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So, a made-up title like All Loud on the Eastern Front, in dialogue, would it be italicized?

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  • Anything that is meant to be the title of a work, real or imaginary, needs to be either italicised or in inverted commas, to show that it's a name and not part of the sentence. Compare "I saw Hamlet last night" (a man) and "I saw 'Hamlet' last night" (the play). Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 7:39

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In fiction (which you seem to ask about, since you mention dialogue), in the narration, titles of movies or books are commonly printed in italics, following the convention for non-fiction:

They watched All Loud on the Eastern Front on Saturday.

It does not matter whether the titles are of existing movies or made up. This convention is not universal for fiction, but since readers are familiar with it from newspapers and non-fiction articles and books, it is widely adapted. Other markup (single or double quotation marks [whichever is not used for dialogue], boldface and so on) are often percieved as ambiguous or unaesthetic.

The narrative parts of fiction are written language, so they follow the conventions of written language.

Dialogue, on the other hand, is the representation of spoken language. Italics in dialogue are used to signal emphasis:

"Why do you shout at me? It was Eleanor!"

Since book and movie titles aren't usually emphasized in spoken language, they are not italicized in dialogue:

"We watched All Loud on the Eastern Front on Saturday."


Please be aware that dialogue in fiction isn't the same as a quotation in non-fiction, although they both use quotation marks! I non-fiction, in a quotation from a printed work, a title would be italicized (if it was a movie or book) or in quotation marks (if it was an article):

As Peter Webster has written in his memoirs, he had begun reading The Lord of the Rings after his daughter recommended it to him: "When Dorothy left, I immediately read both the first chapter of The Lord of the Rings and Campbell's brilliant article 'Why we need to read Tolkien'. I enjoyed the Oxford professor's elegant prose immensely!" (Webster, 1996, p. 58) But he didn't get much farther, since he died the next day.

In actual spoken language, a sentence such as "What do you think of Hamlet?" is ambiguous and might result in your listener asking: "Do you mean the man or the play?" In spoken language we cannot resolve that ambiguity by speaking in italics, we have to signify whether we mean the man or the play by saying so: "What do you think of Hamlet? The man?"

Well-written dialogue will either retain the ambivalence inherent in spoken language or use the same means that are available to spoken language (including gestures) to resolve it:

"What do you think of Hamlet?" she asked.
"Do you mean the man or the play?" he replied.

"What do you think of Hamlet?" She asked, then added: "I mean, the play?"


Another example for the difference in typography between dialogue and narrative is the representation of numbers. In the narrative portions of fictional* texts numbers larger one hundred are represented as numerals ("one hundred" vs "101"). But you cannot speak in numerals. You must speak numbers as words. Therefor, in dialogue, numbers are conventionally represented as words ("I bought three apples." not "I bought 3 apples.").

* In non-fiction numbers larger than ten are commonly writen using numerals.

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Treat fake titles the same way as real titles.

There's no reason why it should be different. The only question to be answered is if that means italics or no italics.

Most fiction uses italics

The rule to use italics comes from style guides that are primarily aimed at non-fiction writing. There aren't any major style guides for fiction writing, so following what other authors are using is best. I checked a few books on Google Books to see how they formatted movie titles. Most of them had italics.

Here's a snippet from Hello From the Gillespies, emphasis included:

She smiled. "Star Wars," she said.
"You had me at hello."
"The Amityville Horror."
"You really are good at this," he said. "I'll make it harder. 'I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."'
"Easy," she said. "The Muppet Movie."

See also Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait and Eternal on the Water. You can use my Books search to find more examples too.

On the second page of results, I found The Ghost Series Box Set, which doesn't use italics.

Just be consistent.

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