The Importance of Quotation Marks

Recently, there have been some discussions in which it was mentioned that quotation marks are cumbersome and do we really need them. There are published books on the market where the quotation marks are absent – conversational phrases are indicated with a dash.

I have struggled with quotation marks a lot myself – I never knew when to use singles or doubles – but I think they are vital for a story in which there is more going on than simple action scenes in which the characters say what they think and no more.

There where human interaction is important we need to be able to portray real life, including that where people interact with both spoken and subliminal language; we need to distinguish between speaking and thinking.

Allow me a tiny little extract from one of my books to demonstrate:

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” Leni said.

But Jema wasn’t thinking, at least not that which Leni meant. What she was thinking was that she really didn’t want to be here right now.

“You must have thought about it before?”

Jema shrugged. Of course she had, but thinking and saying were two different things. It was too late now anyway. On DJar, maybe even on SJilai, she’d had some hope, but DJar was six years ago.

“You were committed before, right?” Leni asked.

Yes and what a disaster that had been…

“What went wrong?”

Everything went wrong. Jema was what went wrong. Her existence had offended Kityag and Mom and the rest of the planet; a nuisance, not productive, no maker, not obliging, not acceptable and, thus, not procreating either. Couldn’t risk handing DJar society to people who could think for themselves, after all. What were the chess-players to do if the pieces had minds of their own?

Leni stood up, walked to the arched entrance of her home and stopped. “You can leave then,” she said.

Jema caught herself staring.

“If you’re not going to speak to me you can leave right now and not come back.”

9780473179458 Kelot

In this little interaction it is vital that there is a distinction between what the narrating character is thinking and what she actually says out loud, and between who is talking, indicated by the line spaces.

If there is another way to make this clear, then I would love to hear about it, but as far as I can see, quotation marks are vitally important.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. PJ
    Apr 25, 2013 @ 23:16:18

    Yes i agree Mirjam – an utterly vital distinction indeed – and one you handle masterfully in your novel. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, thank you for sharing!


  2. Henry Mitchell
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 02:11:29

    My UK editor tells me to use quotation marks for spoken dialog and italics for internal thought. I don’t know the rules, so I am an obedient bear. If some other editor ever tells me different, I will try to please.


    • nonentiti
      Apr 26, 2013 @ 10:04:10

      Thnak you. Yes, I heear that as well – italics for thoughts – but everything in the narrative is in the mind of my point of view character.


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