Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

The Art of Punctuation: What your use of quotation marks says about you

early-bird-banner.JPG

By Kirsty OUP-UK

Today I’m bringing you an excerpt from our book The Art of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman. Here Lukeman talks about how a feast or famine of quotation marks can say a lot about the kind of writer (and even the kind of person you are). Who knew that a writer’s use of quotations marks could be so revealing?

In many cases a publishing professional need only flip through a manuscript to get an immediate idea of its worth: quotation marks tell the story.

01992107870-lukeman.jpgWriters who overuse dialogue (and thus quotation marks) don’t have an acute sense of pacing, don’t realize that a work can progress too fast. They rely too heavily on dialogue, which means they’re also using it poorly, since overuse comes hand in hand with misuse. They might, for instance, be using dialogue as a menas of conveying information. They are more likely to be beginners, plot-orientated, and anxious for a fast pace. Alternatively, they might be playwrights or screenwriters-turned-authors, stuck in the remnants of their previous form. In either case, they are more likely to neglect setting and character development. They are impatient, believe too much in the power of speech, and not enough in the power of silence. And since dialogue rates fairly high on the drama scale, these writers are likely to be overdramatic.

The good news is that they strive for drama, and aim to please the reader. Additionally, their abundance of dialogue means an abundance of character interaction, which means they at least strive to bring their characters together and create scenes between them.

Writers who overuse quotations marks for another purpose – to offset individual words or phrases – are more likely to be insecure. They couch a plethora of words behind the security of quotation marks, either to quote someone else or to indicate irony or sarcasm, and thus are afraid to simply state things in their own right. They are more likely to be cynical, and need to realize that at some point readers will want seriousness and confidence. The good news for them, though, is that they will probably take themselves less seriously and be at least somewhat funny, both positive traits which offer much promise.

Writers who underuse quotations marks (resulting in too little dialogue) are rare. They are more likely to be serious literary authors and have great faith in the power of prose. They are more likely to be silent types, to be internal. All of this bodes well. Unfortunately, though, they are also likely to be self-indulgent, to think of pleasing themselves rather than readers. Their work will be slow going, often deadly so, since they don’t grasp that most readers need to move at a quick pace. They are likely to rely too heavily on description, and since dialogue brings scenes and drama, its absence means that they might not think enough in terms of heightened moments. There will be issues with their characters, too: either individually the characters won’t be interesting enough to have much to say, or collectively they’ve created a population of characters that just don’t interact very well. If there is a pool of characters in a work with a lot to say to each other, dialogue will come whether you like it or not. Such a forum cannot exist in a work devoid of quotation marks.

Recent Comments

  1. [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerpt [IMG early-bird-banner.JPG] By Kirsty OUP-UK Today I’m bringing you an excerpt from our book The Art of Punctuation by Noah Lukeman. Here Lukeman talks about how a feast or famine of quotation marks can say a lot about the kind of writer (and even the kind of person you are). Who knew that a writer’s use of quotations marks could be so revealing? In many cases a publishing professional need only flip through a manuscript to get an immediate idea of its worth: quotation marks tell the story. [...]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *