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Telepathic Syntax

Originally posted on June 24 2015

(Darn that post title sounds cool)

So I had a little trouble exporting my writing from Writemonkey, since the markup I used interpreted my <noovoice syntax> as HTML tags—more specifically as html comments, which made anything in between them disappear in the final document. This prompted me to look for a replacement, but I soon realized that I didn’t need it. What I needed was to use what I intended to use in the first place: 〈angled brackets, also known as chevrons〉, instead of <less-than and more-than signs>.

I decided to use the chevrons as the basis for my noovoice syntax for several reasons.

  • One was the similarity they had with guillemets, which were traditionally used in Spanish (and other languages) to indicate speech.
  • Another was the use of chevrons in comic books to convey messages in other languages (more on that in a second).
  • Yet another was this little quote I found once in the previously linked WP article:

Chevrons are infrequently used to denote words that are thought instead of spoken, such as:

What an unusual flower!

Though I couldn’t find any definitive sources to back up this last claim (though I asked around and at least this article mentioning it was found), it still sounds like a good idea to me. But that’s just me.

I did find a very interesting rationale for chevron use in comics in the Spanish Wikipedia of all places:

When the occasion warrants, angle brackets or “wedges” appear encompassing the text of a speech balloon, in which a character speaks another language, indicating a form of “Brechtian fourth wall”, with which it engages the reader in an effect of intimacy and comprehension directed solely to him, because despite the language difference denoted by the “wedge”, its meaning is understood, wheareas characters around them don’t. [Translated from Spanish by moi]

Though the whole “Brechtian fourth wall” bit sounds like a bit of a stretch to me, it makes a valid point of how chevrons in comics are used not only to facilitate foreign language comprehension, but to actually convey the meaning of the speaker’s message directly to the reader’s “mind”. That’s close enough to telepathy to me, so I approve!

 General Telepathic Punctuation

Anywho. As it turns out, rather than there being a standard for writers to indicate telepathic messages in their prose, it is purely a stylistic (and typographical) choice. That being said, there are a few common practices.

The most jarring one to me is just using italics, indistinguishable from other internal dialogue. This sprouts the problem of how to distinguish one from the other… because you must. Thus, florid verbs to indicate telepathic dialogue appear: he pulsed, she sent, they transmitted; or the perhaps the worst offender, “Hi,” he thought to her. (Sure, let’s make it a transitive verb and throw out the rest of Syntax out the window while we’re at it.)

(On that note, conveying traditional internal dialogue (thoughts) with italics is not standard… but it should be. NOT using italics for thoughts IS a common practice, which brings its own problems, and it’s frankly annoying. But hey that’s other writers’ problem to deal with, not mine.)

Like I said, these are issues that pop up because of choices writers make. They could instead pick a punctuation mark, any punctuation mark, and make their life easier. Which is what most do, fortunately. (That’s not to say that wacky “telepathy verbs” also pop up with telepathic dialogue that does use distinguishing marks, mind you.)

So you simply tag your telepathic dialogue with any marks you want:

  • *Maybe asterisks*, [brackets of which there are many], #or whatever else you want#.
  • // You don’t even need to wrap your text with two tags, one is enough! This specific kind was apparently popular way back when.
  • Why not use bold text? (Hopefully it won’t stand out as horribly as in here.)
  • Or how about a different font? I’ve seen it being used very creatively in recent stories with telepathy.

The key is making dialogue types distinguishable, without being intrusive or flow-breaking. If you do that, you can go home happy.

There is, however, an interesting alternative midway between: “Using italics inside quotation marks.“ Interesting how? Well let’s see an example from a writer dealing with telepathy:

In Shattered Souls, she hears voices of dead guys who share her body, so are inside her head, and also those not possessing her who talk to her from the outside. If the disembodied voice came from within, it was italicized. If it came from outside her body, it was italicized with quotation marks. It worked.

This is a perhaps more complex case of telepathy, but it brings up a very good point: the distinction between “inside voice” and “outside voice”. Because that’s the key difference between internal dialogue and regular dialogue. Thoughts come from within, and everything else comes from outside.

Telepathy is a middle ground, but it needs to be distinguished from both sides properly. As a minimum measure. That’s why I use chevrons myself.
The moral of the story is simply this: use whatever makes most sense to you. And, be consistent with it.
And, don’t worry about it too much because your editor may end up scrapping the whole thing, thus making this whole discussion moot.

Permanent link to this article: http://cesarfelipe.net/2015/11/telepathic-syntax/

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