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Writing Technique > Double quotes, or not

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message 1: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments Apparently, it's a convention on the dark side of the pond to use double quotes for dialog "like this," while here in civilization we use single quotes 'like this.' I actually had a reviewer comment on one of my books that they found it hard to read. I'm a Brit (if you hadn't guessed) and most of my readers are in the US. Should I make the switch to double quotes? I imagine it would be possible to convince Amazon to market different versions of the book on either side, though the logistics would be annoying. Anyone had experience with this?


message 2: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 200 comments To be honest, I don't know if I can answer your question. it's way too dark here. I can't read the post. :P

I am originally from Canada, and I was used to read dialogue written in different ways. I have seen from your simple quote style to the dash style and now that I'm in the USA, the double quote style. What I'm saying, or at least trying to say is that if a book is good, I will get used to any style.

It may not be the same for everyone, but if a reviewer state in her or his review that the book was hard to read because of a single quote instead of a double quote, it wouldn't stop me from reading the book.

But now, if I see an author always put remarks about dark side and call the people from America (yes, all included not just the USA) uncivilized, I am not sure I would touch their book.

Just to say that this is a public board and everyone can read it. You may be joking or you may not, people can't always tell but they will remember your words.


message 3: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments I read a lot of English books (British Canadian and Australian ) and the difference of conventions don't bother me. unfortunately most readers aren't like me and I've seen the uptick of goofy readers complaining about how the book is riddled with errors, not taking notice the author isn't American. hell, I'm currently reading a book translated from Croatian and it's goofy but readable. I'm sure it won't fly well with American readers.
I once saw a book that had a notice 'written in British English ' following the typesetting note on the copyright page. but I doubt folks look at copyright paged these days.
don't sweat it. just know most American readers are stubborn. Webster had similar attitudes lolz


message 4: by Christina (new)

Christina McMullen (cmcmullen) | 1213 comments Mod
Quite frankly, I'm surprised that anyone notices the quote style. If a book has captured my attention, the last thing I'm looking at is stylistic choices.
You may be surprised by this, but over on the dark side, we're cultured enough to realize that different places have different rules and we're not fussed when something is different, be it quotes, metric vs imperial, added vowels, etc. I'll be honest when I say that I see more people who aren't 'muricans get upset over our supposed ignorance than I see said ignorance in action. Similar to how I see more claims about obnoxious vegetarians than I see actual obnoxious vegetarians.


message 5: by Robert (new)

Robert Zwilling | 229 comments Richard, I read one of your books and I didn't notice the single quotes at all.


message 6: by G.G. (last edited Mar 06, 2016 11:09AM) (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 200 comments K.P. wrote: "I read a lot of English books (British Canadian and Australian ) and the difference of conventions don't bother me. unfortunately most readers aren't like me and I've seen the uptick of goofy reade..."

True, there might be some readers that don't like the differences and will note it (and yes, from both sides of the pond), but maybe there is an underlying reason for them to do it: They just didn't like the book. It happens. Books are not written for everyone. Maybe that's their way of telling it.


message 7: by Owen (new)

Owen O'Neill (owen_r_oneill) | 625 comments That reviewer is just one of the perils of being on the internet. Yes, the convention here is the opposite, but many books published in the UK and elsewhere are sold here and always have been. No one here -- and that includes that reviewer who complained -- cares, as long as it's consistent.

This is yet another reason why all reviews should be always ignored, except for their entertainment value.


message 8: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments G.G apologies for my warped humour. I have been seeing too many Trump news stories. I lived in Canada for nearly thirty years, worked in the states for several, too. I think American people are lovely. Sorry for any offence caused.

I am glad most people aren't concerned by this. My writing style is actually a mix of UK and North American conventions, so I think I sound a bit foreign to everyone. And writing sci-fi, you can always say well, that's the way people will talk in the future.


message 9: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 200 comments Really, Richard, it's fine by me. I was just warning you that it can be taken seriously and that you should be careful with that, not that I was actually mad about it.

It's all good. :)


message 10: by Anthony Deeney (last edited Mar 07, 2016 11:06AM) (new)

Anthony Deeney | 81 comments I love my American readers (they are my biggest market). I don't mind a jot, that they can't spell simple words like "colour" and "grey."
;p

I have read many American writers and after a short adjustment I don't even register the difference. A good story is a good story.

In spite of the fact that I sell more American books than British, I still write in British English. It's my book. I can't imagine that I lose much sales. No reviewer has mentioned it, and indie readers will be exposed to more and more different styles.

Just my tuppence!

Go America! (Hillary or Trump)


message 11: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments Thanks, Anthony. That's encouraging. My experience is similar, I've read trans-Atlanticly all my life, and having lived in Canada so long I'm actually not sure which side a lot of idioms come from. I set my spellcheck on English (UK), and watch it correct color to colour as I type.

The advice to ignore reviews is pretty hard to follow. If, like me, you can't afford an editor, it is the only feedback you get on your writing. It's a human thing, to be affected by others views. I've found a lot of review comments helpful, and I believe they've made me a better writer. Can't do a lot about my "at best, workmanlike" prose style. That one still sticks in my mind.


message 12: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri | 33 comments I've just had a review published of one of my books. I'm live in England, I write using single quotes and British spellings. Yet the reviewer marked me down for 'incorrect use of quotation marks' (I assume s/he is from the USA). I was tempted to comment but I understand best advice is NEVER to comment on reviews.


message 13: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor If you use single quotes to denote dialogue, how do you deal with a quote within a quote?

On a side note, I'm a bit surprised foreign writers don't advertise their nationality a bit more. I realize on one hand it's a way of saying "my book will be poorly translated, so don't take a chance on me," but different areas of the world have different takes on stories and story telling. If readers realize Eastern European Sci-fi is a different experience from American or East African fantasy is a different style from British or Australian for example, they might be more forgiving of the translation than when the books are put up on the .com site and passed off as American.


message 14: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri | 33 comments You use double quotes within the single quotes to denote a quote within a quote.


message 15: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor Ah, so it's simply opposite from us Yanks.


message 16: by Philip (new)

Philip Dodd (philipdodd) | 5 comments Looking through my book collection, I found that in novels written by English authors and published by English publishers there was no set rule for quotation marks when a character speaks. Some used double quotation marks, others used single. If the reader thinks the book is good and becomes engrossed in it, they will not notice, never mind quibble about such things.


message 17: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri | 33 comments The reviewer enjoyed my book and advised people to buy it 'regardless of the technical shortcomings'! Hmm...


message 18: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 200 comments Maybe this page will help.

http://www.scribophile.com/academy/co...


message 19: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments J.J. nobody is 'passing off' books as American by offering them on the .com site. Nine-tenths of what Amazon sells is made in China (not books, I mean), are they being 'passed off' as American? The Amazon system automatically includes all books on all sites, unless you tell it otherwise.

That's an unfortunate tale, Chrys. There's some very insular people everywhere I think, not all of them on islands.


message 20: by Richard (last edited Mar 07, 2016 08:23AM) (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments The guideline that got me thinking about this said that the quote-within-quote rule was simply reversed between US and UK usage. It went on to say that, in the case of an inner quote, in the US the final period (or question mark, etc.) was always inside the inner quotation marks, whereas in the UK it would depend on the sense. This is such an arcane distinction, I'd be amazed if actual writers or even editors are aware of it.

Alice said, 'Who is "Twinkletoes"? '

versus

Alice said, "Who is 'Twinkletoes?' "

Not that any of us would write such a ghastly sentence.


message 21: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri | 33 comments Hmm, I would always go for the first example.


message 22: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments lolz wow chrys that sucks. I feel bad that you get low ratings over 'technical ' issues. you'd think if these readers and reviewers read as much as they claim, they would know better.


message 23: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments wouldn't it be Alice said, "Who is 'Twinkletoes'?" in American English? lolz


message 24: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri | 33 comments Actually I got three stars out of four, and the majority of the review was positive. I just find it amazing that on a website set up for reviews that a reviewer wouldn't know about differing quotation conventions. And I'm not allowed to comment or contact the reviewer, so I can't put him/her straight either.


message 25: by G.G. (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 200 comments Chrys wrote: "Actually I got three stars out of four, and the majority of the review was positive. I just find it amazing that on a website set up for reviews that a reviewer wouldn't know about differing quotat..."

That's a good thing you can't. It would only throw oil in the fire. Other more seasoned readers will read that comment for what it's worth. It shouldn't put them off.


message 26: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments well, at least you still had a positive rating regardless. congrats (^_^)

lately I've been getting flack over dialogue choice from reviewers and beta readers because my characters speak nonstandard English (very casual or ebonics, heh). I didn't want to argue that not everyone speaks perfect (or near perfect) English and I wonder if they really listen to folks around them. I do a lot of eavesdropping on the bus, at the store etc because I find it fascinating how other folks enunciate and their speech patterns in general. But for the most part, I had points for the dialogue being natural
╮(╯_╰)╭ so meh, can't win them all.


message 27: by Chrys (new)

Chrys Cymri | 33 comments I was listening to an interview the other day and the woman kept throwing in 'you know' at regular intervals. But to put that frequency into dialogue in a novel would, I fear, simply irritate.

My first two novels, 'Dragons Can Only Rust' and 'Dragon Reforged' were set on a future Earth, and I gave the separate human groups different nonstandard English. Some people complained about this!


message 28: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments K.P. wrote: "wouldn't it be Alice said, "Who is 'Twinkletoes'?" in American English? lolz"

Not according to the article I read. They said the American usage was always to put the stop punctuation inside the quotes. I'm dubious myself, but I'm a programmer, so I think of syntax as something logical.


message 29: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments Yeah, K.P., I'm with you. In dialog, literally, the characters can have any voice at all. Anyone complains your characters aren't speaking "correctly" hasn't listened to an actual conversation. There's still a correct way to punctuate it, of course. And narrative voice needs to be a bit closer to standard English, if only so the reader can follow the story.


message 30: by G.G. (last edited Mar 07, 2016 12:43PM) (new)

G.G. (ggatcheson) | 200 comments Inside the final quote...the speech quote, not the emphasizing quote which is what the ' around Twinkletoes are.
Thus, K. P. Is right.


message 31: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments aside from the occasional bad grammar some characters use (i had fussbugets go nuts about that - I ish you not. some are such grammartarians to the extreme). I don't go for broke writing entirely in dialectal style while writing the way my characters speak (that would be extremely hard to read). just a few choice words so you'd know who was speaking and show how uneducated or casual the person is (especially with the use of colloquiums).

I personally don't understand the surge of this insane need of uber perfection required in novels these days... one can't even have an auto correct error without folks losing their minds... (~_~メ)


message 32: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments @Richard right on about narrative voice. depending on the book I'm working on, I have a soecific style form that follows either Chicago (13th edition), elements of style (3rd edition), Garner's (1998), or Follet's (66). sometimes i mix them and it drives folks nuts lolz.
folks who do crack open my books are usually surprised my narrative voice is completely different from my extreme casual form here. who the hell writes how they talk? that's why I avoid novels in first person. they irk me to no end... (・へ・)


message 33: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments It's interesting isn't it, that the convention in social media is to write something more like spoken English. Of course, in writing dialogue, and in social media, we're somewhere in between written and spoken. If you ever see a transcript of a normal conversation, it's very hard to follow, even without any dialect issues.

Sorry to hear you don't like first person - I just went through a laborious conversion of my current book (80 kwords in) from third to first, feeling it made more sense because I was so close to the main character already. Takes all sorts, dunnit?


message 34: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments @richard only if there's a clear distinction between author voice and the character's voice. a few books I own I was able to withstand were done well. it's just i have read too many badly written novels set in first. -__- some folks get too much into it and use the characters as vehicles for their views thinly veiled. almost like a parrot sue.


message 35: by Richard (last edited Mar 08, 2016 03:45AM) (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments Oh, yes. I see what you mean. I have read some books (not all the way through!) where the author is directly addressing the reader. That's a pain in the patootie. When I'm writing in first person, I imagine the proponent as an older person, writing her memoirs. She writes in written-English rather than spoken, and she has knowledge and perspective she might not have had at the time of the story, but she's the same person. I think the author who did it best was Robert Graves, in I, Claudius who actually interjects some comments about the life of the older Claudius from time to time.


message 36: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor Richard wrote: "J.J. nobody is 'passing off' books as American by offering them on the .com site. Nine-tenths of what Amazon sells is made in China (not books, I mean), are they being 'passed off' as American? The..."

Maybe not intentionally, but from the reviewers that get upset by the translations, there's a sense that the consumers are being duped. My point was not that there's any sort of concerted effort to fool consumers, rather, I think foreign authors downplay their origin when they should turn it into an asset.

You got me thinking though, that I'm probably doing the same thing in that my books show up on the foreign sites without a "Made in America banner." My author page does indicate vague regions in the US, but as I think on it, not all the foreign sites have the author page feature.


message 37: by K.P. (new)

K.P. Merriweather (kp_merriweather) | 189 comments I remember I, Claudius. it was an interesting read (then again I was am interesting kid with books for friends lolz). I see what you mean. it's been a long time since I came across books written similar to that (maybe folks these days don't read like they used to?) (。_。)


message 38: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments KP It was unusual then. They preserved the idea in the TV adaptation, with occasional 'flash-forwards' to his later life. But whether modern editors would stand for the device, I'm not sure.

JJ I think you're paying too much attention to national origin. Most English speakers around the world celebrate the fact that so many diverse literatures contribute to our language. There is a substantial market around Europe for English books among people for whom it is a second language. It's the story that counts, not the country it's from. I grew up reading more American books than British ones, and sneering (in my immature way) and their 'incorrect' spelling and idiom contributed to the enjoyment.

I remember in high-school English, the teacher pointed out as 'incorrect' the use of a phrase like 'one cannot account for his...' I put my hand up and said I'd seen it used in American books a lot, and he said, 'we shall not be using colonial English here.'


message 39: by J.J. (new)

J.J. Mainor Richard wrote: "KP It was unusual then. They preserved the idea in the TV adaptation, with occasional 'flash-forwards' to his later life. But whether modern editors would stand for the device, I'm not sure.

JJ I ..."


I think what it is for me is that it bothers me every time I see an author from India or Africa put out a book, and instead of readers taking it as a piece of world literature, they pile on with the reviews berating the spelling and grammar as if the author should have been born here, speaking and writing near perfect English.

I've read a few out of Eastern Europe that were wonderful and reviewed them on GR. Yes there was something distinct about them I really couldn't explain, but that was what made them interesting, yet the reviewers couldn't see past the language and they sit with low reviews and that kills the chance of others discovering them.

We see that national identity especially strong in movies and TV. Japanese horror became very popular a little more than a decade ago. I have to admit Australian horror has a bizarre quality to it that makes it worth seeking out in the same manner. In the last twenty years or so, Vancouver has grown into the Canadian Hollywood and they're putting out a lot of science fiction you would never see come out of the States.

Even in areas of our lives such as food. I find it amazing how many non-Chinese, Southeast Asian restaurants are opening in the last five or ten years. Vietnamese has become the new Thai. There are Korean places opening up. I've heard there's an excellent Philippine restaurant in the region.

There are two Oriental grocers a short ride from my home, a Hispanic market, a Mediterranean market. I live in the American South, not NYC or LA, but we have the kind of multicultural mix and access to world markets that you would only expect in the largest cities.

The success of an ebook most of the time comes down to marketing, and I feel that international aspect is something that could be more of an asset than some realize and something that should be touted.


message 40: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 563 comments It doesn't matter to me one way or the other. However, I have checked several UK science fiction authors on the US Kindle store (Banks, Hamilton, Reynolds) and they're using double quotes.

Interestingly, Banks used double quotes on the UK version, but the others use single quotes.

So...up to you.


message 41: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments I did global-change a draft, to see how I would get on with it, and it does my head in. My muscle-memory is too programmed so I'd be making errors all the time. I'll see when I finish the first draft, and maybe change it over then.

I have problems in a similar vein writing dialogue for characters who are supposed to be American, remembering to use words like "gotten" and not use words like "bloke." Ah, well, it's all part of the fun of writing, innit?


message 42: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 563 comments Of course since I'm American, single quotes look odd. Especially when the first or last word in the quote are contractions:

'I'll see if it looks OK or if it doesn't.'

The curmudgeonly part of me wants to say, "Well if you don't use double quotes for denoting conversation ... Just what the heck are double quotes there for?"

];P


message 43: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments In the UK usage, double quotes are used for quotes-within-quotes, Micah, the same as single quotes in American. I confess I occasionally get thrown by an apostrophe into thinking I've come to the end of a quote, but not often. I have a feeling that double-quotes used to be the norm here, in like Dickensian times, but I may be wrong. if so, I suspect single quotes came in because they make the overall look of the page cleaner and more designerish, like the 1960's fad for unreadable sans-serif fonts.

I also use double quotes for words that are referenced in narration, but not spoken, like in

They no longer called them "glory holes" but referred to them as "money pits" instead.

...but I've no idea if that's correct. The picture I'm getting is that English readers don't care one way or the other. They read a lot of US stuff, particularly if they're into sci-fi, and are probably unaware of which side of the pond each convention belongs on. But some US readers are irritated by single quotes. So it's down to knuckling under to US cultural imperialism, in order to gain a few more readers. So, I shall probably do it....


message 44: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth White | 33 comments Chiming in with a practicality here in the 'quotes v double quotes" debate: single quotes require a single keyboard stroke - double quotes require the shift key plus the double stroke symbol. Time saving wins it for me.


message 45: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments My problem is that the single-quote pattern is virtually wired into my brain. I don't think the extra shift would make a huge difference. If I do opt to publish with double quotes I'll do a global change just before the first printed draft.

Where "^" represents a space, you...

Change ^" to ^[

Change "^ to ]^

Change ^' to ^" -- this needs to be left-curly-double-quote

Change '^ to "^ -- right-curly-double-quote

Change [ to ' - left-curly-single-quote

Change ] to ' - right-curly-single-quote, aka apostrophe

For this to work, you have to manually type the curly quotes instead of letting Word apply them automatically, otherwise global change will use typewriter-style straight quotes, which nobody wants to see in a book.


message 46: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth White | 33 comments Thanks for the tip if I ever decide it's necessary to change.


message 47: by Micah (last edited Mar 11, 2016 09:46AM) (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 563 comments Richard wrote: "In the UK usage, double quotes are used for quotes-within-quotes, Micah, the same as single quotes in American..."

I actually knew that. I was just being the Ugly American. ]:D

Richard wrote: "I have a feeling that double-quotes used to be the norm here, in like Dickensian times, but I may be wrong. if so, I suspect single quotes came in because they make the overall look of the page cleaner and more designerish, like the 1960's fad for unreadable sans-serif fonts..."

According to Wikipedia that is the case. However the references on that page are a bit dodgy.

Apparently the subject is complicated enough to have inspired at least one book about it, summarized and condensed in this article: http://www.slate.com/blogs/lexicon_va...


message 48: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments Very interesting article. I note near the end he assumes that us wayward Brits will knuckle under to the new norm. I guess I'm an example of that.


message 49: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 563 comments You will be assimilated.


message 50: by Richard (new)

Richard Penn (richardpenn) | 758 comments I've realised the source of a lot of my confusion. I just finished The Frumious Bandersnatch (87th Precinct #53) by Ed McBain by the excellent Ed McBain, more American than whom one cannot get. It's a UK-published edition though, so it's all single quotes. No wonder we get confused. I wonder if Amazon lets us publish different versions in different markets?


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I, Claudius (other topics)
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