Is there a standard way to introduce an emoticon in a novel? Let's say that the main character discuss with someone over text message, is it ok to use emoticons? If so how do you introduce it?

Here's an emoticon: XD (laughing face). I am wondering how to introduce text messages in a novel. I am not sure if it should be done in the same way as any spoken dialogue, and also how do you introduce the emoticons in those text messages?

1 Answer 1


This answer should help a bit: What's the exact format of letters/text messages inside novels?

To summarize that answer, as well as including my own notes:

Formatting a text message in your manuscript

If you don't want to just describe your text message in the paragraph and want it to visually stand out from the rest of the passage, a text message within a novel usually is indented and has different formatting to set it apart from the rest of the text.

Like this!

You might use a different font that's stylized to resemble common SMS fonts, or a slightly different color, depending on your style limitations and medium-specific formatting restrictions. However, this isn't always possible, and if you're writing a more serious novel, it might be strange to suddenly interrupt the passage with a goofy stylized portion representing a text message. It depends on your story's tone and the general formatting of your manuscript, so it's really up to you in the end. If your story has a light-hearted tone and an emoticon wouldn't be out of place, go for it.

Formatting emojis and emoticons in your manuscript

If an emoji (πŸ˜€πŸ’₯πŸ’š) or an emoticon (XD) is involved, the use of emojis in particular heavily depends on the medium you're writing in. This will determine whether you can include an actual, rendered emoji in the text. In a purely digital format, i.e. a self-published digital manuscript, you can probably include emojis to your heart's content if that's stylistically fitting. Not that I would recommend it.

πŸ‘ If πŸ‘ you πŸ‘ punctuate πŸ‘ every πŸ‘ sentence πŸ‘ like πŸ‘ this, πŸ‘ I πŸ‘ will πŸ‘ kill πŸ‘ you πŸ‘

However, in a physical book that is printed by ink printers, emojis might be difficult or impossible to replicate. You might be limited to only black-and-white text, or some other restrictions that would make the physical printing of emojis on your pages impossible. And even if you theoretically could print emojis, a lot of printing presses will not be able to capture the level of detail that makes your emojis readable, so they may not print well and will be blurry or hard to read on the page. It heavily depends on your publishing company and their guidelines for formatting your manuscripts. Ask your publisher what special characters and symbols are permitted and restricted in your manuscripts. They can tell you their policy.

If you can't use an actual emoji, you can just choose to describe it:

She sent a text saying "Hey, are you awake?" followed by a yellow face wearing sunglasses.

Emoticons, on the other hand, are fine. They are just made of letters, so there aren't any additional considerations there.

However, be aware of the following additional concerns when you include emoticons or emojis:

  • Emoticons and emojis will date your book. Your manuscript should strive to be as timeless and relevant as possible if you want it to be read and enjoyed in the future, not just in the now. Including emojis might date the manuscript just as badly as throwing in a bunch of 80s references.
  • Not every audience will know what emoticons and emojis are, or what they mean. Emojis are a digital phenomenon, and while most "Zoomers" and younger people who read your manuscript will understand the meaning of most emojis immediately, older people and people who aren't as tech-savvy might be completely baffled. Be aware of your audience.
  • Certain emoji representations on different platforms are copyrighted. As pointed out by @hszmv in the comments, some representations of emoji are under copyright, so you probably cannot use those specific designs at all. Check on this before you use one.
  • I would also point out that certain emoji may be copyrighted and could expose your book to a copyright suit that might not occur if you were to describe the the emojii's appearance rather than just insert it into the text. Say "Jill texted 'Heeeeey' and followed her message with an emojii of a yellow smiley face with hearts in it's eyes."
    – hszmv
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 15:04
  • @hszmv Excellent point. Certain emoji on different platforms are copyrighted, I will update my answer to reflect this.
    – Sciborg
    Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 16:55
  • I am not sure how true the point about becoming dated is. It's often better to write something very relevant to the now, and to write something only sort of relevant to whenever. And if writing effectively a period piece, it by definition becomes an artifact of the time.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Sep 15, 2021 at 17:40

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