Those missing quote marks made me think of another contemporary favorite's work, the novels of Charlie Huston [Try Already Dead (Joe Pitt Series #1)  ) if you're new to his work.] Huston, who is quite the character himself, as indefatigable publishing maven Colleen Lindsay can tell you, never uses quotation marks either. Instead, each character opens a line of direct discourse with an em-dash, or "—". This gives his books a vaguely European or antique flavor, I have to say, but this reader's initial surprise soon gives way to the sheer joy of being swept along by Huston's fast-moving plots.


So, here we have two bestselling writers who eschew quotation marks. But what about this recent conundrum from a children’s book editor at a major NYC publishing house?


In stetting a change, she asked,

"Why is it that when a character speaks in more than one continuous paragraph, the first paragraph starts with a quotation mark and ends with one, but the next paragraph does not start with one, only ending with it?"

 Why is that so?"


The patient copy editor who replied explained the "rules" of this typographic stricture: "Because that's the way it's done. Chicago says so. Words Into Type says so. All the style manuals say so. It is to distinguish between two paragraphs of speech from one character and two paragraphs of speech from two different characters."


Hooray for patient copy editors, inquisitive editors, and typographic oddities that give us all jobs to do.


And should we send up a hurrah for those masterful authors who let us dispense with those quotation marks, and such questions, entirely? What do you think of Auster’s and Huston's dismissal of the marks?


Ellen Scordato has 25 years' book publishing experience as an editor, copy editor, proofreader, and managing editor. She's now a partner in The Stonesong Press, a nonfiction book producer and agency. In addition to her work at Stonesong, Ellen has taught grammar, punctuation, and style at the New School for more than 12 years in the English Language Studies department and taught English as a Second Language at Cabrini Immigrant Services.



0 Kudos
by blkeyesuzi on ‎09-15-2010 02:43 PM

 Most writers work would be torn to shreds by their editors for having been submitted with those errors.  My personal opinion is that writing is also an art form and the writer, as an artist must express themselves. I suppose it's up to the editor to recognize what may be considered more Avant-garde writing and put away the red pencil.  In doing that, of course, the editor is taking a risk as well.  The writing has to support such radical rule breaking.  These authors' (Huston and Auster) work can support fact it is enhanced by it.


I ADORE Paul Auster's work and couldn't imagine it any other way.  I'm so grateful to the editors for recognizing the need to leave his artful prose intact.

by BrandieC on ‎09-15-2010 02:53 PM

I haven't read either of the authors you mention (although I do have both Invisible and Charlie Huston's Sleepless on my to be read list), but I remember being driven completely nuts when I read William Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own because I had such a hard time figuring out which character was speaking at any given time.

by on ‎09-15-2010 06:56 PM

Well, Kaye Gibbons novel, the life all around me by Ellen Foster, was my first 'unquoted' book to read...  Kaye's prose was a challenge for me.  But, when I finished the book, it felt like I'd achieved something grand, to the point of me buying her first novel, Ellen Foster.  Yes, I read them out of order, not intentionally.  Ellen Foster came easier to me, because I'd gotten the feel for the writing style by then.  Other books I've read without quotes, have left me a bit confused.  Dialogue within dialogue, within dialogue.  Sometimes I wonder who these editors are, and why in the world would they deliberately try and confuse their readers so!  I think it really does depend on the author's writing, to begin with.  "Some just don't cut it with me," said Kathy, with a furrowed brow.


"Why is it that when a character speaks in more than one continuous paragraph, the first paragraph starts with a quotation mark and ends with one, but the next paragraph does not start with one, only ending with it?"


I've asked this same question (to myself)!  I personally think a paragraph should start with a quotation mark, but not end with one until that person stops speaking, whether or not it becomes more than one paragraph.  When I see an ending quote mark, I think that's the end of that person's [direct discourse] dialogue.  But, I'm not a style manual, so what do I know?  I break all the rules of writing, anyway!


Kathy said....smiling

by Kupgup on ‎09-15-2010 07:58 PM

the first paragraph starts with a quotation mark and ends with one, but the next paragraph does not start with one, only ending with it


Is this a goof? I've always been taught that all paragraphs of same-character speech begin with a quotation mark, but there is no ending quotation mark until the character finishes speaking. I don't think I've ever seen what's described here.

by twi-ny on ‎09-16-2010 10:11 AM

the editor was mistaken in her assumption, so kupgup is correct in saying that "there is no ending quotation mark until the character finishes speaking."


coincidentally, i was just looking at a young adult manuscript by a first-time author who prefers to use no quotation marks at all, causing quite a heated debate at her publishing house.

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎09-16-2010 01:32 PM

Thanks for clarifying, twi-ny! Yes, that's exactly right. There is an opening quote but no ending one til the character finishes.


And thanks for the tips about other authors who go quote-free. Would make an intersesting paper for some college or grad student--ah, would that were my job!



by Abendrot on ‎09-16-2010 01:52 PM

I have  just begun to read a book in German by the German author Reinhard Jirgl, who just recently won the prestigious Georg Buechner Preis. This author is totally new to me and I am fascinated by his "interesting spelling and punctuation.


He substitutes the number 1 every time the word or syllable 'ein' appears in the text, which might even be in the middle of a word. It may really represent the number one, but 'ein' also can mean 'a' or 'an' or be part of a word totally without any connection to the meaning of 'one' or 'an'. His punctuation is bizarre. Her intersperses dashes and dots in the text and places = signs between words, the function of which I have not figured out yet.


I had not read more than a few pages of the book  "Die Unvollenedeten' yet when I came across your blog, which I faithfully read and always find enlightening and entertaining. So far I can say that it takes a little time to get used to a writer with such an unusual style. On the other hand I find that the style suits his language and so far I enjoy reading the book.

by Blogger Ellen_Scordato on ‎09-20-2010 03:33 PM

Abendrot - that is fascinating information about Jirgl. I will have to look at those books. I'm a fan of many German and Austrian writers' work, including Thomas Bernhard's, Thomas Mann's, and Bernhard Schlink's (although I disliked the movie made of Schlink's The Reader) even though I can't read the original German.


I admit I am fascinated by the = signs you mention.

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