U is for … Underscore

I don’t mean taking a ruler and drawing a line under your words to emphasize them. That’s a different sort of underscore altogether. The underscore I’m talking about is a film term — the music that runs through a movie, enhancing and emphasizing the action and emotions of the film.

Sometimes, one is hardly aware of the underscore. Sometimes one is more aware than one should be, if the music is too loud, or does not suit the action. Scoring a film is not an easy thing to do.

One of the most masterful examples of underscore in my experience is the score for the film Victor/Victoria (and indeed, Henry Mancini won an Oscar for this score). Listen to that music. I’m not talking about the songs sung by the performers, I’m talking about the underscore. One example — the “Cat and Mouse” music that so aptly reflects the action as King Marchand and his bodyguard sneak in to Toddy and Victoria’s hotel room, then try to make their way out again without being discovered. Watch the movie again. Listen to the underscore. You’ll hear what I mean.

There are underscores in writing, too.

And, since Geraldine, the Very Fairy Princess, is In the Spotlight this week, my example of an underscore comes from the Very Fairy Princess series of picture books.

The underscore in this series is a literary device — actually a theatrical device — used repeatedly and to great effect.

The stories are narrated by the main character, Geraldine. As she tells the story, there are often asides written in brackets, that indicate something that is common to the fairy princess experience. These asides become the underscore for the entire series.

For example, in the first book, The Very Fairy Princess, Geraldine says

“My brother, Stewart, says fairy princesses don’t wear sneakers and don’t have scabby knees. I say sneakers help me practice my flying skills, ESPECIALLY when we’re late for the school bus, and scabs are the price you pay. (Fairy princesses are very practical.)”

The books are peppered with such asides, that enhance the understanding of fairy princesses in an unobtrusive, and delightful way.

Can you think of other examples of underscores in books?


And now (because Fairy Princesses are very giving) I need to remind you of this week’s GIVEAWAY! On Sunday, I will be giving away two Very Fairy Princess prizes. The Grand Prize is a copy of the brand new, hot-off-the-press picture book The Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes the Flower Girl, accompanied by a fairy princess wand created by a talented woman in Minnesota.  Second prize is a copy of The Very Fairy Princess: Here Comes the Flower Girl. Every person who comments on any of this week’s blog posts will be entered in the drawing. The more times you comment, the more times your name will be entered. On Sunday, April 29 at 12 noon Eastern Time, random.org will help me choose a winner of the Book plus Wand, and a winner of the Book alone.


A to Z Challenge

20 thoughts on “U is for … Underscore”

  1. I’m also thinking of how they use it as an extreme opposite, like putting beautiful music in during a murder scene. Music is a marvelous mood maker. I could use it in wriing, too. Even when we talk about a song, the notes flavor the dialogue.

    Play off the Page

    1. What a good point, Mary. Using the extreme opposite in film music can either be jarring or can be used to great effect to get a director’s point across.

      “Even when we talk about a song, the notes flavor the dialogue.” Yes! I like that. Thank you.

  2. I wonder if Fancy Nancy’s explanation of all those big vocabulary words counts as underscoring? 🙂 I haven’t used it myself – well, not consciously anyway – but it sounds like a good technique. I have only read the original Very Fairy Princess, but would love to read the new one (and have a fairy princess in training coming along :))

    1. That could be. I’ve only read one Fancy Nancy book — they were a bit too much for me. I’ll stick to the Very Fairy Princess.

      You’re entered in the draw… so we’ll see if you and your fairy princess in training are lucky! 🙂

  3. This is one I’d have to think about for a bit. I hadn’t really thought of those literary asides as underscores before, though having read this post it is rather fitting.

  4. I really like how you’ve been basically giving us vocab lessons and incorporating them into your topic of the day. 😀
    It’s fun!

    1. Thanks, Cap’n! It tied my brain in knots more than once, coming up with these things and finding a way to relate them, but it’s been educational for me, at least!

  5. Thanks, I also hadn’t thought as literary asides as “underscoring.” Am aware in music and movies. But, the underscores in the Very Fairy Princess (Princesses have to be practical) is an excellent example. Will have to pay more attention. Amazes me how you’ve managed to work this all together and include your promotion of Princess Week.

    1. Thanks, Pat. It was a challenge to do everything all in one! Rather like rubbing my tummy and patting my head — while dancing in a circle and singing. 😉 At first I was going to do the Princess Week posts separately, then I decided to put everything together and see what happened!

  6. I just read Losers in Space, a young adult novel that has an interesting underscore tweak (review in May on BooksYALove) . John Barnes believes that SciFi should have real science at its core – e.g. Superman crushes a sidewalk when he takes off for the sky due to force needed – so he includes occasional “Notes for the Interested” throughout the novel which explain why things happen (science-wise) in the book, but which contain no plot elements, thus allowing readers to skip over the Notes without losing anything of the story. Terrible title for a very good book.

    And I’d love to win a Very Fairy Princess Prize for my young great-granddaughter who’s very much a hairbows and pink shoes kind of girl!

    1. Very interesting addition to the discussion, Katy. Those “Notes for the Interested” sound like a great way to do this sort of underscoring without detracting from the movement of the story.

      Your name has been entered into the draw. Good luck!

  7. Such an informative post!
    Henry Mancini is a great composer – made me think of the Pink Panther jazzy theme…
    Thanks for sharing Beth.

  8. I know what you’re talking… er, typing about, but I was wondering if it is an underscore when the people and their actions are silent, and the music’s playing in the scene (I don’t know if I explained that right)?

    1. That’s a very good question, Erik, and I do understand what you’re asking. I think there’s two kinds of music that might be playing when the people and actions are silent. If it’s still sort of background music, meant to enhance the movie and even move the plot along, then its still an underscore. If it’s a specific song meant to be focused on as a song for itself, then it’s more than just underscore, and becomes almost an “action” of the movie itself.

      It’s a very fine line, isn’t it?

  9. I love how you related underscoring to writing. I enjoy reading work that has asides in brackets like that. Makes me feel like the writer is kind of cupping their hand over their mouth and telling me something personally just for my own benefit. The words in the brackets can also move the writing along much like the underscore of a film. It’s not the main event but it certainly adds another dimension.
    You amaze me by the way you can twist all of these non-writing terms into undeniable parts of the writing world!

    1. Taslim, I love the way you’ve expressed the idea of underscoring. That’s exactly it! Thank you.

      I had an amazing time finding all these terms and fitting them into writing. There were MANY terms that just didn’t work. I’m glad you’re enjoying what I came up with.

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