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Strategies to Incorporate and Punctuate Quotes in Writing

Quotations cheat sheet


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Brenda Mahler

3 years ago | 5 min read

Dialogue brings life to writing by quoting the exact words of a speaker in a narrative. In non-fiction writing, the words may come from an interview or a direct conversation.

In fiction, the author builds a character’s personality through discussions and interactions with other individuals.

In both, a person’s utterances when recorded word for word require specific punctuation and indentation.

Purpose of Quotes

Nonfiction

Citing the exact words of a person conveys knowledge directly from a source. Interviews enhance writing because a quote provides firsthand information that increases credibility allowing the material to be accepted as reliable sources.

Articles on controversial or factual topics present readers with trusted information, thus, providing accuracy with less distortion. The following examples compare information using a quote verses paraphrasing; they demonstrate the power of providing firsthand testimony.

Nonfiction example #1

  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s medical correspondent speaking on the topic of the coronavirus recently stated, “I keep reminding the viewers that still, based on two very large studies, the vast majority of people who get this infection are not going to get sick. They’re going to have a mild illness, if any, and they’re going to recover.”
  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta believes most people who get coronavirus will not get extremely sick.

Quotations also prove valuable when the interviewee’s popularity rating is high. Readers enjoy hearing from celebrities who offer words of wisdom to provide inspiration. Notice how the first bullet which shares a direct quote provides the voice of the celebrity while the second summarizes providing less interest and motivation.

Nonfiction example #1

  • In her book, What I Know for Sure, Oprah Winfrey reinforces the strength of a positive attitude when she writes, “What you believe has more power than what you dream or wish or hope for. You become what you believe.”
  • Oprah Winfrey inspires others to strive for success and accept failure as an opportunity to grow.

Nonfiction example #3

  • Michelle Obama wrote, “If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.” In her well received book, Becoming, she stresses the need for women to clearly communicate their vision and mission.
  • Michelle Obama believes people should state what they believe so that others do not twist their thoughts.

Books of quotes, internet sites, and Facebook groups exist to capitalize on others’ wisdom. Writer’s shouldn’t underestimate the power of quotes; writers should harness the authority of other’s words by subtly weaving quotes into nonfiction writing.

Fiction

Characters in fiction evolve through dialogue. Their words shape their personalities. In narratives, quotes allow a reader to hear not only what a character says but how they say it, providing insight into what they believe. It requires practice and talent to write a discussion that flows realistically.

Dialogue

Dialogue is conversation between people. It consists of the exact words a speaker says and always has quotation marks and two other punctuation marks. It is a form of showing in writing that moves the plot forward while adding interest to the story. Compare the energy of genuine dialogue in contrast to a summary reporting the conversation.

This conversation between George and Lennie illustrates a conflict in their relationship. It suggests George is concerned about the future, prompting a reader to question the situation, increasing engagement with the text. It never directly states but infers that George is a caretaker who provides for Lennie but at the same time, shares his frustration. The discussion prepares the reader for possible conflict. Through the dialect, word choice and sentence structure infer both characters have limited educations. The dialogue is nestled in a description that shares the setting for the scene and characters behaviors.

A writer could present the same event by telling the reader what happened. This approach would leave the reader unsatisfied, bored and less informed. It might read like this.

George grew frustrated with Lennie as they discussed earlier events. Knowing it was important that Lennie know the facts and be able to report them accurately, George talked him through the incident even though he knew his friend would forget when he most needed to remember.
As they recapture the memories, Lennie reached in his pocket for his work card only to find it missing. This increased George’s irritation as he had never given the card to Lennie knowing it would only become lost.

Upon reading each example, it is immediately obvious Steinbeck’s presentation of the narrative is far superior. Dialogue captivates readers and pulls them into the scene. If done well, dialogue creates a world to enter and experience.

Dialogue Rules

Rule #1 Indent to create a new paragraph each time a different person speaks.

This provides readers a cue assisting the reader in understanding who is speaking. Notice in the conversation from Of Mice and Men, there are nine different paragraphs. Each presents the words of a contrasting character creating clarity of who is speaking without the need of repeating tag lines (he said) that would make the writing awkward and bulky.

Rule #2 Avoid using tag lines each time a person speaks.

Overuse of tag lines identify a novice writer and lulls readers to sleep or worse yet, prompts her to abandon the read. Find alternatives for the word “said” as often as possible to minimize repetition. The best result eliminates the tag line almost entirely. Steinbeck masterfully accomplishes this in the excerpt.

Rule #3 A direct quotation begins with a capital letter.

  • “I forgot,” Lennie said softly. “I tried not to forget. Honest to God I did, George.”

This follows the standard rule, whenever a new sentence begins start with a capital letter.

However, if the sentence begins with a tag line (he said) followed by a quote, the quote also begins with a capital letter.

  • He said gently, “George…I ain’t got mine. I musta lost it.”

Rule #4 When a quote is divided into parts in the sentence and interrupted with a tag line (he asked), the second part of the sentence begins with a lower-case letter.

  • “Tried and tried,” said Lennie, “but it didn’t do no good. I remember about the rabbits, George.”

Rule #5 Place punctuation marks at the end of a quotation inside the quotation marks.

  • “The hell with what I says. You remember about us goin’ into Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus tickets?”
  • “Oh, sure, George, I remember that now.”

Rule #6: Do not place a period at the end of a quotation followed by a tag line (he said). Use commas, question marks or exclamation marks. Do not use a period because periods end sentences.

  • “I forgot,” Lennie said softly.
This article was originally published by Brenda Mahler on medium.

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