1. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Punctuation Dialogue Action

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by A.M.P., Jul 3, 2014.

    Hullo,

    I got an issue that I am not too sure how to Google without getting all the wrong results.

    I wrote this:

    "There is an on and off switch and I," he flurished with a free hand, "turned it on."

    Are the commas here correct?
    Can they be used to designate a break in dialogue and switch to an action before resuming without being considered wrong?
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I remember seeing something like this in one of Hemingway's short stories. He used em dashes. Like so:

    "I went up to him and I"--he pulled out his knife--"stabbed him with this."
     
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  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm, a dash might actually make more sense than a comma, make the stop a little more obvious... I'll look into it.
     
  4. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    A.M.P, the commas are correct here, unless you want to emphasize the break in speech. Generally, however, an em dash signifies a full-on interruption. (An em dash is three hyphens added together when you are using this kind of word processing, by the way, not two. Two hyphens together make an en dash.)

    "There is an on and off switch and I---"
    The light bulb blinded them with harsh fluorescence.

    Otherwise, do use the commas.

    However, perhaps ask yourself first if it is best to interrupt the speech as you have in your example. What gain does it give your writing? Isolated like this, it makes the writing seem quite choppy. Maybe your character has a nervous tick or something, and tends to announce his actions while he's doing them, I don't know. Just make sure your break serves a purpose else your readers might get a bit seasick.
     
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  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    First off, punctuation conven tions have changed since Hemingway's time.

    AMP, you are punctuating your action phrase like a dialogue tag, which it is not. It is a beat, which means it is a separate sentence.

    The first fragment ends with a pause, so an ellipsis is called for. No one interrupted him, so you wouldn't end with an em-dash inside the quotes. A dialogue tag;s verb is always a speaking verb. Also, you misspelled "flourised".

    "There is an on and off switch and I..." He flourished with a free hand. "turned it on."

    It's an awkward place to break the quotation, so it won't be pretty.
     
  6. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    Wait a minute---so em dashes are never used unless there is a full on interruption in dialogue? I just ask because I use them a lot and am wondering right now if maybe I shouldn't have.:eek:
     
  7. A.M.P.
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    I think I opted for the single - at the end and start of the dialogue sentence.
    It seemed to make the most sense as a comma certainly doesn't work in hindsight.

    "There was an off and on switch and I-" He flourished with his hand. "-turned it on."

    I'm still exploring whether double dash is more appropriate.
     
  8. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Using an em dash to insert an action in the middle of dialogue (like I showed) is the only correct way I know of doing it. Ending the sentence with an action in it with a period and then adding something like "turned it on." (with the period and lack of capitalization) is incorrect because 1) the period that comes after the action implies that the next sentence stands on its own (which it clearly doesn't in this case) and 2) as a result, "turned" would need to be capitalized. I'll see if I can find an authoritative source for this, but I'm pretty sure the way I showed is the only grammatically correct way.
     
  9. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Maybe this will help, guys. Here are the three most commonly used kinds of dashes and their proper mechanical uses.

    The Hyphen
    ( - ). Hard hyphens are used to join compound words that have not yet metamorphosed into permanent compound words. Words like dim-wit, and terms like foot-and-mouth disease feature hard hyphens. Often, they are used to attach a prefix or suffix to a word to make a "one time only" compound word (he was a warthog-faced buffoon, or my state of well-being, or she had alligator-like skin).

    The En Dash ( -- ). An en dash is a strange little creature you've doubtless seen many times but is often used incorrectly. It is typically used in three situations: (1) when one element of a compound is already hyphenated and you want to add a prefix or something else to it, (2) as a substitute for the word through in a range, and (3) to report scores or tallies.

    The Em Dash (---). The em dash is the real name for the mark most people refer to as a "dash." It is used to indicate an interruption in thought or speech. It can also be used to join independent clauses (an independent clause is part of a compound sentence that could be hacked off from the rest of the sentence and still make sense on its own). By convention, there is no space before or after an em dash.

    Here are some em dash examples:

    I love to eat ice cream---especially vanilla and rocky road---but only in a cone.

    "Jim," Vanessa said, groping around on her desk. "Have you seen my glasses? I swear I left them right---"

    I like goldfish and cats---dogs are too feisty for my tastes.

    There are instances in which you would attach two (or more) em dashes together (they can work to replace part of an expletive, for example), and there are other uses for hyphens, too (such as in suspended compounds) but these are the most common uses of our friend, Mr. Dash.

    As for your example, A.M.P., I worry about using ellipsis points as Cogito suggested (in this case called "suspension points" as the word "ellipsis" means "an omission," so therefore true ellipsis points are only used to omit words in quotes or other such things) because using suspension points suggests a whimsical trailing off of thought, and that is not (I don't think) the feeling you want in this example. Nor would I suggest using the dashes (definitely not in the way you've shown. Cogito was very correct when he said that conventions have changed since Hemmingway's days) because that is just, well, wrong.

    Commas, however, are used to insert nonrestrictive information into an otherwise complete sentence, which is why I suggested (and still do suggest) using them in this instance. For example: The car, which is orange and ugly, is Jack's. The phrase "which is orange and ugly" is not vital to the meaning of the sentence and could be hacked. Likewise, your example sentence does not need the information you gave between the commas to make sense---it's an action tag tagging only part of the dialogue.

    Honestly, I would suggest recasting this sentence. Not only does it say that there are two switches involved, one for turing on the light and a separate one for turning it off, but also, it's just kind of awkward. Why not put the tag at the end or beginning of the dialogue? I don't see why this piece of dialogue needs to be interrupted at all.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2014
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  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    How is it wrong? And saying that conventions have changed isn't an argument against it because you have to show that this particular convention has changed.

    Here's an editor's blog that says the exact same thing I did. I found several other websites that backed me up on this as well, but that site is the most authoritative one I could find (she uses the CMoS as one of the references).
     
  11. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Hi Thirdwind.

    Interestingly, I am an editor, too. I happen to have the Chicago and a few other style guides sitting here on my desk. I know the example you are referring to, but that's not really what I was talking about when I said "definitely not in the way you've shown." Let me explain.

    In the example you gave, you used en dashes to interrupt the dialogue. En dashes are never used to interrupt speech. In the example A. M. P. gave, he used hyphens. I tried to explain the uses of all three in the response I gave above, but it's possible I wasn't clear enough. If A. M. P. wants to use em dashes to interrupt his dialogue, that is perfectly fine. He should not use ens or hyphens though. Neither of those are correct.

    Sorry if there was any confusion. I wasn't trying to be accusatory.
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    "--" is sometimes used to show an em dash. It's more convenient that way when posting on a forum. Word automatically converts that to an em dash, so I'm just used to doing it that way.

    But it looks like we're in agreement then. Use em dashes for situations like this. I looked through a few more sources online, and they all use em dashes. So I'm convinced that that's the right way to go. Many of the sources even used the CMoS 15th as a reference.
     
  13. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Excellent. I like when folks are in agreement. Ems are properly typed with three dashes together when there is no software to convert them, only because otherwise, how would anyone know when an en is intended? But that's beside the point. I fully accept that we were both getting at the same thing, just in different ways.

    Beware, however: The Chicago Manual of Style is currently in its 16th Edition (the 15th will be slightly dated).
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Do you have a source for this? I've always seen em dashes written with two hyphens; from what I found, the only time three are used is when you have repeated authors in a bibliography. For en dashes, you have to either use the appropriate alt code or go to insert -> symbols in Word.
     
  15. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @Kat Hawthorne
    I actually call flip switches on n' off switches but I suppose it could be confusing for others.

    I think most recognize the different dashes just by their length.
    -


    See the difference?
    Although, beats me why a simple - can't do three jobs. Not like anyone would be deathly confused.

    So, the phrase would be:
    "There is a switch, and I—" He flourished with his hand. "—Flipped it on."

    You can't say he flourished with his hand AFTER the fact or the effect is lost. He does it while he says it at that exact moment. It's like a theatrical pause. The character accents his speech with movements just like some people accent their words with hand gestures or their eyebrows. It's as much part of the dialogue as the words.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2014
  16. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Well, the visual appearance of the types of dashes is common knowledge in trade publishing. You must admit that there would be no other way to know which mark is intended if they were not typed differently. Actually, the types of dashes are named as such because in standard fonts, an en takes up as much space on a line as a typed n, and the em uses the space of a capital M. That is why the en uses two, and the em uses three.

    It's difficult to find a trustworthy and relevant source online, to be honest, because the visual difference in dashes is commonly understood in the industry. This Wikipedia article contains some other questionable advice, but it explains the visuals of en and em dashes quite well:

    A dash is a punctuation mark that is similar to a hyphen or minus sign, but differs from both of these symbols primarily in length and function. The most common versions of the dash are the en dash (–) and the em dash (—), named for the length of a typeface's lower-case n and upper-case M respectively.

    The article continues on to describe some uses for the en dash that are not allowed by the Chicago. However, there are other style guides that may allow different uses (I am not familiar with all of them, as I mostly work in trade fiction). Commonly, the Chicago is used in trade publishing, although some houses have compiled their own custom style guides. Newspaper publishers tend to use different guidelines, as do scholarly publishers and so on, especially with regard to the treatment of titles. The fact remains, however, that no matter what style guide you use, the visual differences between the en and em are standard.
     
  17. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Hey, A. M. P., if you put your dashes outside of the quotation marks, you're half way there. Watch for those capitals. Capitalizing the h and the f is not quite what you need, nor is the period after "hand." You want to interrupt the speech, not halt it, yes? Make sure your em dashes touch the quotation marks on one side and the letters on the other, and you should be good.

    "There is a switch, and I"---he flourished with his hand---"flipped it on."
     
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  18. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Really? Outside the quotations marks?
    Flippin' weird..
    *Research mode activate*
    Huh... I got sources confirming it.
    Like.. wth. How did I NEVER notice that?
    Thanks so much, you saved me a headache :3
     
  19. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Phew! I feel like I've been hazed! I'm glad this makes sense, and I'm sorry if I wasn't entirely clear earlier. However, I do love me a good debate about punctuation ;-)
     
  20. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    No, this was more informative than I thought it would be.
    I never knew there was a size difference between all the dashes.
    Or that I was using it wrong. And I use dashes a bucket -ton.
     
  21. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes, I agree with this. My issue is with how em dashes are represented using hyphens. Back in the day, two hyphens on a typewriter represented an em dash. That's still how it's done today. Even Word changes "--" to "". Unless there are in-house rules at play, two hyphens, not three, is the standard for em dashes.
     
  22. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    Back in the day when typewriters were in popular use, it was also common to put two spaces after terminal punctuation. This is is no longer correct either. The reason is because of the typeset used and spacing of the letters on the typewriter---if you didn't use two spaces, it was difficult to see a line break. This convention has changed as well; now if you submit your manuscript with two spaces after terminal punctuation, the first thing your copyeditor will do is strip those extra spaces or face holy hell from the designer (trust me. I have faced this kind of wrath before).

    I've done my fair share of editing, and it is easy to tell the age of an author based on the "rules" they use in matters such as these. My mom, for example, swears using a hyphen with a single space on either side is correct when an em dash is intended, and she was a professional typist! She also has some interesting beliefs on the use of semicolons. The fact is, our language (and its many crazy rules) is ever changing. Some things that were correct five years ago are seen as errors today such as two hyphens to mean an em.

    Word will do the em dash formatting for you if you happen to be using Word, but if not, common wisdom says three dashes for an em is the standard so your readers can tell the difference.
     
  23. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Do you have a source for this? Saying it's "common wisdom" isn't going to work for me.
     
  24. Kat Hawthorne
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    Kat Hawthorne Member

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    You know what, Thirdwind, I don't have a source for this (Google shows nothing for How to style an em dash without formatting, go figure!), so instead I consulted with a friend who is a NY editor who works on nonfiction and the sort of stuff I don't work on. He said that AP style doesn't even allow an en dash, so they recommend using two dashes for ems at all times even when formatting is available, and APA says to replace an en with a single hyphen if you can't style it. So there you go---styles all over the board say different things! I am a Chicago user, that is the only guide I need for trade fiction, and I follow its recommendations.

    Just goes to show that you learn something new everyday. It's just a matter of what style guide you adhere to.
     
  25. Empty Bird
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    Hey!

    Yeah, I agree with the whole hyphen thing. When you break off speech for an action, it's usual that you use a hyphen. :)

    And I'm terribly sorry if: a) you don't care b) someone's already mentioned it or d) it has nothing to do with anything...

    ...but I think it's 'flourished', not 'flurished'. 'Flurished' is to do with cards and the other...well, you get it. Again, I'm terribly sorry if this has no relevance to anything in your life- feel free to ignore it, as it may have well just been a typo or I missed something. I do it all the time...

    :) :) :) :)

    Anywho, yeah. Hyphens all the way!
     

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