisher would knuckle under. And the internet would debate it's significance till kingdom come. Team Comic Sans vs team Palatino.
    – user16226
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 23:09
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    The Potter novels are printed in Adobe Garamond, not Palatino. </font geek> Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 1:59

As noted above, "generally inadvisable" is on the mark.

However, if you consider your book to be more along the lines of entertainment, than along the lines of literature, you might do it. Really, the choice is yours.

Think of it this way: If you show up for a job interview, you dress in accordance with expectations. Same with books.

I write this not as a reviewer or publsher, but as someone who has browsed many books on the library shelves, always fiction, not necessarily in a genre that appeals to me. Although books with prominent decorative elements (including styled text) are uncommon, they are occasionally seen among recently-issued popular books, probably because those books are intended to appeal to the "soon to be a movie or TV show" market.


In my humble opinion, don't.

You'd have to explain what the different fonts mean. You can't expect the reader to guess. Perhaps that could be done smoothly. If I was reading a story I'd find it rather jarring, tearing me out of immersion in the story, if there was a note in the middle of the story that said, "When I use this font it means ..." That's breaking the fourth wall. Okay, maybe you could slip it in more subtly. Like the first time you use it you say, "Then the dictator spoke by blah blah" and then give the text in this different font and the user should get it.

How many different fonts are you thinking of using, and how distinctive are they? Readers will have to be able to instantly distinguish the different fonts and remember what they mean. You may say, "Well obviously this is Garamond and that's Times Roman", but that may not be so obvious to a reader who isn't much interested in fonts.

I'd guess publishers would not appreciate the extra expense for typesetting and proof-reading.

I've read a few stories where they used different fonts for different types of speech, or a different font for voice versus telepathy, or humans versus robots, or whatever. Generally I've just found it gimmicky and distracting.

  • A grand total of two different fonts, that look like what they are supposed to represent. An imperial looking one for primary antagonist, and a cracked looking one for identity-less evil people in armour.
    – Piomicron
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 20:54

I'm neither a full-blow writer (yet) nor professional reviewer, but as an avid reader and a lover of all good stories, I do have a couple of thoughts on this...

First off, many people do hold that, as another answer-er has already noted, certain elements of art should be reserved to their prospective fields. And to an extent, I do agree with this. C. S. Lewis of Chronicles of Narnia fame thought this way, as he explains in the preface to his work, Mere Christianity. This book first came to being as a series of radio talks he did for the BBC during the time of WWII, then eventually collected together and published as separate mini-books on the topic of Christian Apologetics. However, he later came back and re-published the whole set together as one book, making a handful of changes here and there where he thought they were needed. One of the main things he had changed was the way in which he emphasized certain words. In the first publication, he had italicized words where he had added extra emphasis in the radio talk, yet in the second publication he removed this trend. He felt that it mixed the two art forms together, and that there were move appropriate ways to achieve the same effect, yet still retain the proper identities of the individual art forms. A speaker must use volume and enunciation to put emphasis on his words, whereas a writer may play around with the construction of the sentence and surrounding words to get that result.

On the other hand, one of my favorite fantasy authors, Wayne Thomas Batson, employs a technique similar to what you are describing in several of his works. In his The Berinfell Prophecies series, whenever characters are reading from an ancient and somewhat "magical" set of histories that come alive by touching the text, the font and color of the pages changes slightly to signify it. However, it should be noted that he does not rely on this effect alone; the style and tone of the writing, as well as the style of the characters' dialog, changes slightly as well to help signify the change in narrators, as the visual effect is only in the print version of the series, and does not appear in the ebook format. Batson also employs this effect in his series, The Door Within, where the text in certain places has a colored sheen to it to match the overall color theme of that particular book. Once again, this only occurs in certain versions of the book, and is not relied on to convey much meaning or significance. Instead, it's used more as a extra special effect to make the books have that extra "cool factor", as they are mainly intended for and read by younger audiences (middle school to mid-teen ages). When I first read through this series, I thought it was amazing they had used ink like that, where if you turn it towards the light you can see the color, but if you're in a darker area it simply appears as regular, run-of-the-mill, black ink. To me, it caused the experience to be much more unique, and also meant a lot to me that someone went through the effort of adding that detail. But when I got to the third book, I ended up reading a different edition than I had the first two, and though I did miss the cool ink, the lack of it didn't harm the story or its impact on me in any way, as I soon was fully immersed in the world again and had all-but forgotten the absence of the color.

This response has gotten pretty long and rambly, but hopefully it's been helpful to someone. In the end, I would probably say that if you wanted to add an effect such as this to your story, it might add a neat twist and make book stand out a bit in readers' minds. On the other hand, make sure that if you do use it, don't rely on it too heavily, but instead compose your work first, make sure it stands solidly on its own with no extra "special effects", then add those neat touches in later as an added bonus.

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