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Quotes, scare quotes, and thoughts


knotme

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Shoulders back, stomach tucked, he sauntered around the corner and 'saw' her. "Well, hello there."

 

"Now that you mention it, I am gay," I said, thinking, 'you asshole!'  Dinner conversation stopped, all eyes on me.

 

In the first example, scare quotes are near dialog. In the second, an unvoiced thought is near a voiced statement. In both cases, the author used both double and single quotes to distinguish dialog from another thing. Are there better ways to make these distinctions?

 

I'm OK with these as written. In the first case, I might instead use double quotes in both places, letting context sort it out.  In the second, I might instead use italics: you asshole!

 

What do you think? 

 

 

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I'm confused by the first example. What is it supposed to imply? The scare quotes confuse me. Must know context. I think it would read better without, personally. Or if the writer is trying to say he 'saw' her in the sense that he instantly took in her entire physical appearance, why not just say that instead of trying to denote the idea with scare quotes? If that's the idea, I'd change it to, "...around the corner, and (immediately/just/then) devoured her with his eyes" or some such.

 

Definitely italics for the second example. 

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If I understand the first one correctly, he noticed her, prepared himself (shoulders back, stomach tucked), sauntered over and pretended to just see her. If so I would write 'saw' in italics, no scare quotes.

 

And yes, definitely italics for the second example.

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I'm confused by the first example. What is it supposed to imply? The scare quotes confuse me. Must know context. I think it would read better without, personally. Or if the writer is trying to say he 'saw' her in the sense that he instantly took in her entire physical appearance, why not just say that instead of trying to denote the idea with scare quotes? If that's the idea, I'd change it to, "...around the corner, and (immediately/just/then) devoured her with his eyes" or some such.

 

Definitely italics for the second example. 

What the author intends is that the man is making a show of seeing her just then, when in fact he saw her earlier. 

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The first line could easily be altered to make the implication. Shoulders back, stomach tucked, he sauntered around the corner and 'saw' her. "Well, hello there." could become: Shoulders back, stomach tucked, he sauntered around the corner and pretended to just notice her. "Well, hello there."

 

The second I would definitely use italics in place of 'you asshole'. I'd take out the speech tag though and make it a stand alone statement, since it's written in first person. Obviously it's not being said if it's not in dialogue, and anything else is coming directly from the POV of the first person character anyway. The italics at that point give it emphasis to make it seem more internal and less descriptive in the narration section. When you think something you don't 'thinking this or that' when you actually do it. When writing in first person, authors often forget that you don't need to tell people *I* thinks or feels something, just have them think or feel it.

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 When writing in first person, authors often forget that you don't need to tell people *I* thinks or feels something, just have them think or feel it.

Very much like the phrase "I thought to myself".  Who on earth else would you be thinking to?  The only exception I can think of where this MIGHT be appropriate would be a telepath narrating, and I would hope an author that creative could find a better way to phrase things.

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Regarding "thinking" in first person, my take is that the author did not trust his single quotes to convey thought instead of speech, and so the tag "thinking" was inserted to make sure. Thus, the punctuation in my second example doesn't work. I should not have accepted it.

 

This discussion makes me more likely to push authors away from such single quotes, towards italics for thoughts in third person, and away from scare quotes any time. In first person, I must be vigilant for superfluous tags, punctuation, and fiddled fonts.

 

When any two of speech, telepathy, and texting coexist, punctuation and font can avoid a welter of tags. As I write this, I'm looking at Chapter 29 of Andrew_Q_Gordon's Purpose. He must contend not only with speech and mind reading, but also with two communicators within a single body. He conveys all communications with multiple fonts and a consistent use of double quotes. I infer only emphasis from the slanted font of exclamations "Damn!" and "Son of a bitch!" (my quotes), but I'll ask the author to confirm. Please note:  This author is neither source nor inspiration for either of my examples starting this thread.

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This discussion makes me more likely to push authors away from such single quotes, towards italics for thoughts in third person, and away from scare quotes any time. In first person, I must be vigilant for superfluous tags, punctuation, and fiddled fonts.

Speaking as an author, I'm concerned that italics are being used for too many things. If we use them for thoughts, emphasis, dream sequences, and anything else that's been suggested in the past, aren't they in danger of being over-used and potentially confusing?

 

 

"I hate you!" I glared at the idiot, because I hate having to tell someone I hate them. Why can't people be more reasonable?

 

A little contrived, but hopefully that demonstrates what I'm talking about. The usage can be determined from the context in most cases, but wouldn't it would be best to limit the uses to smaller set to reduce confusion. After all, isn't that the goal; to correctly portray the authors intentions to the reader?

 

Single quotes for thoughts is something that's clear because their use is very limited. The only other situation that I'm aware that they're used is when it's a quote within dialogue (ignoring the fact that UK authors swap single and double quotes usage compared to the USA). The main problem I can see is that readers may miss the fact that they're single quotes and not double quotes, but then such a reader would probably miss other punctuation details, such as no trailing quote when dialogue continues over a paragraph break.

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One thing to consider, and this became a big issue for me with this book, especially when it was published and printed - use of multiple fonts often doesn't translate.  

 

For instance -  if I recall correctly, I had to come back and add the different font for the Purpose.  Meaning, the font I used in word, didn't transfer when I pasted it into the GA Story Box.  That wasn't so bad because I was doing it chapter by chapter.  But when it was published, it initially didn't translate into the eBook version - talk about confusing. Because if you take away the different font, you lose the identifier as to who was speaking. Using a different, distinguishable font made speak tags unnecessary as only the Purpose Spoke in Courier. But when it was gone, well you can see it became an issue.  It also didn't translate into the print version either.  So what might look great while typing and might not be too hard to deal with when posting a chapter, suddenly becomes a nightmare when you can get the different platforms to play nice.

 

Beyond the different font, what I tried to do is create a system and stick to it - always.  But Graeme's point is well taken - if we use it all the time, when does it become so common that it ceases to set things apart like it's intended to do??

 

Oh well, that is what a good editor is for :P

 

-AQG

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