• Mel C.

How to Convey Unspoken Dialogue in Your Fiction Novel!


This will be a short entry. I just want to rant about this for a moment. Yes, The Chicago Manual of Style has a sort of shitty recommendation for this. It basically says that you can “use quotes or not” depending on “the author’s preference”.

While I appreciate and admire the author’s preferences, if it’s between quotation marks or nothing…

Fuck. That.

I’m currently editing a book where the publisher has set the standard that when a character is reading or writing a text message, it’s displayed IN QUOTATION MARKS.

What. The. Fuck.

Ok, so my problem with this is that, well, quotation marks have always been used for dialogue (text that is spoken aloud). And I’ve read many books myself (and I also recommend my clients) to write internal thoughts in italics, unless that internal thought fits into the general narrative, in which case they should just not do anything. Right? Anyone with me on this one?

My theory here is that text messages should also be presented in italics. Why? Well, because this bullshit looks ridiculous;

“LOL I <3 you, boo”, the text read—for not only the content, but the way it’s presented.

OR:

LOL! I <3 you, boo! the text read.

That’s… overly congested and could be interpreted in so many ambiguous ways it’s not even cute.

So, what should we do instead? Oh, gee, I don’t know, maybe something that makes more sense visually speaking? Something like this:

LOL. I <3 you, boo! The text read. Ashley rolled her eyes.

Darren. We’ve been over this, she replied.

Looks much better.

Automatically, when the reader sees the quotation marks, they are going to think that the words are spoken aloud because that’s how it has always been. And when someone is reading or writing a text, that is filtered through their—you know—brain; it’s an internal thought more so than it’s something that should be stated aloud.

So, if you have a futuristic sci-fi novel and you depict your text messages through whatever system you’ve devised (pupillary implant or whatever), it shouldn’t be presented the same as spoken language. Because it’s not the same.

Get your shit together, Chicago.

Writers—if we adopt this trend independently of the guide, it will eventually work its way into standard practice. Do not write text messages in the same manner as dialogue. It looks like dogshit.

That’s all.

Happy writing!

P.S. Please feel free to complain about my terrible punctuation and my abuse of the em-dash. I write how I wish to write when I’m not working. No, it’s probably not good for business when the editor doesn’t care about her own grammar. I do care. I care that it’s legible and that I get my point across. I spend all day nitpicking every comma in whatever book I’m editing, so I do tend to let loose on my blog. I even leave typos!

I do apologize for how unprofessional this may look. If it’s costing me clients, email me: mel12@holymelldevelopmentaledits.com to let me know and I’ll probably make an attempt to try to better it.


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