I am going to quote from a novel that in my opinion shows many stylistic overlaps of novels and comic books: The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey. I am holding that novel in my hand now.

  1. The use of a lot of dashes
  2. The use of a lot of italics to show internal character monologues.
  3. Single words being all in capitals in a sentence
  4. Using words like "who" and "how" as nouns as in "the who" or "the how."
  5. The most important one: the use of colons in conversation. For instance:

    [page 320]

    The Rowan and Isthia: do NOT permit them to engage.

    The Rowan: We'll need their minds!

After I finished reading The Rowan I called all of this a "comic book" style of novel writing. I don't mean that as anything derogatory; it's a great novel. I haven't seen any current novels that use a comic book style as in my 5 points above. The Rowan was published in 1990. Was it a short lived trend to write novels this way?

What's interesting is if I go to an earlier novel by Anne McCaffrey called The White Dragon and open it, published in 1979, she isn't over 450 pages using that Comic book style there; there are rare examples but nowhere near enough to be doing anything different to other authors.

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    Italics are written as *italic text* or _italic text_ which both will render as italic text.
    – user
    Jul 2, 2019 at 7:26
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    Hello and welcome to the Writing SE. Currently it is unclear what you are asking. The answer to the question in your title is obvious - yes, there are overlaps. It does not seem to be related to the rest of your question, so maybe you could edit it to really clarify what you want to know.
    – PoorYorick
    Jul 2, 2019 at 7:27
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    The question in the title about stylistic overlap, and the question in the body about writing in a particular way being a short-lived trend, don't seem readily related. Can you Edit to clarify either how they relate to each other, or what question you want answered?
    – user
    Jul 2, 2019 at 7:28
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    The question is not complex. It is unclear. Is your question "are there stylistic overlaps between novels and comic books", or is it "was there a time when novels heavily leaned on a comic book style"? And I think the answer to the first question is trivial, because both novels and comic books are free to use the same styles of writing, and frequently do. (My point about pulp fiction was that that is the style you are describing as "comic book style". It is not a style that originates from comic books.)
    – PoorYorick
    Jul 2, 2019 at 8:01
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    This probably isn't an answerable question as framed. The flaw is seeing Comics and Novels existing in their own vacuum bubbles, outside of other persuasive writing like newspaper headlines, advertising, road signage…. The question fits in with a History of Punctuation that starts with the Greeks (needed punctuation) and evolved through musical phrasing (chants, rests pauses)…. A novel written today could use emoji – critics would frown and kids might like it. There might be a Buzzfeed article hailing the stylistic overlaps between novels and text messages.
    – wetcircuit
    Jul 2, 2019 at 11:26

1 Answer 1


Was it a short lived trend to write novels this way?

I don't believe so. I've been reading novels for over fifty years, I have several hundred of them on my home bookshelves. I would have noticed a trend like that if it appeared since about 1965.

As for your title question: Yes, but not so much the items you quote. Those kinds of stylistic things are a product of a lack of space for dialogue in a visual medium, so it is a kind of shorthand for what, in a novel, would be written out in prose.

Dashes indicate interruptions or pauses. All Caps indicate emphasis that can be explained in prose (which the comic has no real room for). Colons take the place of "said" or "asked" or other such words.

Using "who" or "what" as nouns may occur, in normal speech they may be: "The who now?"

And obviously there is the Band "The Who", which I imagine was a joke on this very phenomenon. Or the old skit about "Who's on First". But I see no trend toward that (and I don't read comic books, so I don't know how often it is done there).

As for your second item, using Italics to indicate thought, that has always been a common convention. The thoughts of the POV character are frequently presented in their own paragraph in italics; this is similar to dialogue but without the quotes.

"I really don't think you have anything to worry about, Mary," Angela said.

Richard better be more careful, that idiot is going to ruin everything.

Mary winced, then shook her head. "You're probably right, I'm just paranoid."

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