Given the Patron of the Arts contest coming up, I thought I'd ask a question to help get our minds ready.
I've been reading lots of current literary fiction (stories in The Strand, McSweeney's, The Southern Review, Michigan Quarterly, etc...), and something has come up that I am honestly curious about.
To those of you who write fiction seriously and routinely publish it and/or at least submit it to publications like those above, how do you punctuate dialogue?
It's pretty vogue to leave off almost all punctuation. Of course I am interested in how you punctuate and if you omit any part or use a dash, etc. But what I'm really more interested in knowing is why you punctuate dialogue the way you do.
Post-modernism has brought about a syntactic freedom that, I feel at least, is best utilized when an artist doesn't simply abandon structure, but rather re-invents it according to their own rules.
So, considering the context I've laid out here, serious writers of fiction: why do you punctuate the way you punctuate?
If it's unexamined impulse, that's valid. That's where I was until recently. My curiosity about this subject is fairly strong.
Also, for those of you judging in the fiction writing contest, care to leave a comment about your expectations on this issue for the contest?
First, what is the Patron of the Arts contest?
I tend to follow the old school rules in punctuating dialogue. Everything by the book, pun intended. Quotation marks at each end, comma before or after if part of a sentence, and so on. I do have questions about the best way to punctuate dialogue when a character is 'thinking' his dialogue. Here I simply italicize the 'thought'.
I have great confusion concerning quotation marks. Some writers seem to use double inverted commas to indicate dialogue, whilst others use single ones. I never know which is correct.
I think they both are right. Single commas create less cluttering effect, that's all. I see both usage in printed contemporary literature.
I think the distinction lies primarily in the country of influence on the writer. Writers influenced more by British English use the single inverted commas ("quotation marks") and place final punctuation outside the inverted commas.
Writers influenced more by American English use the two-apostrophe quotation marks for direct quotations and place certain punctuation inside the quotation marks and certain punctuation outside.
Also, for quotations that are being quoted by the person who is being quoted (Whew!), the internal quotation uses the opposite marks (double for British English, single for American English style). For example, an American would normally punctuate this way:
"Mark Twain once wrote, 'An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before.' And I think that's humorous, but not always true," Aficionada said with a grimace.
I think someone from the UK would punctuate the same thing this way:
'Mark Twain once wrote, "An Englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before". And I think that's humorous, but not always true', Aficionada said with a grimace.
Until recently, I had always used double quotation marks to indicate dialogue, and placed the punctuation mostly inside. This was how I was taught in English lessons at school, many years ago. However, it is in more recent literature that I have noticed the use of single quotaton marks, and placing the punctuation outside. Having been educated in England, I have a feeling that there must have been a change at some point. Reading English literature from decades ago, or even from a previous century, the use of double quotation marks seems more common, but modern works do tend to use the single. I have therefore started to use single inverted commas, although the double looks and seems right to me. If it doesn't matter which is used, I shall go back to using the double.
Thanks for that perspective!
Do you mind if I ask (so that I can be historically accurate going forward) when you were in school?
This is great! I work for company that does College tutoring internationally online and the whole ' vs. " and s vs. z and , vs no , go round and round between English speaking countries (US,UK, AUS) without us knowing any historical context. It is a lively debate at work, I'm sure you can imagine.
I think punctuation, certainly in England has changed a lot over recent years. In fact in my city of Birmingham, the apostrophe has been removed from street names and signs. For instance, King's Close is now Kings Close, and Saint Phillip's Square is now Saint Phillips Square. The city council gave the reason for their removal as being the lack of understanding that people now have of punctuation. It is a sad day, when the country that gave the world the English language, now cannot seem to understand even the basics.
Spelling has changed over the past few decades as well. Reading Sherlock Holmes, I notice how "connection" was then "connexion" and "show" was then "shew."
Other factors that complicate the matter of punctuation are things like whether one is writing according to AP Style guidelines, writing technical material, or writing something like legal material. In the US (at least in my state, and from what I've ever seen), court documents will have "Fred vs. Mary". If I were writing "general" writing, I'd tend to write out "versus". Some style guidelines really go against my grain (although I can see the reason for them).
Working in International Higher Education, I can tell you Aficionada is 100% right about the ' vs " issue.
In standard grammar (as opposed to whatever people may do with fiction), the double quotation marks are put around things someone actually said. If something is quoted within that (for any of the reasons quotation marks would ordinarily be used), the single form is used.
I said to Fred, "I don't care if Anne did actually say, 'You're an idiot, Fred.' What Anne said to you is not my concern."
(For some reason that single-quote mark before the "Y" looks like a double one to me, but it isn't. It's a single.)
Yes, this is how I was taught to use the double quotation mark, but every book I read, seems to vary its use, and it has started to become confusing. However, as your example looks right to me, I shall certainly go back to that use.
For more information on the HubPatron of the Arts contest, here's the post from the blog:
Like most published authors, I punctuate dialogue conventionally.
As a retired English teacher, I'm pretty "old School" - unless I'm going for some Joyce-like effect.
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