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How to write texting or messaging?


Astro

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Hey everyone,

 

I was writing a bit for my new story today and I came across this interesting situation. At one point, I wanted write about a conversation two of my characters were having over text message.As I started to write the first sentence, I realized that I had no clue if there was a standard way to this. Searching online, I see that some people out the texts in italics led some underlined. I figured I would ask this great group of writers.

 

Any tips on how to write it out? Anyone know if there is a standard way like there is with dialogue?

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I published a story that had lots of online chats/emails/texts between the main characters.  I wasn't sure how to write it when I was starting out, but my publisher and editor helped me figure it out.  Here is an excerpt from the published book and what we came up with. I hope it helps. :)

 

 

 

The rest of the trolls in the chatroom faded away. Percy

didn’t even notice their words or silly emoticons, all he saw was

MaxTheMagnificent. After polite conversation for a few minutes,

Max pinged Percy into a private chat.

 

He was suddenly nervous. Laughing at himself, he

couldn’t understand why Max had this instant effect on him.

Maybe it was the fact they were actually talking. All of Percy’s

previous encounters with men had been purely physical…with

Max, it was different.

 

Max: Binx? Hey? Are you still there?

 

Snapping back to reality, Percy noticed he was

daydreaming about Max while chatting online with him.

 

Binx: Sorry, I’m still here.

 

Max: Where did you go?

 

Binx: Nowhere, I got lost in my thoughts for a

moment.

 

Max: What were you thinking about? If it’s juicy you

better dish!

Edited by K.C.
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I checked Chicago Manual of Style and didn't find anything pertinent as to a set style. On the work I published, however, I did have some texting. I think the main element to focus on is to be consistent. Because the accepted rule for creating emphasis is using italics, rather than caps for published work, I couldn't use italics for texting too. I don't agree with using parenthesis at all in fiction so those were out. So, I used bold font and made sure I wrote the narrated elements to indicate the texting, such as the physical actions of picking up the phone, punching in the text, response to the text, etc... to off-set the first line in some way until the reader would grasp it was the actual text.

 

Here's how I did it:

 

 

 

 

Kameron’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket, distracting him from watching Bear work after his “friends” left. Jimmy had sent him some backup from another precinct. He'd received a tip Vilem was on the move and wanted more eyes on the bar. After their drink, they left, but only to keep an eye on the outside exits around Capstone. Kameron stayed to watch Bear.

 

The slim man rocked behind the bar, serving customers, smiling and joking as he got them their drinks. The crowd on the floor was a writhing mass of flesh, zoned out on the hardcore beat of the bass-thumping music. More than one man leaned in too close, which made Kameron growl, but Bear never let anyone invade his space. Jimmy sent him a text. Loren almost ratted us out. You have to catch that mutt before he tells Bear!

 

“Shit.” Kameron tapped the tiny keyboard on his phone, cursing the buttons. Working on it. Staking out the bar. Kameron didn’t take his eyes off Bear, unable to stop worrying since one guy was tossed by a bouncer for trying to climb over the bar. Two other guys had been helped out after they were yanked down off their tables.

 

 Bear’s neighbor said a man matching his desc was hanging around yesterday too.

 

Kameron winced. That meant he’d need to take Bear home or follow him again. With a cop for a brother, Bear was smart enough to make it risky to tail him. The late nights in his car were starting to wear on Kameron. But if he took Bear home, he’d be tempted to go inside and once there… well, his control wasn’t what it should be. He wanted Bear. Not because he was pretending for the case, but because the man was damn near perfect. Smart, with a smart-ass mouth that tasted exquisite and starred in Kameron’s shower fantasies. Bear combined all Kameron’s favorite things he never knew he wanted.

 

Jimmy was going to kill him when he found out. No doubt Loren would rat him out if he didn’t tell Bear the truth soon. He’d been getting some nasty looks from Loren before it got busy that now made sense. One way or the other, an Orveng brother was likely to be handing him his balls. But if Kameron told Bear the truth himself, maybe he’d have a chance to apologize and explain why he lied.  

 

Copy. Cody is checking out Vilem’s lka again.

 

Call him in for extra backup if he’s utl the mutt there. I want this guy, tonight! Kameron knew it was pissing Jimmy off that they couldn’t find the guy now that he'd gone to ground. He was glad the irate man was John’s partner, not his, since they were going over the files at the station.

 

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These definitely help! Thanks for the example K.C! The names really help and it was the thing I was worried about the most. I didn't want readers being confused by who said what.

 

Cia, thank you for researching that. I like the bolding and I had not thought of the italics issue. That is a great point and was my original plan so thanks for bring that up.

 

Timing and the thoughts in between texts was another issue I ran into and I like have the paragraphs between. :)

 

I published a story that had lots of online chats/emails/texts between the main characters.  I wasn't sure how to write it when I was starting out, but my publisher and editor helped me figure it out.  Here is an excerpt from the published book and what we came up with. I hope it helps. :)

 

 

 

The rest of the trolls in the chatroom faded away. Percy

didn’t even notice their words or silly emoticons, all he saw was

MaxTheMagnificent. After polite conversation for a few minutes,

Max pinged Percy into a private chat.

 

He was suddenly nervous. Laughing at himself, he

couldn’t understand why Max had this instant effect on him.

Maybe it was the fact they were actually talking. All of Percy’s

previous encounters with men had been purely physical…with

Max, it was different.

 

Max: Binx? Hey? Are you still there?

 

Snapping back to reality, Percy noticed he was

daydreaming about Max while chatting online with him.

 

Binx: Sorry, I’m still here.

 

Max: Where did you go?

 

Binx: Nowhere, I got lost in my thoughts for a

moment.

 

Max: What were you thinking about? If it’s juicy you

better dish!

 

 

I checked Chicago Manual of Style and didn't find anything pertinent as to a set style. On the work I published, however, I did have some texting. I think the main element to focus on is to be consistent. Because the accepted rule for creating emphasis is using italics, rather than caps for published work, I couldn't use italics for texting too. I don't agree with using parenthesis at all in fiction so those were out. So, I used bold font and made sure I wrote the narrated elements to indicate the texting, such as the physical actions of picking up the phone, punching in the text, response to the text, etc... to off-set the first line in some way until the reader would grasp it was the actual text.

 

Here's how I did it:

 

 

 

 

Kameron’s cell phone vibrated in his pocket, distracting him from watching Bear work after his “friends” left. Jimmy had sent him some backup from another precinct. He'd received a tip Vilem was on the move and wanted more eyes on the bar. After their drink, they left, but only to keep an eye on the outside exits around Capstone. Kameron stayed to watch Bear.

 

The slim man rocked behind the bar, serving customers, smiling and joking as he got them their drinks. The crowd on the floor was a writhing mass of flesh, zoned out on the hardcore beat of the bass-thumping music. More than one man leaned in too close, which made Kameron growl, but Bear never let anyone invade his space. Jimmy sent him a text. Loren almost ratted us out. You have to catch that mutt before he tells Bear!

 

“Shit.” Kameron tapped the tiny keyboard on his phone, cursing the buttons. Working on it. Staking out the bar. Kameron didn’t take his eyes off Bear, unable to stop worrying since one guy was tossed by a bouncer for trying to climb over the bar. Two other guys had been helped out after they were yanked down off their tables.

 

 Bear’s neighbor said a man matching his desc was hanging around yesterday too.

 

Kameron winced. That meant he’d need to take Bear home or follow him again. With a cop for a brother, Bear was smart enough to make it risky to tail him. The late nights in his car were starting to wear on Kameron. But if he took Bear home, he’d be tempted to go inside and once there… well, his control wasn’t what it should be. He wanted Bear. Not because he was pretending for the case, but because the man was damn near perfect. Smart, with a smart-ass mouth that tasted exquisite and starred in Kameron’s shower fantasies. Bear combined all Kameron’s favorite things he never knew he wanted.

 

Jimmy was going to kill him when he found out. No doubt Loren would rat him out if he didn’t tell Bear the truth soon. He’d been getting some nasty looks from Loren before it got busy that now made sense. One way or the other, an Orveng brother was likely to be handing him his balls. But if Kameron told Bear the truth himself, maybe he’d have a chance to apologize and explain why he lied.  

 

Copy. Cody is checking out Vilem’s lka again.

 

Call him in for extra backup if he’s utl the mutt there. I want this guy, tonight! Kameron knew it was pissing Jimmy off that they couldn’t find the guy now that he'd gone to ground. He was glad the irate man was John’s partner, not his, since they were going over the files at the station.

 

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I rarely include text messages explicitly in a story. I prefer to have characters relate the content via narration or dialogue. Something like:

 

Paul frowned at the text message.

 

"What is it?" Andrew asked.

 

"John won't be coming. He's gone off with Trevor instead." Paul started typing.

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"I'm letting Scott know. He was supposed to be bringing Trevor and I doubt either John or Trevor would've told him of the change in plans."

 

When I have used text messages, my original indented the text message and changed the font. Copying it into GA stories I lost the font change (and couldn't be bothered putting it back in), but either one (or both) should be enough to indicate the change of context. This is similar in concept to Cia's use of bolding -- just another way to emphasis that the words are different to narration. The indenting only works if you keep the text/chat messages separate from the rest of the text. If you mix them up, like in Cia's example, then I'd personally use a different font (Courier being my personal preference).

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The problem with using different fonts is that it may not be visible to all readers. Different devices can read different fonts, and if you use one that is not a default font, it all appears the same. We had an issue recently that an author here had somehow edited a chapter of their story via their writing program and used a font that some readers were getting as script (and harder to read) and others saw as a default font that wasn't script. AJ figured that out to fix it so no one was getting script, but that is a factor to consider in that not everyone might 'see' the same font no matter which you use to emphasize something. That's why I prefer to stick with formatting changes instead.

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Good point about fonts vs formatting Cia. I think I might be able to just bold it and make it work. I may try Graeme's suggestion to avoid it if I can. But if I didn't want to run from the beast, at least I have an idea of what to do.

 

The problem with using different fonts is that it may not be visible to all readers. Different devices can read different fonts, and if you use one that is not a default font, it all appears the same. We had an issue recently that an author here had somehow edited a chapter of their story via their writing program and used a font that some readers were getting as script (and harder to read) and others saw as a default font that wasn't script. AJ figured that out to fix it so no one was getting script, but that is a factor to consider in that not everyone might 'see' the same font no matter which you use to emphasize something. That's why I prefer to stick with formatting changes instead.

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I agree on fonts, but there are certain fonts that can be assumed to be universal: Arial, Times New Roman, Courier New. You only need two fonts for what I suggested, and since no-one uses Courier New (being a fixed-width font, rather than a proportional font), it's a good choice as one that is quite readable (for small pieces of text) and really stands out from the normal text in a story.

 

Using more than a typical subset of fonts should be avoided, for the reasons Cia mentioned, but there is no reason those that are an effective default set can't be used.

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I agree on fonts, but there are certain fonts that can be assumed to be universal: Arial, Times New Roman, Courier New. You only need two fonts for what I suggested, and since no-one uses Courier New (being a fixed-width font, rather than a proportional font), it's a good choice as one that is quite readable (for small pieces of text) and really stands out from the normal text in a story.

 

Using more than a typical subset of fonts should be avoided, for the reasons Cia mentioned, but there is no reason those that are an effective default set can't be used.

 

Its is true. I can always use the fonts provided. I don't think I will need a large amount of fonts so it should not be a problem that there is a limit.

 

You are right about using two very different fonts to make sure people can distinguish them from one another. I will be sure to keep it in mind!

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I also think it's a very, very bad choice to do long sections as text messages, emails, or anything other than standard body text. I personally think it takes the reader out of the novel and calls too much attention to itself.

 

I think for brief passages -- like a paragraph or two -- it works fine. Otherwise, it just gets drudgerous to read.

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My characters text quite a bit, actually. I write it out in italics, and otherwise follow standard dialogue rules. Like this, from Nemesis:

 

 

Aww, poor thing! Nick texted back. Knee still not well enough for football either?

 

He put down his phone on his bedside table and pulled his duvet over himself, staring at it. A few seconds later, it buzzed again.

 

No. Thanks a lot! :P

 

Nick had the decency to feel ashamed. It was, after all, he who had tripped Dave and caused him to bang his knee.

 

Sorry, he wrote. Hope it’s not too painful… :(

 

No, just annoying, came the response a minute later. My cousin’s coming to stay tomorrow, though, so I’ll be less bored then. :)

 

For IM and the like I still use italics, but set it up like an IM conversation tends to look. Here's one from Brighton Rock that's supposed to be over Facebook:

 

 

Jeffrey Bennett: Well, why did you answer, then, you numpty?

Kevin Jackson: I dunno… I messaged you first, figured it was polite.

Jeffrey Bennett: Lol! You have a strange definition of polite…

Kevin Jackson: whatever.

 

I very rarely have my characters use text speak, because I never do that, so I only use it as a tool if I want to show that a character is especially juvenile or annoying, really. :P I will, however, occasionally have characters forget about capitalisation and the like, especially in IM conversations. Far less frequently in texting conversations. 

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Cia's comment about consistency is the best rule on any formatting, any story, any editing convention. Texting is relatively new. Authors and editors will try several different approaches before a universal standard arises to set it apart.

 

How long do you think it took for semicolons to be adopted?

 

The written word followed the spoken word. Now the word processed word will follow the texted word.

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This is a scene from Case:Black in which texting is featured. This is how I handled it:

____________________________________________________________________________________

 

 


Southaven, MS

Suburbs

2200CST

 

Jason Miller was surfing the net. At the moment the 15 year old didn’t like much about his world. It was bad enough to be stuck at home, inside during summer time. It was worse that he couldn’t see anyone. There was a ragged edge of fear permeating everything like a skunk’s odor: blinding and unpleasant. You could pretend that it wasn’t there but that’s all you could do- pretend. There was simply no escaping it.

 

He had seen it in people’s eyes all day. He had to go home from his job at Kroger when the government shut down the world. AT least he had enough of his wits about him to go home with a full cart of groceries.

 

Worse still, he knew that at least some of his friends and their families were in the hospital.

 

There was nothing on TV but an endless parade of bad news. He had turned if off and was wandering the net. The crisis was there too but he could choose to go places where he didn’t have to face it.

 

His phone chirped a text alert.

 

Bobby: I’m back home.

 

He picked up the phone and entered: I thought you were sick?

 

Bobby: I am. I just don’t have the Russian death plague. Just mono. Go figure.

 

Jason eyes stung. He wasn’t going to lose his best friend. It was the first good news he had gotten all day. He texted with a tear rolling down his cheek, Maybe you’ll live long enough to get coordinated.

 

Bobby: Oh you’re real funny. It was really scary Jay. I mean 28 Days Later scary with all the soldiers in their gas masks and doctors and nurses. I’ve never been gladder to be home.

 

Jason texted:  The Townsends are in the hospital, so is Gina’s Mom and both Davis twins.

 

Bobby: I hate that for Gina. Her Mom is cool. I don’t even want to think of the others.

 

Jason: There’s a whole lot of suck going around.

 

Bobby: Truth. Look, this stuff makes me tried and they say to sleep it off. Would you let people know I’m OK?

 

Jason: No problem Bobby. Who did you kiss to get Mono anyway?

 

Bobby: Oh, you’re just full of laughs tonight.

 

Edited by jamessavik
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