1. Ruth Jacobs
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    Ruth Jacobs Member

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    Punctuation in dialogue - colons, semi-colons or something else?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Ruth Jacobs, Sep 11, 2010.

    I am writing my first novel and have read a great deal on punctuating dialogue but I haven't found anything that helps with the dialogue on my opening scence, apart from changing it and using "said" which I don't want to do because I think what I have creates more drama, I hope.

    The novel is written in third person limited. The protaganist is on the phone so I can use beats for her speech but not for the person she is speaking to. These are the two lines I would really appreciate some help with which are below (in between them the protaganist is speaking). I am not sure if I need a comma, colon, semi-colon or full stop to seperate the dialogue from sentence before.

    Calmly Jonathan spoke: “Leave the house, don't let anyone see you. Use the backdoor."


    Jonathan told her not to phone anyone; “Do you understand? No-one, just come straight here.”

    Thank you in advance for any help :)
     
  2. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I think you should use comma, treat it like a normal conversation because it should be clear from the context that they are speaking on the phone.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The way it's written, I'd use periods where you have a colon and a semicolon. But the issue can be resolved better by rewriting like this:

    "Leave the house," Jonathan said calmly. "Don't let anyone see you. Use the back door."

    (protagonist speaks)

    "Don't phone anyone. Do you understand? No one. Just come straight here."

    This version puts the don't-phone-anyone advice in the dialogue so that you don't need the outside sentence at all. It's cleaner, I think.
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Calmly Jonathan spoke: “Leave the house, don't let anyone see you. Use the backdoor."

    This is correct, but it's rather old-fashioned now to use a colon like that.

    We'd probably re-phrase it:

    “Leave the house, don't let anyone see you. Use the backdoor." Jonathan spoke calmly. (OR: Jonathan's voice was calm.)

    Jonathan told her not to phone anyone; “Do you understand? No-one, just come straight here.”

    A full stop (period) should be here, not semicolon, and also same, instead of the comma:

    Jonathan told her not to phone anyone. “Do you understand? No-one. Just come straight here.”

    It still looks old style to me. Something like the below reads better, to me:

    Jonathan told her not to phone anyone. “Do you understand?" he said. "No-one. Just come straight here.”
     
  5. Ruth Jacobs
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    Ruth Jacobs Member

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    Thank you for your advice - much appreciated :)

    Many thanks for suggestions :)
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    colons and semicolons are not used to introduce dialog in the us...

    this is badly worded from the get-go... putting the adverb first is awkward and colon should be a comma, as noted by others above... if you must describe how he speaks, start with 'Jonathan spoke calmly.' and follow with the dialog, which will then need no tag...


    don't start two sentences with his name... here, you should be able to use just 'he'... but telling us what he said is silly, when you follow with actual dialog... why not just include it in the dialog, as minstrel did?...

    and 'no-one' is not a hyphenate... it's 2 separate words...
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's in Collins English Dictionary as 'no-one'. And I quote from BBC Learning English:

    "No-one is written with a hyphen between the two 'o's."

    Maybe it's a more recent, or a British English thing.
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The Concise Oxford English Dictionary lists "no one" without the hyphen.

    (Wanna have a dictionary fight? :) )
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    The point is that both of them are correct.
     
  11. Horizon Noise
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    Calmly Jonathan spoke: “Leave the house, don't let anyone see you. Use the backdoor."


    For a start, remove 'calmly'. And use 'said', 'said', always 'said' unless you absolutely must use something else. It should be obvious by your context and if it isn't, you need to look at why not. Then, unless you haven't noted for a while that Jonathan is speaking, get rid of 'Jonathan spoke [said]'. So...

    "Leave the house. Don't let anyone see you. Use the back door."

    Three instructions which are important. He wants to stress each one, therefore I'd go with separate sentences.

    Jonathan told her not to phone anyone; “Do you understand? No-one, just come straight here.”

    To be honest I don't know why your using indirect speech for the first part and not the second. It's very disconcerting. I'd go for

    "Don't phone anyone. Is that clear? No-one, just come straight here."
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no-one may be in some dictionaries but where do you see it used in published work?
     
  13. John Cleeves
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    John Cleeves Member

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    “Leave the house, don't let anyone see you. Use the backdoor," Jonathan said.

    Jonathan told her to phone no one.



    Beginning a sentence with an adverb is a short cut to an ugly sentence. Replacing "not to phone anyone" with the more forcible "to phone no one" eleminates the need for you to emphasise Jonathan's order; if you'd prefer to have the whole thing as dialogue then do so, as half and half is just awkward.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You're beginning the quote with a comma spliced run-on sentence. Also, I would not follow the direct quote immediately by an indirect quote when the corresponding direct quote is obviously very short:
    The short, choppy sentences add to the tone of urgency as well.
     
  15. John Cleeves
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    John Cleeves Member

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    The two examples the poster gave aren't side by side, they're from different points in the text. Formal writing rules, such as no run-on sentences, aren't valid in fiction--especially in dialogue.
     
  16. Horizon Noise
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    I think rule validity is a moot point here because the dialogue has more impact when divided into individual sentences. Shorter sentences generally convey greater pace and urgency, which is what's needed here.
     
  17. John Cleeves
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    John Cleeves Member

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    And coupled with the content, create a cliché. This is only my opinion and I don't care to argue; I won't pretend I'm speaking in facts as other people are.
     
  18. Horizon Noise
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    I don't see any cliche, and the only instance I see of someone speaking otherwise than from opinion is when you stated 'Formal writing rules, such as no run-on sentences, aren't valid in fiction--especially in dialogue'. If you don't want to discuss then don't post, or don't get arsey when someone disagrees.
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    John, the run-on sentence would sound exactly like the correctly punctuated one. In dialogue, it is acceptable to use incorrect grammar, but incorrect punctuation is mere sloppiness. If you use an incorrectly spelled homophone, it's the writer who comes across as ignorant, not the speaker.
     
  20. Ruth Jacobs
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    Ruth Jacobs Member

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    Thank you all for your help. I have made the changes and put the sentences into dialogue instead, and have cut the "calmly" - thanks again, Ruth
     

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