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23 July 2005 @ 14:51
 
I think there's some wide-spread confusion about things like how to punctuate dialogue, and what ellipsis are for, and how to format fiction for reading on-line. So I decided to come up with a quick-and-dirty guide. There are I'm sure a hundred of these--both fannish and just Chicago Style Guide clones floating about, but I wanted something (I could easily locate) to point people to when the occasion arose...


How to Make Your Beta Reader / Copy Editor / Friendly Neighbourhood Archivist Happier

Punctuate dialogue correctly.
Punctuation (periods, exclamation points, question marks, commas, and ellipses) goes inside the quotation marks. Use commas correctly.
Correct: "It's bigger on the inside," she said.

Incorrect: "Of course it is." Said the Doctor.

Corrected example: "Of course it is," said the Doctor.
Use a period if dialogue is a complete sentence, and is followed by another complete sentence.
Correct: "I like it." Rose patted the TARDIS console affectionately. "Very flash."

Incorrect: "She's a very flash time ship," the Doctor threw two switches, then grabbed the console as the ship listed drunkenly to one side.

Corrected example: "She's a very flash time ship." The Doctor threw two switches, then grabbed the console as the ship listed drunkenly to one side.
However, use commas if dialogue is split into two parts by the dialogue tag, and always begin the second part of the quotation with a lower case letter.
Incorrect: "She's a very flash time ship," the Doctor threw two switches. "that almost always gets me to exactly where I ask her to go. Mostly."

Corrected example: "She's a very flash time ship," the Doctor said as he threw two switches, "that almost always gets me to exactly where I ask her to go. Mostly."

Correct: "When you say 'mostly,'" Rose began, "you mean, what? 99% of the time?"

Incorrect: "Well, there's where you want to go," The Doctor grinned, "And then there's where you need to be."

Incorrect: "Well, there's where you want to go," the Doctor said with a grin, "and then there's where you need to be."
Proper nouns (names, titles, words used as proper nouns) should be capitalised. Do not capitalise the noun if it's not used as a proper noun.
Correct: "Look, Mum means well," Rose said.

Incorrect: "Yeah, sure. Your Mum always means well..."

Corrected example: "Yeah, sure. Your mum always means well..."

Correct: "Would you like to dance, Captain?"

Incorrect: "It's tradition. A Captain always goes down on--sorry, with his ship."

Corrected example: "It's tradition. A captain always goes down on--sorry, with his ship."
When addressing a person, use a comma after his or her name. When a direct address is implied, but a specific name not used, use a comma.
Correct: "Rose, would you please hand me the mallet?"

Incorrect: "You know Doctor I wish you wouldn't hit the TARDIS quite so hard."

Corrected example: "You know, Doctor, I wish you wouldn't hit the TARDIS quite so hard."
Use a comma when using "Yes" or "No" in dialogue.
Correct: "No, sir, I'm afraid there's no 'Doctor' or 'Rose Tyler' on our guest list."

Correct: "Yes, there is. Honest. See what it says right here? 'The Doctor, plus one.'"

Incorrect: "No you can't just walk out into 1860 Venice wearing jeans and a tee-shirt."

Corrected example: "No, you can't just walk out into 1860 Venice wearing jeans and a tee-shirt."
Use a comma after a mild interjection, such as oh or well.
Correct: "Well, when you put it that way, I suppose 'clothing optional sun-bathing' does sound a bit dangerous."

Incorrect: "Oh I don't think that will be a problem."

Corrected example: "Oh, I don't think that will be a problem."
Ellipses (three periods) are used to indicated ommitted text, an interruption or hesitation.

An ellipsis is used without a full-stop at the end if the sentence is incomplete, or at the beginning (with the first word lower case) is picked up by a 2nd speaker.
Correct: "That doesn't sound..."

Correct: "...like a good idea?"
An ellipsis followed by a full-stop (four periods) are used if the ellipsis is at the end of a complete sentence.
Correct: "Sometimes, things just don't work out the way you expect them to.... Life's funny that way."


Avoid using epithets if possible (terms used as a descriptive substitute for the name or title of a person)
i.e. "the blonde" or "the young girl" or "the 900 year old Time Lord" or what have you. These people have names. Use them. Our brains are wired to read names (and personal pronouns) and not be bothered by them all that much. Like "said," it's a wonderful invisible thing that keeps you from grinding to a screeching halt in the middle of the narrative cos you're wincing and laughing and IMing your best pal to say "OMG I just went 4 entire pages where Captain Jack was called 'the dashing younger man with dark wavy hair and dimples.' You have to READ THIS!" and not, may I add, in a good way.

Paragraph text for on-line (versus print) reading.
This means double spacing between paragraphs, as opposed to indenting. Do not cut and paste from Microsoft Word using tabs. You will end up with one giant paragraph which no-one can read, therefore it's much more likely no-one will actually bother to read your beautiful fabulous opus. Cos it's just too difficult to decipher for our ape-like, clay-footed human selves.

No, really. I'm not kidding.

Text must be paragraphed, in order for human beings to read it easily. So please, paragraph. Readers will love you for it.

Separate sections with three asterixes (* * *)
...or at the very least, use the same device each time, so archivists can format your story for archiving using search-and-replace, rather than having to replace each and every one one at a time cos you decided holding down the shift key and hitting 8 a random number of times was the way to go about it.
 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
gwynnegagwynnega on 23rd July 2005 20:09 (UTC)
Or would you still put a period after the first bit of dialogue, make the narration a separate sentence, and make the second bit of dialogue a separate sentence?

Yes, this is the way to do it.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - gwynnega on 23rd July 2005 20:15 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - budclare on 23rd July 2005 20:20 (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - budclare on 23rd July 2005 20:27 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - taraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:43 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pbristow on 24th July 2005 11:50 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pbristow on 24th July 2005 11:51 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - taraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:11 (UTC) (Expand)
Lurky McLurklurkionlylurkhere on 23rd July 2005 20:06 (UTC)
That first one I see a lot more often after sentences ending in question and exclamation marks. I think (at least some version of) Word Autocorrect it wrong, because it doesn't have a rule to pick up on the fact that the sentence that's just finished (and thus Needs A Capital For The Next Word, OMG, Or The Paperclip Will Cry At The Wrongness) inside direct speech.
ljctaraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:12 (UTC)
First thing I do, when I load up Word, is disable 99% of the Auto Correct features.

grr.

Smart Quotes and special characters (goddam Word for turning three periods into an special character) are also the bane of my existance.
(no subject) - budclare on 23rd July 2005 20:21 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - cschick on 23rd July 2005 21:54 (UTC) (Expand)
The Hobbitelen_ancalima on 23rd July 2005 20:09 (UTC)
This looks great - thanks for sharing! I will add it to my memories right away.

This reminds me of a question I've had for some time - maybe you know the answer. Which of the following is correct?

"How are you?" she asked.
or
"How are you?" She asked.

I think the first version is the correct one, but I've seen others use the second version as well.
ljctaraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:36 (UTC)
1st, all the way. You've prolly seen 2nd version only where Word's autocorrect feature capitalised the S by mistake...
(no subject) - elen_ancalima on 23rd July 2005 21:16 (UTC) (Expand)
Merlin Missymtgat on 23rd July 2005 20:10 (UTC)
Note that fanfiction.net eats asterixes, so when archiving stories there, another demarcation is going to be necessary.
ljctaraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:44 (UTC)
crap. I forgot about that. That's new. Crap.
(Deleted comment)
ljctaraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:42 (UTC)
Except I think it would be:

"And so," the Doctor said cheerfully, "I've...

cos it's all still the same sentence...

Now Im confusing myself.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - taraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:53 (UTC) (Expand)
Not (quite) the British Susie Bright: Richardpinkdormouse on 23rd July 2005 20:24 (UTC)
The one that I'm debating at the moment is certain uses of proper nouns. If someone is using the noun by which they would address the person, but including a possessive to distinguish the person from any other relative, should it have a capital letter. thinking here of Imogen, who's from Sheffield and thus likely to say 'my Mum' or James who would probably thinks of Richard's grandmother as 'Gran', but says 'your Gran' when talking to Richard to avoid any implication that they're discussing one of James' relatives.

And I can never remember whether 'sir' needs to be capitalised when Richard is addressing his father.

Gina
ljctaraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:35 (UTC)
it would be "your gran" the same way it would be "my father" because in those cases, it's not being used as a proper noun (i.e. name, or in palce of a name, like Dad, or Granny).

I think forms of address like sir, madam, ma'am, or miss aren't ever capitalised. Unless it's part of a formal address, like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or Miss Tyler.
(no subject) - pinkdormouse on 23rd July 2005 20:44 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - taraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:48 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pinkdormouse on 23rd July 2005 21:05 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pbristow on 24th July 2005 11:57 (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pinkdormouse on 24th July 2005 15:21 (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
ljctaraljc on 23rd July 2005 20:49 (UTC)
it's a mystery to me, too. Mainly cos they teach tecnhical writing in schools, but very few bother to teach you how to properly write dialogue in fiction.
a joyful girl getting loudperi_peteia on 23rd July 2005 23:34 (UTC)
Gah. This needs to be spread around the universe.

I've lost count of the number of times people have had me read their fiction, and I've had to explain to them how to properly punctuate dialogue.
HawkMoth: monkeyhawkmoth on 24th July 2005 00:23 (UTC)
Huh. I don't often use Word, so I didn't know it tends to auto-correct the "don't capitalize pronouns" thing in dialogue. Maybe that's why I see the mistake so often in Firefly fiction. But it seems so many people really have no clue how to punctuate dialogue correctly, and it drives me crazy!

So I worship and adore you for posting this!
Mrs. Premise: Fantastic!tundraeternal on 24th July 2005 04:54 (UTC)
Wow, this is totally faboo. I'm linking from my recs/links list in huge dayglow letters.
pbristow on 24th July 2005 12:01 (UTC)
Thanks for doing this! Like all rules, there will be cases where they don't quite apply, or where for styslitic reasons you might want to break them, but fanfic writing would improve immeasurably if authors would learn to walk before they try to play dodge-ball! =:o}

keeping it vaguely imaginary...: Doctor Who // __kali____kali__ on 24th July 2005 15:36 (UTC)
Ooh, very useful.
Scarlett Girl: yarn - scarlettgirl spoolsscarlettgirl on 2nd August 2005 21:57 (UTC)
Bless you. It always surprises me that people don't know this. Perhaps the finer points are tricksy, but the basics such as quotations and paragraph breaks you'd think people would pick up simply by reading fanfic.

I'm adding to memories and linking whenever I see a promising writer writer butcher all conventions.