Friday, August 18, 2006

Quote Quoins

The Rulz regarding Quotation Marks.
Searching through Miss Bustlewhistle's ancient manual - which, I might add, descended upon my head with alarming frequency - I discovered that the guidelines for Quotation Marks roughly divide into three categories:
(a) titles, (b) emphasis, and (c) dialogue.
As writers, dialogue is our primary concern and the basic rule is thus: Quotation marks are used to distinquish spoken words from other matter.

Ex: "This thrice-damned printer is chewing up my manuscript!" She screamed, her sweet, high soprano heard over estuaries and deltas.

The quotation marks are used both before and after the quoted word, phrase or passage.

However - there's always a "however" - the placement of these elevated double comma thingies depends on their alignment, like the planets, with other punctuation marks.

Use a comma between the quoted matter and any dialogue tags, whenever these or similar phrases introduce a quotation, are used parenthetically, or follow the quotation - which in its original form would end in a period.
As in:
According to Miss Snark, "no one should give up until after one hundred queries."
"Well," commented a writer, "I have only ninety-seven more to go."
Another asked, "What then?"
"You write another book," replied Miss Snark.

Place the quotation marks after a question mark or exclamation point when they are part of the quotation. This is logic.
"How do I find an agent?" asked an innocent and clueless newcomer.
"You research! The same as every other writer does!" replied Miss Snark, re-inserting the syphon leading from her gin pail.

But. Place the quotation marks before the exclamation point or question mark when the emphasis belongs to the larger statement.
Did Miss Snark really mean it when she said, "I enjoy blogging and I have learned from your comments"?

Of course, my evil mind wonders about the three-punc case that might read thus:
Did he really yell, "Sod off!"?
I suppose it is correct. I suppose copy editors go bald too.

If a quotation consists of two or more consecutive paragraphs, use quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but place them at the end of the last paragraph only.
While this academic rule is probably still extant, I would suggest in fiction that you break up the frigging dialogue with a little action, and so avoid the necessity of of applying this rule altogether.

To enclose a quotation within a quotation, single quotation marks are used.
"Listen to this! 'You are an excellent writer.' Takes a bit of the sting out of a rejection, doesn't it?" he said, slapping the letter down on his desk.

Questions? Comments?


M.E Ellis said...

I got confused with the use of single and double quotes.

With WCP, present speech uses double quotes. With past speech, it uses singles.



Bernita said...

Afraid I find it weird too, Michelle.
A quote is a quote.
Thought readers were hard-wired to recognize quotes by the double marks, without the niceties of time separation.
Still,every house has its individual slant, and I assume they make their specifications known on edit.
Are you sure it's not simply a case of a quote within a quote? ie. "He said, 'We go now!'"

Sela Carsen said...

The Brits do it different. I didn't realize this, but they would write -- "Well", said Henry.

Punctuation is a nightmare. My first drafts, I throw in a comma whenever I would pause in speech, then I have to go back, move them all around and take a whole bunch of them back out.

MissWrite said...

I suppose copy editors go bald too.

Yes, and I love them for their sacrifice.

Kirsten said...

Did he really yell, "Sod off!"?

I've often wondered about how to handle this construction.

I might be inclined to just drop the exclamation point since "yell" implies the emphasis. How's that for a dodge -- rewriting to avoid the problem entirely . . . change: Did he say "what time is it?"? to: Did he ask "what time is it"? or even: Did he ask for the time?

(Now to figure out how to put a smiley emoticon in parentheses without giving myself a double chin :-))

Erik Ivan James said...

Yeah, Sela, I drown my stuff in commas too. I dump them in by the basketful, then I have to go back and pluck the critters out. Messy.

Bernita said...

That usage, at least, I think I partly escaped, Sela. the spelling, though is largely entrenched.

What matters most, Sela and Erik, is that you DO rearrange them in later drafts.

~snort, snicker~

Re-writing is usually the best evade, Kirsten.

Flood said...


Bernita wrote, "I would suggest in fiction that you break up the frigging dialogue with a little action."

"Good advice for aspiring writers," I thought.

Ballpoint Wren said...

Did Miss Snark really mean it when she said, "I enjoy blogging and I have learned from your comments"?

Yay, Bernita! This is something I go back and forth on. It's comforting to realize logic is the deciding factor.

Scott said...

I have to admit to a bit of free-styling when it comes to these rules.

Your example I would write like this:

"This thrice-damned printer is chewing up my manuscript," she screamed, her...

Even if I left the exclamation point in, I would have lower-cased she.

Ballpoint Wren said...

Scott, that's what I would've done, too: use the lower cased she.

Bernita: another of your posts brought me up with another problem.

Would you write

The robot in Lost in Space was named "Robot."


The robot in Lost in Space was named "Robot".

Logically, I want to use the second, but I typically go ahead and use the first.

Bernita said...

I note it particularly, Flood, because I had just such a passage and realized, while checking The Rulz, that it was all dialogue.

It is, unless the publisher has different ideas, Bonnie...

Normally, I would too, Scott.
However, I was constructing an example to illustrate the separation of dialogue from "other matter."
The statement and the subsequent and unrendered ( arrrggghhh) scream may be two different things, after all.
Tags are illustrated in later examples.

Ric said...

Ballpoint - the second one should be the correct one.

Fascinating topic. I have always used " for speech and ' for thoughts. Isn't this correct?

'Miss Snark is going to slam me for this idea,' he thought.

"Damned right," she said.

Bernita said...

I want to use the second also.
But. The period goes inside.

Bernita said...

Ric, as I understand it, internal thought do not require either italics (unless for special emphasis) or quotations.

S. W. Vaughn said...

I suppose you're dead on about the copy editors. :-) Brave souls they are!

Thank you for this. I've been having a spot of trouble with quotes and punctuation lately!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...I love Miss Bustlewhistle....that reminds me of David Copperfield...don't even try to understand my logic...ROFLOL.

"While this academic rule is probably still extant, I would suggest in fiction that you break up the frigging dialogue with a little action, and so avoid the necessity of of applying this rule altogether."

LOL...That sums up my whole thought..*as she whacks herself on the side of the head to make her brain unseize*

Bernita said...

You are welcome, Sonya.
Everyone needs a refresher for this stuff now and then.
The thing one thought one had down solid...

The best rule, Bonnie, is: "When in doubt - weasel out!"

kmfrontain said...

Kirsten, that was hilarious. I always worry about the smiley getting a double chin. Really. As for quote marks, single/double, with question marks and exclamations too close together, I'd edit it for clarity first, how it looks second, but my dictionary of "da rules" of grammar says we gots to keep that darned exclamation, if we intend to be fully grammatical. So...Did he really yell, "Sod off!"? Yes, that's technically correct.

Savannah Jordan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick said...

The finer points of punctuation make my head explode.

Savannah Jordan said...

Personally speaking, I HATE punctation!! My consistant quandry is "its" and "it's"--which is which and why and when?? LOL

I think I am a fair handler of standard dialogue, but I'm sure my editors both lost some hair!

btw "sod off!"? is a brilliant example of difficult dialogue.

EA Monroe said...

Ric, if I'm deep into 3rd person character, I drop the "he/she thought" business and put the thought in italics. I'll probably have to go back and rewrite it!

I read a novel (forget which one), where the dialogue avoided the quote/punctuation problem because the dialogue was all in italics.

Zinnia said...

Quotation marks and commas are the two most abused forms of punctuation.

Bernita said...

Think we're reading from the same page, Karen...

Bite the bullet, Rick...
But I don't believe you.

Thank you, Savannah.
It's very simple.
"Its" is a possessive pronoun.
"It's" is a contraction of "it is."
You knew that.
Seeing it abused so often has confused you, that's all.

Commas are certainly, Zinnia.

Bernita said...

That would make it a wall-banger for me, EA!

kmfrontain said...

I tend to use italics for personal character thoughts or ESP conversations between characters. I don't bother with quotes with those.

Bernita said...

Italics definitely work for any mind-to-mind conversation.
Mercedes Lackey is one who uses them that way effectively.As I remember she also uses a colon before them as well.
Quite creative and certainly innovative, I thought.
I don't use them for internal thoughts because Damie also has a little internal voice who contributes wry or sarcastic comments from time to time - so I save the italics for those.

For The Trees said...

I think I have the quote problem well in hand. My problem is the internal thought process.

If a character is thinking, I put it in italics. If a character is talking, I put it in quotes. But if a character's Alter Ego comes piping up, then I'm forced to do something radical:

I change font, from the serif to a sans serif. Seems to work for me. And it sets off the alter ego voice subtly.

Bhaswati said...

These marks get me confused every once in a while. Especially when you need to put question marks/exclamation marks/periods outside the quote marks. Now, thanks to your post, things are clear for me. I hope...

Bernita said...

Since you control all aspects of the production, Forrest, you may arrange it any way you choose.

Think one should choose a pattern, Bhaswati and be consistent with it, until a house's copy editors provide instructions for their format.