Monday, November 5, 2012
Grammar ABCs: Q is for Quotes
On the other hand, the novel Dirt Music by Tim Winton didn’t bother me as much. I think because the dialogue was properly attributed with actions, reactions or taglines. And the author started a new paragraph for each new speaker. McCarthy doesn’t always, and sometimes refers to two different characters as “he” a couple of times within the same paragraph. Confusing? To say the least.
That said, McCarthy is a best-selling author and has won many awards. He knows his literature and he knows the rules. I always tell my writing students and editing clients that it may seem like we are spending a lot of time on “rules” when maybe we should be concentrating on writing. But…we need to KNOW the rules to know when to effectively break them. And that takes a lot of practice. I don’t recommend it for new writers or even intermediate writers.
So a few basics. (I won’t get into every rule concerning quotes. That’s what your Chicago Manual of Style or Little, Brown Handbook is for.)
A double quote mark is used for direct quotations, whether it is dialogue or quoting the exact words of an original writing. “Life remains a very efficient therapist,” said Karen Smith. (Note that when using a tagline—said—a comma is used inside the quote marks. If you use an action instead of a tagline, you would use a period.) “Life is an efficient therapist.” Karen stared out the window. “Sometimes a little too efficient.”
Many writers use single quotes in trying to differentiate thoughts from spoken dialogue. That is not correct. A single quote is used only to enclose a quotation within a quote. Example: “In formulating any philosophy,” Woody Allen writes, “the first consideration must always be: What can we know? Descartes hinted at the problem when he wrote, ‘My mind can never know my body, although it has become quite friendly with my leg.’” (Note the single quote plus the double quote at the end of the sentence, with the period inside.)
In addition to quotes with dialogue, titles of short works are enclosed in quotation marks: Songs, short stories, short poems, magazine articles, essays, TV episode, chapter names in books. (Larger works, such as books, plays, magazine names, and movies are italicized.)
Quote marks may also be used with words being used in a special sense. Example: On movies sets movable “wild walls” make a one-walled room seem four-walled on film. Again, these are double quote marks.
What are your concerns or tips about quotes?
A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.