This is for a novel: should the title of a non-existent video game be italicized when it's spoken as a solecism by a character?

Example: the mother tells the kids to stop playing Immortal Kombat. The kid replies that it's Mortal Kombat. For some reason this seemed incongruous, or just plain misleading. I thought of not italicizing Mortal Kombat as well, so that they match, as it is spoken in dialogue. I understand the rule is consistency, but more spoonerisms or malapropisms may be spoken later in the novel--which is somewhat rich in pop-culture references--so I'd like to know now.

I suppose the main reason that it seems weird NOT being italicized, is that I am so consistent in the first hundred pages with titles, so that any careful reader or knowledgeable consumer of pop-culture will see Immortal Kombat and immediately understood that the mother misspoke, which is what I really don't want. I want that second of hanging, that second of a reader asking him- or herself, "Huh? Is that a game?"

  • In fiction I think it's normal not to italicise titles, real or made up. Nov 3, 2017 at 2:29

2 Answers 2

  • If the title is perceived to be real within the universe of your fiction, it should be treated as if it were real. Example: The novel The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton contains an fictitious bibliography (as I recall) that is correctly formatted because within the world of the book, the references are considered real. (If my memory is faulty and the bibliography is real, my assertion would still stand despite my embarrassment.)

  • If the reference is in error, such as someone miswording the title (often done in a novel for comedic effect), then whether or not the title is italicized depends on how the line is delivered contextually in the novel. Building on your example:

"I told you to stop playing Immortal Kombat!"

The phrase is presented to the reader in the context of a title (and it is clearly in the context of a title), and so it sould be formatted as such.

"I told you to stop playing that immoral combat or whatever it is!"

The phrase isn't presented to the reader in the context of a title per se, the speaker is simply repeating a phrase but doesn't fully understand, appreciate, or respect its context, and so the phrase need not be italicized. However, authors should only do this with a purpose. It's usually much easier to treat the phrase as a title in all cases. In this instance, I intentionaly used a different word, "immoral," to establish emotional context to the speaker's disgust.


It doesn't matter if the reference is real or not. You should treat them all the same. I don't know the title of everything that actually exists. What I want is a visual guide to tell me if it's excepted to exist or not. The mother believes the title is Immortal Kombat as she's speaking it, so it should be italicised if you're also going to italicise Mortal Kombat.

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