1. Masterspeler
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    Masterspeler Active Member

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    Punctuation Commas, or why I use them to editor's chagrin

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Masterspeler, Sep 29, 2016.

    So I had a sample edit done, and while there were very few typos (in fact none, just false corrects like think instead of thing), one thing stood out-commas.


    1. I use commas mid sentence to show a break, a breathing space, even if a reader only mentally "hears" the words. Ex:


    Turning to a window he pulled the drapes and saw the skyline... (edited)


    Turning to a window, he pulled the drapes and saw the skyline...(my version)


    In my version I'm separating the actions, grouping them in an order of importance. Turning to a window isn't as important as the pulling of the drapes and seeing the skyline. Those last two actions are linked and done almost simultaneously. The edited version, where the comma was removed comes off as a list, a droning of actions that loses its dynamic.


    I tend to use commas this way, fairly often, although without overdoing it. That sentence wasn't done on purpose, but it shows my writing style.


    2. The issue with action beats versus dialogue tags.


    "Howdy," he smiled at her.


    I know the rules, and most of us that have done a modicum of research have learned them, but after reading the edited version, my gut is not happy.


    "Howdy." He smiled at her.


    There is no link to the person that said howdy. Is the man saying howdy and smiling to the woman? Or is it the woman saying howdy, being met with a smile from the man?


    The comma, by association if anything, links the beat to the dialogue in the same way a dialogue tag works.


    This isn't me trying to justify something wrong as being right. I have to re-edit my work for perfection again anyway, and this would be the easiest thing to correct.
    My issue is that off all the rules and styles, this one seems to be a hard one that people foam at the mouth over. I can deliberately misspell words, leave sentences without a period, and not use exclamation points for greetings, and that is artistic licensing.


    Yet this is something that seems unforgivable?


    So I'm curious as to what you think, not as writers, not as editors, but as a reader. Also it would help to understand why you back the rule, or buck against it. Just because its a rule, doesn't mean that it's right.

    AB
     
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  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    So, in this one I agree with you. "Turning to a window" is a phrase (clause? I'm awful at grammar if I'm being honest) and doesn't need to be separated with a comma - whether you do or not is a stylistic choice. IMO an editor shouldn't be trying to police your style unless it genuinely makes it incomprehensible, in which case you've got bigger problems ;) As a reader, the edited version sounds too rushed in my head out of context. It could fit with a more clipped style and sound fine in context, but in this case I'd trust you to know whether or not it fits well with the rest.

    This one, though, I agree with the editor. "Howdy" being on the same line as "he smiled" implies that he's the ones speaking and smiling ('he' is the subject, 'she' is the object; he's the focus of the sentence), and smiling isn't a method of speaking, which is what tags are for. There've been a lot of discussions about this particular issue on the forum, but that's where I fall on it. "Howdy," he smiled looks completely wrong to me - I would think it was a typo or written by someone who didn't know what they were doing, frankly. It can be a style thing, but that's what I'd think as a reader: if this is a purposeful stylistic choice, I'm not into it.
     
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  3. Masterspeler
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    Masterspeler Active Member

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    I understand what you're saying. Maybe I should have added that, the dialogue tag is implied though omitted.

    "Howdy," he (said and) smiled.

    If this occurs consistently throughout the novel, as well as in all my works, at that point it should become clear that its more a style (or bad habit turned into a style) versus ignorance to a rule.

    The biggest problem here is that all of us know these rules, and some will irk more than others. The typical reader may not notice, and would fall back on a different understanding. I know that as somebody that only has your general elective level English training I see certain rules as odd and arbitrary. Add into that speaking half a dozen languages, each with their own hard and soft rules, could make me very partial to how I read, and how I pick up on nuances.

    AB
     
  4. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As a reader, comma misuse is almost guaranteed to make me put the book down. I can overlook other punctuation issues; I'm currently reading a book where... the author... uses... several... ellipses... per page. After a while I could skim over them. But commas? Every incorrect comma jumps off the page at me, which is so distracting that I can't follow the story. So when people use commas for "effect", the effect it has on me is to not finish their book and remember not to buy any by that author in the future.

    By the way, commas are nothing to do with breaths or pauses. That misconception is the reason for most comma errors.

    Looking at your individual examples:

    1. Your version is fine. Separating an introductory phrase from the rest of the sentence is a valid use of commas.

    2. Your editor is correct and your version is plain wrong. Readers instinctively know that beats on the same line as dialogue are attributed to the speaker. Writers should certainly know this.

    Comma errors and beats used as tags are two errors that always leave me thinking, "This author doesn't know what they're doing" rather than, "Oh, I see, a style choice." Always.
     
  5. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    That's not really how tags work, though. If they're omitted, they're omitted.

    "Howdy." <-- There's no implied beat or tag here.
    "Howdy," he said. <-- There's no implied beat here, only a tag.
    "Howdy." He smiled. <-- There's no implied tag here, only a beat.
    "Howdy," he smiled. <-- Still nothing implied, just a misused beat.

    Sure, a reader whose knowledge of English isn't that great would just think "he said howdy and smiled, okay", but I'm pretty sure that middle school Izzybot would be going "wait, that's not right". I'd get the meaning, but it would irk. If you're okay with irking (most?) readers who have a fairly rudimentary understanding of English and actually care about it, that's cool. I use tags that aren't considered correct myself, like "she laughed" or "she sighed", because they make sense to me personally, and I'm okay with it putting some people off. As a reader, yours would put me off.
     
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  6. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    I agree, though I wouldn't go as far as @Tenderiser and say errors like that leap off the page. Spelling or wrong word usage on the other hand :mad:.

    Which begs the question, does the full stop go before or after the emoticon?
     
  7. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's an individual thing. I'm sure plenty of people would be unable to read the ellipses-abusing book. :D

    "Dialogue," he laughed. would also make me put the book down if it was frequent enough to be a distraction from the story. But I'm fine with other 'errors' like sentence fragments, if they're used effectively.
     
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  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    For the first example, your comma usage is correct and follows all grammar manuals.

    For the second example, you need to take away any ambiguity by making it clear through context. Also, smiling a word at someone doesn't make a lot of sense, so I would use a beat, not a tag.
     
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  9. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    I have a tendency, to spray commas arround , like machine gun fire, and thus, to write, realy,long, sentences, which , make,, no se,nse, w,h,a,t,so,e,v,e,r

    I also periodically use periods... to show pauses.... which might be better ... comma'd
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This is fine. Your second example is going to change the way the sentence reads. People will tell you it is incorrect, but that type of usage shows up enough in novels that one can conclude it's a matter of style. Problem is, many readers are going to wonder whether the author just doesn't know what she is doing. The sentence would pull me out of the story because that type of usage always makes me stop and think about the formatting presented.

    Commas can be used for stylistic purposes to affect the flow of a sentence and how that sentence reads. Putting them in or leaving them out certainly impacts this, and you can find plenty of books on the shelf at your local bookstore where authors employ them in just this way. You have to really know what you are doing, though, to achieve the stylistic effect you want in an effective manner rather than leaving the reader wondering whether you know how to use commas.
     
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  11. Masterspeler
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    Masterspeler Active Member

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    This is something that still perplexes me. I have seen many novels hailed as outstanding and amazing with massive loopholes and plot gaps, flat characters, and other issues. But this tag/beat issue seems to be flooding the internet.

    Searching another issue, I have even come across downright hostility to authors that can't afford editing.

    Please read that, not as an author that chooses to save on editing, or needs to pay student loans, etc. Trust me, if I had a choice, I would edit, and do a case by case review of every dialogue, eliminating beats, modifying them etc. Not publishing is not an option anymore. I have to move forward. If I dont, I'm homeless. This is only marginally related to the comma issue, but the seemingly enraged responses I have seen to certain rules being broken reminded me of all this, including this editing aspect.

    The same like starting a novel with dialogue. I do it on occassion and "rules" hold little value when it comes to any art form. If I was writing a printer manual, then yes. At the same time, I may not sell as many books, but if I was going to sell millions of copies, I would have done a zombie/teen vampire/political dystopian/cook book.

    I do appreciate all the feed back! (I may seem a bit cranky, but I get this way when my spinal chord flares up in pain)

    AB
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't see this as fundamentally different from saying, "But this spelling issue seems to be flooding the Internet." Standard use of tags and beats, is, well, standard. It's not some newfangled thing, any more than spelling is.

    Sure, flat characters and plot problems are bad things. That doesn't make it OK to have misspelled words, or mis-punctuated dialogue. And misspelled words and mis-punctuated dialogue are a lot quicker and easier to detect than flat characters and plot problems. If spelling and punctuation aren't correct, nobody's likely to even read far enough to be aware of your great characters and flawless plot.
     
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  13. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Once you offer a product for sale, I no longer care what you can and can't afford.

    Like, if I bought a bookshelf online and when it arrived it was made of cardboard because the carpenter couldn't afford wood, I wouldn't just shrug and try to find some really light books, I'd be pissed and want a refund.

    If you post your stuff for free, I wouldn't be angry about lack of editing--I just wouldn't read your work. But if I actually spend money on it? Then I expect it to be reasonable quality. And strange punctuation because of a "bad habit turned into a style" and a lack of editing would definitely interfere with my enjoyment of the book.

    If you want to be an amateur, sure, great, don't worry about editing if you can't afford it. But once you're in business, it's a whole different ball game.


    More constructive, less preachy: Can you find someone you could trade for editing? Could you use free grammar/style guides available online to learn the rules and then edit your own work using any of the tricks discussed on this and other sites? (Reading the book out loud and slowly, dramatically changing the font size and style in order to give yourself fresh eyes, etc. etc.)
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think it is hostility, I think it's just a case of people painting a realistic picture. When you put yourself out in the marketplace, you're competing against all of those books that have professional editing, covers, and the like. The reader browsing through books looking for a purchase knows nothing of your personal circumstances, they're just going on what you've put into the marketplace. Further, readers have memories, and if you put a sub-par product out there, not only will you hurt the sales of that product but you could also damage future sales of works that might be in better condition.

    It's not hostile, or a personal judgment, or anything like that. It's just a realistic assessment of what is going on in the marketplace.
     
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  15. Elven Candy
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    Elven Candy Contributing Member

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    I'm perfectly okay with something vocal or something related to speaking being occasionally used as tags, like growled, whispered, prodded, etc. The difference between those and your example is that your example is a direct action that is totally unrelated to talking. I've seen laughed and hiccupped being used as tags, and while I understand the meaning, they always look weird because they're really not related to speaking (and in the case of hiccupped, you can't do that and talk at the same time).

    If I read a book that says, "blah blah," he smiled, I'd be like, "Um, okay, that's not right," and mentally have to put the period in the place of the comma before moving on. If a book has enough of these, and I'm still willing to read it, I'll force putting the period in to become almost second nature. After I've finished the book and think back on it, I'll remember how annoying and mentally exhausting it was to have to do that and I likely won't want to read it, or any other book from that author, again. Certainly, if I have a choice to reread that book or reread a book I liked equally that doesn't have grammar issues, I'll pick up the one without grammar issues.

    I can forgive little issues within a book, but if the issues are constant enough, I become mentally tired of having to "overlook" them and reading the book becomes more chore than enjoyment.
     
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  16. Masterspeler
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    Masterspeler Active Member

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    This is something that troubles me. Is writing an art or a business? If it is a business then corporate writers and names and brands and quality is key. It is something to be consumed.

    If it is an art then all that becomes pointless. All that matters is the art, and what it leaves to the viewer, listener, reader. Art is supposed to be accessible and open to anyone, regardless of financial income.

    Also education is important. Not everyone has a PhD in English. Not every knows of every rule. If it isnt this rule I'm sure I broke a dozen others. This along with other things in our society really made think of just pulling back and burying all my work.

    Or is this a matter of others having spent x amount, publishers investing so much and there is no room for outsiders to this elite? I realize that veered off into something completely different now, irrelevant to syntax or grammar.

    AB
     
  17. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's clearly both.
    This is reductio ad absurdum. You set two extremes and leave no room for middle ground.

    Where is this guaranty made? I was taught that the function of art is to comment on culture. But I was never taught that access to it was a right.

    Again, you are repairing to reductio ad absurdum. It does not take a PhD in English to know the basic punctuation and syntax rules of English.

    You don't have to belong to some elite class to edit your work. You don't have to belong to some elite class to know the rules of your language. I'm certainly not getting invited to any meetings of illuminati inner circles, and I feel comfortable doing these things myself with the knowledge I have acquired over time.

    As @Steerpike mentioned earlier, the initial freedom of self-publication is giving way to more traditional models of supply and demand. The buying public is free to spend their money as they wish. At no point de we ever get to make them buy and read our work. We have to entice them to spend their money on us. We have to woo them. We have to employ a little seduction. In our world, part of that seduction is clean, precise, well-edited presentation of the work so that the reader can allow the letters and punctuation to become invisible and the story and characters to come through instead.
     
  18. NoGoodNobu
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    NoGoodNobu Senior Member

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    I'm actually a little surprised at everyone's responses because I've experienced this choice or style or error in writing very commonly (albeit in primarily Young Adult fiction). As a reader, it has never thrown me off, I just assumed or knew what they meant. But this is all rather fascinating now, and I'll probably pay more attention to it.

    Regarding the laughing & hiccuping, the two can be done simultaneously with speaking which is why I think it's used as a tag. I think laughing is used as a tag because there is a distinction when someone says some thing in their normal tone, and laughs afterwards or before, to when the speech & laughing is simultaneous. As for hiccuping in particular, it usually happens on a single word in the sentence, or words at some regular interval. If someone is in the middle of speaking, their diaphragm & lungs can inflate simultaneously, force the air out, & interrupt the speaker mid-word, making an odd little squeak or other such stress; I personally find it adorable when this happens to my best friend. I would find it odd if hiccuped was used when there was a full length sentence or more spoken, but no obvious distinguishing of which words had these stresses. But that's just my take on it.
     
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  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think quantity comes into play as well. I'm generally OK going with something like this if the author uses it sparingly. If no one ever 'says' anything, but instead the characters are constantly exclaiming, barking, growling, temporizing, ejaculating, whispering, prodding, smiling, chuckling, hissing, sassing, or grunting their words, I start to notice the tags more and more, and that pulls me out of the story.
     
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  20. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    To address the original question in the thread: Misspelled words or complete sentences that do not end in a full stop (or semicolon when applicable) are not forgivable to me. They do not constitute artistic license in my book save for the rarest of circumstances.


    The mix and match punctuation of different kinds of attributions is equally a no-go for me. I play with word order. I play with fragments. I play with many things once I understand the function of those tools and what they can and cannot do. I never think of these things as rules because I think that's a faulty, flawed, dead-end track. I know what certain things in the writing will do and what they won't do for the reader. If they won't do the thing I am looking to accomplish, then I reach for a tool that will do that. I don't take the wood plane and try to use it as a hammer. One could argue that if you bang the nail hard enough with the wood place, the nail eventually gets driven home, yes, but at the expense of the wood plane.
     
  21. Masterspeler
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    Masterspeler Active Member

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    Just to get one thing clear. I'm not upset. I may come off that way, and I admit that I may read somethings (not here, but op-eds, blogs etc) that honestly do tick me off.

    I'm not excusing no editing. In fact I have done my own editing. Four times and a fifth on the way. But there will be stragglers that will be missed. I can read things a million times, and I still thing I got them all, save for the tiniest of thinks. (That was on purpose to illustrate my worst offending pair of words)

    I don't see this as a right, but art has no rules. Communication does. I can write in Swahili and say its English. That is the artist's choice and there is nothing that can stop me. Buying said book is another matter. I have been told that without a 25k edit I wont sell more than 10 copies. That infuriated me. While getting a loan for a book is feasible to most, for me it is not. Hell, I may not even live long enough to see the damn thing in print.

    To summarize my consistency:

    I like order and rules, except when something overwhelmingly important overrides it. Spelling yes. I do in fact misspell words to signify an accent, or poor English of a character. "Vhat iz he talking about?"

    As far as the commas, anytime dialogue is followed by words, I put a comma. The following words are lower case save for proper nouns. Why? Because the sentence is not complete. A stand alone dialogue is not complete, otherwise there would be nothing following it. The tag or beat is not complete. Just because grammatically it has a noun and a verb doesn't make it a full sentence in my book (get it?)

    There is also a degree of omission. It should be understood there is a "he said". The quotations and the tab indent are giveaways. In fact, the "said" is redundant. Its not the only thing that may be omitted. I will not write (sic) anytime I omit something because my style of writing is a modern colloquial. Its more akin to a transcript of me verbally telling somebody a story rather than most books I have read. Although that is probably false. Asimov has some duesie rule breaking, and so does Heinlein. The latter even omits periods at the end of many sentences. And yes, they are giants, but both had a first book at some point as well.

    If punctuation is a deal breaker for some, that's fine. I even imagine critics will be harsher too, since they deal with words at a more mechanical level. But if that is the most important aspect of writing, then I want to fail. Character development, story flow and plot are key. Details within the plot are just as important. From city names, historical references and actual hard science or math aren't hand waved. Faults in those areas are what should make a reader put a book down, not because a period is not used.

    I imagine that people can still read older editions of books where dialogue doesn't use quotations, or has an em dash at the begining, or has no tags whatsoever. I am not justifying not knowing a rule, I am justifying that I have a method here, and there is a rule, as in one sentence, one period, with everything relevant in that sentence.

    As a final thing, I know what reductio ad absurdum is. I still am (even if out of work) a mathematician. What I did was use some Boolean if then. Businesses have those traits that I mentioned earlier. They are by definition corporate (or I may conceded that they are company based, like LLCs). So if (A) writing is part business, then that part has all those elements of a business. Those qualities are (B) making money and nothing more, not leaving the viewer, listener, reader with anything except the bill. Since art has many roles and uses, it contradicts (B) about making money and nothing more, therefore contradiction to (A) writing is part business. And if writing is not(A) that means writing is not a business.

    Now marketing the book, advertising the book, those are by definishing businesses. But the aspect of writing, like any art shouldnt have financial motivators. It is not the same like selling one's paintings. Those are hung in cheap motels. The ones that are art (even if intended to be sold after) are created for the sake of art. Those end up in museums and valued for generations.

    That was a bit long, and maybe the math part was a bit pedantic, but that is a pet peeve of mine lol.

    AB
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    False dichotomy. Good books have good character development, story flow, plot, AND they're written with correct punctuation and grammar.
     
  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    If these things are what's most important, then why not follow normal writing standards so that people will read long enough to become aware of them? The person putting writing style above content seems to be you.
     
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  24. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I return because I missed this the first time. How old, and what language, are you talking about here? I struggle to think of even one example of what you're talking about. Standard dialogue punctuation isn't some newfangled thing. With a little rummaging in the room that I'm in, I can find a novel from 1901 (that is the actual physical book is from 1901), and it uses the same standard. I'd have to search longer for a book from the nineteenth century, but I've read a fair number, and I'm pretty confident that they would also usually follow the same standard.
     
  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It wasn't common, even then, from what I can tell. James Joyce did it. Faulkner, I think as well. It has been used in some more modern works as well - Trainspotting, I believe.
     

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