In course of joining a friend of mine during her NaNoWriMo escapades, I tried myself at actually writing a story set in a world I'm building.

I've found there are certain rules when writing a novel. E.g. moving to a new paragraph each time another person talks.

What I haven't yet found is any rule or consensus on how to stylize notes or book-passages that are being read by a character inside my story. I actually haven't found anything on the subject and I fear it's due to me taping into new territory, not knowing the proper words & designations for things.

I was considering doing something along the lines of putting the written bits into their own paragraph after indicating there being a note, or something else.

    There was no Corbett, the chair he had occupied empty. The only sign of evidence that he had sat there just a minute ago was a note sitting on the counter:
    Decided to leave before it gets hairy. Put it on my tab. Pleasure.

Is there any consensus on how to handle such things, or is what I am doing perfectly fine? What are commonly used alternatives?

  • Hi dot_Sp0T, and welcome to Writers. I fixed your formatting a bit. The formatting you used is for code; I think the blockquote conveys what you intended more cleanly, and you can use html tags like I and B for emphasis. Nov 18 '18 at 13:59
  • @LaurenIpsum actually the blockquote breaks the offsets at the start of the lines... but if this stack prefers html over codeblocks I can work with that.
    – dot_Sp0T
    Nov 18 '18 at 14:29

What should be guiding you with formatting in creative writing is first and foremost clarity. If your intent is clear, easily understandable, doesn't require the reader to stop and wonder what's going on, that's good enough. Often more than one option of formatting exists. It is, however, very important that you stick with one way of formatting throughout.

Now, it is a good idea to see how published books format similar texts, since those influence, and are influenced by, readers' expectations. Which in turn makes this formatting easier to follow (it's all about conventions, after all).

Tolkien, in The Lord of the Rings uses italics for written notes - a nice visual way of indicating cursive. New paragraph, of course, but no indent for the section. Verse embedded in the note is centre-aligned, as is all verse in the novel.

Inside, written in the wizard's strong but graceful script, was the following message:

THE PRANCING PONY, BREE. Midyear's Day, Shire Year, 1418.

Dear Frodo,
Bad news has reached me here. [...]

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Book I, chapter 10 - Strider)

In Pride and Prejudice, at least in my copy, there's not even italics - only a new line. Not even a double line break, for that matter.

With no expectation of pleasure, but with the strongest curiosity, Elizabeth opened the letter [...] It was dated from Rosings, at eight o'clock in the morning, and was as follows:
Be not alarmed, Madam, on receiving this letter [...]
(Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, chapter 35)

Harry Potter uses both italics and an indent.

All examples are of long letters, rather than one-line notes, but even with a short note, I'd start a new line. The same way you start a new line every time a different character speaks - here it's the note "speaking", but that makes no difference.

(I have seen a one-line note in-line with more text, in Les Trois Mousquetaires, but I'm not sure if formatting conventions were different at the time in French - they certainly are different in how dialogue is formatted, or if something else guided that decision.)


I am not sure if the italics are yours or Lauren’s, but the purpose is to set it apart without being jarring, which italics can do. You could even combine bold with italics for everything that a character reads.

I have characters reading, but longer passages I just say that MC opened Voyages to the Moon and Sun and continued reading from the bookmarked page. Shorter passages, such as text messages, I separate from the rest of the sentence with an em dash.

He glanced at the text on his phone - relax, trouble sleeping.

I have one scene where a character is pretending to read a novel, but does not turn pages as she is listening intently to her mentor and another converse. They bring it to her attention that prose means characters and plots and, well, turning pages. Try poetry, the more obtuse the better, if she is not going to turn pages as poetry can be savoured and each word held in the mind - less turning of pages if she wishes to go unnoticed.

Consistency is key here. Provided it is clear that the information the character is obtaining is from something he is reading, you should be fine. Longer passages, as Galastel mentions, should certainly have their own paragraph or two.

  • italics are mine. You can check the edit-history by clicking the edited...-link otherwise :)
    – dot_Sp0T
    Nov 18 '18 at 14:48

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