A punctuation question I should already know the answer to. (But don’t!)Posted by vindova on 4 February 2020 at 16:25
This doesn’t come up often in my writing (and should probably come up even less than it does) but no matter what I do, it always looks wrong to me.
Say you have an embedded question in third-person narration that paraphrases a character’s interrogative to himself, AND you feel the need, based on sentence rhythm or clarity, to add a post-question attribution clause . . . do you treat it like quoted dialogue in terms of punctuation and capitalization, normal sentence-case, or some odd hybrid of the two?
Was this really the end of the line? wondered Conrad.
Was this really the end of the line, wondered Conrad?
Was this really the end of the line? Wondered Conrad.
NONE of these look right to me. Am I missing something? Opinions please.
Member4 February 2020 at 16:43
I’ll be interested to see the replies on this, Vin, as I was literally just doing a quick edit on what I wrote earlier today and came across an example of this. I tried it the first way you suggest and then with no question mark at all but, like you say, neither of them looked right. I wonder if there is a definitive grammatical answer to this question?
Member4 February 2020 at 18:41
Not sure if it’s the correct answer, but what feels right to me and the way I would write it is:
Was this really the end of the line, wondered Conrad.
Member4 February 2020 at 21:40
I believe it’s a direct question, therefore needs the question mark.
If you rephrased it to an indirect question you wouldn’t need one as it would be a statement. Conrad wondered if this was really the end of the line.
You could turn the sentence around to make it look more pleasing with the direct question.
Conrad wondered, Was it really the end of the line?
That’s my take on it anyway.
Member5 February 2020 at 04:33
Kate — Sure, avoidance is possible, but I hate to limit myself from a particular construction just because I’m not sure how to punctuate it. That seems like admitting defeat–which I’m not very good at.
The problem is, paragraph rhythm is incredibly important to me. I read everything I write aloud, multiple times, until I get the flow I want. And every so often, the desired flow involves the construction described above. I’d just like to know I’m getting it right.
Thanks for your thoughts though.
Member5 February 2020 at 08:24
It looks like a classic case of it depends.
My original answer was going to be to treat it as character-to-reader dialogue, going with option 1 and italicising rather than using quotation marks. However… If that were the case, it would need to be rephrased into the present tense.
As such, I’m going with L. : Was this really the end of the line, wondered Conrad.
Member5 February 2020 at 10:10
When I write in third person, I realise that I tend to put thoughts in italics. I know this is another avoidant measure but I would have it as Was this really the end of the line? Within the rest of the prose. Otherwise, I believe it’s: Was this really the end of the line, wondered Conrad.
Member5 February 2020 at 11:32
Direct thoughts work best in italics because it differentiates what the character is thinking from the ordinary yext. The problem with colons is they draw attention to themselves and that can spoil the flow of the narrative.
Member8 February 2020 at 02:06
I have gone back-and-forth about using Italics for directly relating a character’s thoughts. (I actually went through a 100K word manuscript and deleted all the italics, only to put them all back a month later) Anymore though, I try to restrict that sort of thing to moments of deep perspective when very intense things are happening and we are fully inside the protagonists perception. In lower-tension scenes, I’d feel its better just to paraphrase what they are thinking vice holding the microphone directly to their cerebral cortex.
Member10 February 2020 at 09:38
Yes, I find I use it with some characters more than others, and it does tend to be for pithy remarks or moments of intense thought that work best in the character’s own voice.
Member8 February 2020 at 04:43
I use italics to depict my MC’s flashbacks.
Member10 February 2020 at 10:38
I was going to say the same – i write the internal voice in italics so the reader can “hear” the thoughts of the voice they’re reading. So your example would be something like:
Conrad considered the impact of recent events.
Was this really the end of the line?
Something like that.
Member5 February 2020 at 10:21
I’m not sure about using italics – I don’t tend to use them. I wondered about switching Conrad and wondered around? So maybe: Was this really the end of the line, Conrad wondered.
Member7 February 2020 at 02:16
Did this indeed answer his question, wondered Vin.
This fourth option I didn’t list (Was this really the end of the line, wondered Conrad) strikes me as technically correct, but by golly, I really hate the fact that there is no expressive punctuation in it at all. Language is fluid though, and we seem to be steadily moving away from anything other than periods(.). It’s already happened to exclamation marks. The Internet Good Writing Advice Brigade recommends against them these days. And they’re probably right (!) Punctuation shouldn’t substitute for building proper context, and conveniently enough, the English language provides some pretty unambiguous clues that you are asking a question. My guess is that in another hundred years, our grand children might find question-marks in regular dialogue to be melodramatic and unnecessary. I doubt I’ll still be writing in my mid-140’s though . . .
Glad I asked the question though. Thanks to all those who responded.
Member7 February 2020 at 17:13
My opinion FWIW.
I agree with L.
Was this really the end of the line, wondered Conrad.
You’re right to think your three suggestions aren’t quite getting it, Vin.
Number 1 could be OK, maybe, but feels clunky.
Number 2 is wrong to me because there’s no question about Conrad’s wondering. He definitely wondered.
Number 3 isn’t right because Wondered Conrad on it’s own like this isn’t a sentence and in this context doesn’t work as a sentence fragment.. Also Number 3 is an awkward mix of free indirect style – where you slip inside the character’s head and don’t signify who is thinking because the context tells you – and writing which isn’t free indirect style and in which you must specify who is thinking. Number 3 feels like it’s trying to use two opposing techniques at once.
A couple more thoughts.
Conrad wondered, was this really the end of the line?
To me that has a better rhythm, logic and descriptive power. In the version, “Was this the end of the line, wondered Conrad.”, the “wondered Conrad” feels like an add on and a bit hiccuppy.
Does the difficulty arise because this is thought, not dialogue? Dialogue would be, ‘Was this the end of the line?’ said Conrad. Maybe it’s worth thinking of it as dialogue without the speech marks. Sometimes thoughts used to be rendered in speech marks and then that practice fell out of fashion, but you can see why writers thought it was a good idea!
I hope I haven’t confused you completely and pointlessly. And don’t take my word for anything.
Member10 February 2020 at 12:41
Hi, here’s my take:
Grammatically, it should be the first version. I do like the solution L proposes -after all, the question is implied by the syntax. But there should be a question mark… so what should we do?
I’d just ditch the tag. Eliminating the “wondered Conrad” wouldn’t change anything at all. The reader already knows who is doing the wondering, and the verb itself is superfluous. Plus this would bring the character closer to the reader. You don’t need to interrupt the flow with this tag.
Member11 February 2020 at 11:21
I was thinking this too.
Do a Harry Bingham, Vin – cut it out, pare it down 😉
Member11 February 2020 at 03:22
I’m throwing my hat in the ring for italics.
My novel is written in the first person (of the main character), but with a lot of (self-doubting) introspection. This introspection is in the second person, in italics.This choice is based on the fact that we (blokes anyway) address ourselves in the second person. Thus, after hitting my thumb with a hammer, I’d say, ‘You silly b***er!’ NOT, ‘I am a silly b***er.’
In his case —
Conrad considered the impact of recent events.
Have you really reached the end of the line?
Member11 February 2020 at 04:41
My wife of 20 years still finds it odd that I have animated conversations with myself in the second-person. Apparently, not everyone does this. Accordingly, I am careful in my writing to determine if a given POV character is the sort who would. I’m told its a “quirk.”
Member11 February 2020 at 05:42
So you’re calling me a “Quirk?”
Actually I take it as a compliment. 😁
Re the 2nd person issue, I think this works better when it’s a throw from a 1st person POV. Probably would have to be set up as a convention throughout the book to be acceptable
I’ve had no criticism of it so far from Harry B and my two FOW Book Doctors. Haven’t got as far as an agent yet, though.
Member12 February 2020 at 11:15
I agree, Eric, about the 2nd person working better if the starting point is first person.
Can I be more contentious about italics? For me, the occasional word or phrase is fine but as a regular technique it bumps me out of the story. It stops the flow as the author signals that we are shifting to a new perspective. The shift might be small but the signal highlights the mechanics of the narration and the author’s thinking process more strongly than it reveals the thoughts of the character.
Member12 February 2020 at 12:13
I agree, Libby, when you say ‘the signal highlights the mechanics of the narration and the author’s thinking process more strongly than it reveals the thoughts of the character.‘ I used italics a lot in my first book to show what my main character (Sylvia) was thinking. But I was always acutely aware that this was because I couldn’t think of a better way to do it, and that it was a failing in my writing rather than an effective way to communicate what Sylvia was thinking. In my second story, I’m going to really try to show the character’s mind more fluently, through action.