1. Published on Amazon? If you have a book, e-book, or audiobook available on Amazon.com, we'll promote it on WritingForums.org for free. Simply add your book to our Member Publications section. Add your book here or read the full announcement.
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Dismiss Notice
  1. Humour Whiffet

    Humour Whiffet Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2009
    Messages:
    188
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    United Kingdom

    Em dash replacing quotation marks

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Humour Whiffet, Jun 12, 2010.

    I see this frequently, and there is clear authority to support such usage.

    My questions are simple: does such usage it annoy you? Do you prefer quotation marks?

    I’m trying to decide whether to take them out of a short story that I’ll be submitting to a literary competition. My gut feeling is to remove them and use quotation marks.
     
  2. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,953
    Likes Received:
    2,066
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If you see this frequently, you are probably reading a great deal of older literature.

    It's most often seen in translation from French literature, but I've also seen it in James Joyce's writing.

    One problem with it is that after the initial dash, there is no separation between the quoted text and beats and tags.

    I would not recommend using this archaism in any new submission.
     
  3. Humour Whiffet

    Humour Whiffet Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2009
    Messages:
    188
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    Thanks cog.

    Interestingly, I’m seeing them used in contemporary literature. For example, Roddy Doyle seems to use them all the time—including his recent Booker Prize winner. Tessa Hadley (she writes fiction for The New Yorker) used them in her 2007 novel The Master Bedroom.

    So perhaps they are becoming trendy?

    I’ll take your reply as one vote for no!

    ------------------------------------------
    Add on to the above--I've been doing some further research. I think Roddy Doyle may actually be responsible for starting of this apparent trend. Perhaps because he was a Joyce fan? Who knows...
     
  4. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    19,685
    Likes Received:
    11,015
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Unless there is a purpose to it, an end change that is quantifiable or qualitative, then I don't really see the why of it.

    That's the me of me. I need to know the why.
     
  5. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,953
    Likes Received:
    2,066
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Exactly. Breaking standard practice just because you can is like whizzing into the wind. It may give you a warm moist feeling, but you won't really impress anyone with your brilliance.

    If you choose to ignore standards, make sure you have a damned good reason.
     
  6. Manav

    Manav Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2010
    Messages:
    839
    Likes Received:
    21
    Location:
    Imphal, India
    Don't think Roddy Doyle was given the Booker for replacing quotation marks with em dash. I guess the lesson is that if you have a strong and compelling story (and other major components of good story telling) to impress a jury/readers minor style aberrations really don't matter. So, if you want to use it.... go ahead.
     
  7. Honorius

    Honorius Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2008
    Messages:
    1,449
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Thebes
    The only time I've seen a dash replace quotations is in Spanish literature. Apparently they generally prefer the dash. Of course, I wouldn't recommend using a dash unless you're writing a Spanish novel.

    Of course, the Spanish have lots of "quirks" for lack of a better word. Such as using periods instead of commas in large numbers. (100,000. translates to 100.000. I don't know what they do for decimals)
     
  8. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,953
    Likes Received:
    2,066
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    The roles of commas and periods are reversed in Spanish numbers (the nation Spain, not all Spanish-speaking countries).
     
  9. Banzai

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    I don't recall ever having encountered an em dash for dialogue, but I've seen < > marks used. I think that might have been in old French literature.
     
  10. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    19,685
    Likes Received:
    11,015
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    I have also not ever seen this em dash thingy for quotes, not even in Spanish lit, but I have seen what you describe in Spanish lit and when having seen it the marks were double, to the tune of, <<A bit of example dialogue in this sort of arrangement.>>

    It was distracting. Made the dialogue look like a bullet train.
     
  11. Honorius

    Honorius Active Member

    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2008
    Messages:
    1,449
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Thebes
    Oops. Yeah, I think I messed that up.
     
  12. arron89

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    I've seen it done in contemporary lit, and I'm fine with it. Although sometimes it just feels like the author wanted to get rid of dialogue punctuation altogether and couldn't quite bring themselves to do it. It's sort of a half-step between "Go away," she said, and,
    Go away, she said. Which seems sorta contradictory to me, given the reasons for rejecting punctuation...
     
  13. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,953
    Likes Received:
    2,066
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    An example from the beginning of Chapter 2 of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
    Note the tag is only separated from the dialog fragment by a comma, and there is no clear way to include dialogue that resembles a dialogue tag, as in:
    Awkward, right?

    Also note that this style does not permit a leading dialogue tag.

    I see no reason why anyone would choose this obsolete style of dialogue in a modern piece of fiction.

    Being different for the sake of being different is foolish.
     
  14. Humour Whiffet

    Humour Whiffet Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2009
    Messages:
    188
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    You’re right; one can’t lead in with a tag. But I’ve noticed that a lot of contemporary literary fiction is “tag light” and therefore the authors that use it don’t run into any problems.

    Yes, the Joyce example is confusing. However, in the contemporary novels that I’ve read the em dashes are used slightly differently. The “rule” is that the dash is always used before new speech. So the Joyce example would be rewritten as follows:

    —Damn me if I know how you can smoke such villainous awful tobacco, said Mr. Dedalus frankly. —It's like gunpowder, by God.
    —It's very nice, Simon, replied the old man. —Very cool and mollifying.


    In respect of the other example, yes, it is confusing—it’d need tweaking. Without doubt, the use of the em dash forces a change in style. Perhaps for the better though?

    As I reader, I have come to quite like the em dash style. For some reason I do find such speech very readable.

    That said, and after careful thought, I’ve decided to switch back to standard quotation marks in my short story.
     
  15. Banzai

    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2007
    Messages:
    12,871
    Likes Received:
    150
    Location:
    Reading, UK
    I must say, I still dislike it, because it gives no indication where speech ends and naration (not necessarily a tag) begins. It just makes it more difficult to read.
     
  16. arron89

    arron89 Banned

    Joined:
    Oct 10, 2008
    Messages:
    2,460
    Likes Received:
    91
    Location:
    Auckland
    Depending on who you listen to, one of the reasons for rejecting correct punctuation is to avoid the artificial 'clarity' given by grammar. Cormac McCarthy, I think, is one writer who disregards punctuation for this reason--in life, there's no definite barrier between thought, speech, sound, etc, and so creating one in writing is misguided (says he). There's also the aesthetic motive, that text simply looks better without a mess of dots all over the page, and then there are writers who simply want to emulate other great writers (which I don't think should be discouraged as a matter of course). I know this isn't the place for a discussion on style, I just wanted to point out that writers who reject proper punctuation for dialogue aren't (generally) doing it for the sake of clarity or ease of comprehension, and a reader so inclined can appreciate the writing nonetheless.
     
  17. Humour Whiffet

    Humour Whiffet Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2009
    Messages:
    188
    Likes Received:
    10
    Location:
    United Kingdom
    We're wrong! I've just seen a tag used before the em-dash dialog. That said, the speech I’ve just read did get a little confusing. I'm going off the em dash for speech...
     
  18. Islander

    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2008
    Messages:
    1,542
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    Sweden
    Most non-english-speaking European countries use a comma for decimal separator. Which makes it logical to use either a dot or a space for thousands separator. E.g, 1 003,45 or 1.003,45.

     
  19. Thanshin

    Thanshin Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2010
    Messages:
    564
    Likes Received:
    13
    Location:
    Spain
    Indeed, in Spanish we use the dash. Dialogue quotes were one of the surprises when I started reading in English.

    I use quotes even in Spanish now. I just think they're more correct and less intrusive.
     

Share This Page