I'm writing a story about mental telepathy. In it, I have telepathic dialog between two characters. First let me say that I've been writing internal dialog i.e., thoughts, using italics. Example:

The poor man's gonna die of fright, he thought.

When I write telepathic dialog, I've also been italicizing it; this way the reader can differentiate between verbal dialog and telepathic dialog. I would like to know if I should use quote marks on the italicized telepathic dialog.

I would appreciate knowing whether or not I should italicize the telepathic dialog and if I should use quotations as well.


There are no conventions for representing telepathic dialogue. This means you get to pick how you are going to do it. It also means that you have to clearly and explicitly establish your convention for the reader. A typographic change is certainly one way, but you will have to be very careful to make sure that it is established clearly or you risk it all just sounding arch. Another way would be to invent a different speech tag instead of "said". What is the verb for a telepathic projection? Since there isn't one, you get to make one up.

My general point is, you are free to make up whatever convention you like, but there is no convention that the reader is going to understand without you making it explicit for them. So decide what you want to do, set it up for the reader, and remind them of it from time to time in case they don't read the whole work at one sitting.

  • Thank-you for your advice. I've heard several opinions about how I should proceed. An editor acquaintance, suggested I use greater/lesser than brackets to indicate telepathic dialog ... to be frank, I don't like the look. So, since there is no set protocol to follow, I think I'm going to NOT italicize internal dialog, i.e., The poor man looks like he might die of fright, he thought. Then it frees up the italics to use to indicate telepathic dialog. This way the reader has an obvious visual que. I appreciate your time and consideration - I've learned something!
    – terrasculp
    Aug 8 '17 at 19:22

The reason why you want italics rather than quotes is this:

Telepathy is private. And you can play with that. Someone else can be talking and in the room, while your telepaths work out a plan. If the telepathy is interspersed with dialogue that everyone in the room can hear, it's a very good idea to have a visual cue that reinforces and tells you that.

It should be differentiated at a glance from speech to reduce confusion. The italicized telepathy would be great, because there's already a convention towards italicizing thought.

That doesn't necessarily mean that you have to italicize thoughts outside telepathic communication. The sentence: The poor man's gonna die of fright, he thought. does not have to have any italics at all, and you'd know what's going on. In fact, it could be very annoying to have every bit of inner dialogue italicized, if it happens frequently. And not having inner dialogue italicized will, at a glance be different from telepathy. Otherwise you might have to add "to himself." This will really depend on frequency, how it looks, and what it's like in context.

Like Mark says, you can do whatever you'd like.

As long as you are internally consistent, and it doesn't look wrong, you can do what you like.

  • Thank-you for your input. I don't know what I'm going to decide on, one thing for sure, I'm gonna be consistent. In the past, when I don't know, I've immulated what other writers have done. This made me follow a seemingly logical path, internal dialog is italicized (as per what other writers do) and since telepathic communication is internal, I simply added quote marks w/ italics for back and forth communication between two telepaths. I want to write telepathic communications as quote marks w/ italics. But an editor friend just told me to use Greater/Lesser than brackets. Lots to digest.
    – terrasculp
    Aug 6 '17 at 18:36

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