By Andrea Merrell
In my last post, we talked about the overuse of exclamation points and the need to eliminate them from our manuscripts unless absolutely necessary. But what about quotation marks? How many are too many?
Most writers have their own personal set of bad habits, especially when it comes to punctuation. While some tend to forget that punctuation is even a requirement, others use overkill, which makes the reader want to get out the Liquid Paper and erase all those unnecessary marks.
To get another professional’s opinion, let’s look at a portion of literary agent Chip McGregor’s blog post, What Drives an Editor Crazy?
Occasionally you’ll find “authors” who feel a “need” to put any emphasized words in “quotes,” since they think it makes them look “official.” This is particularly tiresome when a “funny” author decides to put his punch line” in quotations. An “idea” – cut the quotation marks.
The Purdue Online Writing Lab (www.owl.english.purdue.edu) says: “The primary function of quotation marks is to set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else.” Therefore, quotation marks are always used in dialogue and when giving a direct quote (unless you are using italics or block quotes), but not to draw attention to a bevy of words. The best way to emphasize a word is to use italics, but don’t overdo it. This is another area where you need to trust your reader to get it.
There are many other rules about using quotation marks, especially with other forms of punctuation. When in doubt, refer to the CMOS (Chicago
Manual of Style), CWMS (Christian Writer’s Manual of Style), Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors by Kathy Ide (formerly Polishing the PUGS), or online sources such as: www.grammarbook.com and www.quickanddirtytips.com. Allow Google to become your best friend.
Homework: As you did with the exclamation points, go through your current WIP (work in progress) and use the Find button on your toolbar to locate your quotation marks. Make sure you have used them correctly. If you have used quotation marks to emphasize too many words, read the sentence out loud. Then decide whether or not the emphasis is truly required. If the emphasis is necessary, italicize the word instead, but remember to use italics sparingly.
Next time we will talk about redundant words and phrases, and writing tight.