Thinking, “Talking”, and ‘Quoting’

How and when to use quotation (speech) marks can be confusing.     Website - Author page

Should we use ‘single’ quotation marks or “double”?

When we write a story we are invariably going to use dialogue. We are also likely at some point to use a character’s train of thought.

Before a word is written the author must be clear on how the text is going to be presented throughout the entire story.

Thoughts

If there is difficulty in remembering whether to use ‘speech’ marks, just keep in mind that thoughts are not the spoken word – therefore there are no speech marks used.  Simple.

Example:

How should I demonstrate this, he thought.

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Talking

There are those that say we should use single quotation marks, and others suggest double. For many years it was thought that one method was right and the other was wrong, and that certain nationalities used single, while others used double. It is one of the many aspects of creative writing that has seen a lot of flexibility over the years.

It appears to be a growing trend to use single quotation marks. Check out work by Lee Child, Jeffrey Archer, or Ian Rankin. They all use single quotation marks for regular dialogue.

I admire all of these writers, but my own preference is to remain with double and I will go on to explain my reasoning.

Examples:

Single – ‘The use of single speech marks is quicker when typing,’ he suggested.

Double – “I know,” I agreed, “but there are times when double helps. It tends to make me concentrate whenever I’m using dialogue.”

Now those two simple sentences demonstrate that either method works equally well, so I will now go on to complicate things a little.

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Quotes

We must also remember the use of a quote within a piece of dialogue. If the regular dialogue has been produced with double quotation marks, then any quote within the speech should be completed in single quotation marks. If the regular dialogue has been produced with single quotation marks, then any quote within the speech should be completed in double quotation marks.

Example 1.

“What did he say to you?” Helen asked.

“Well,” Barbara said and paused. “He said, ‘Check it out first,’ and that was it.”

Example 2.

‘What did he say to you?’ Helen asked.

‘Well,’ Barbara said and paused. ‘He said, “Check it out first,” and that was it.’

Either method works equally well as long as it is used consistently throughout the manuscript.

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In Summary

There are other occasions when single quotation marks are used in a manuscript, but I’ll write about them in my next post. However we decide to play it out in our writing there are guidelines we should observe.

  1. The writer must remain consistent in the use of either single or double throughout the manuscript.
  2. Whenever a quote is inserted within a passage of dialogue, the quote must be in the alternative type of quotation marks to the main speech.

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As always, thank you for dropping by, especially if you decide to leave a comment. I’ll be back with more soon.

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12 comments on “Thinking, “Talking”, and ‘Quoting’

  1. I had always thought Americans use double quotation marks, and English (and probably other Europians) use single–just like each group spell some words differently. I had no idea some American authors use the single quotation mark for diolog.
    Like you I prefer the double quotation mark, probably because I’m American.
    Years ago, I read that the reason Americans drive on the right side of the highway instead of the left is because we wanted to be different from the English. And also, why most of us drink coffee instead of tea. Oh yes, our system of weights and measures–we wanted to set ourselves apart from the English there too. We’re a rebellious, stubborn bunch. 😊

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    • Hi Kath. Yes, you are quite right it is predominantly Americans who use double quotation marks, but there are many European authors (like me), who favour double. There are actually still some text / ‘how to’ books on creative writing that suggest one method or the other is correct. When you check the author of such a guide it usually stands out that it’s their own country of origin that affects their opinion.
      The left and right-hand-side when it comes to driving is a whole different story and in our case goes back to knights of old.
      I would be inclined to agree with you regarding the tea/coffee, weights/measures, and spelling. I think it would be an interesting project to write a book on the differences and the reasons for them. 🙂

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  2. I tend to use single quotation marks, simply because I notice that’s the done thing in most of the novels I read. Double for quotation, and none for thoughts. Where I do come unstuck from time to time is when I have a character remembering what someone else said in the past … I usually try and write myself out of that one 🙂

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    • Hello Julia and thank you for the visit. I used single quotation marks when I started out and as I stated in the post, one of the reasons I changed was because it was just too easy to hit the singles as I was writing. I had apostrophes popping up all over the place and far too many words highlighted with quotation marks.
      The double method slowed my typing speed, but it does make me concentrate on the occasions I’m writing dialogue.
      I’m totally with you on your final point … when it gets tedious, I look for another option. 🙂

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    • Julia, in American writing, quite often we use italics for internal dialog, such as characters thoughts (when said thought are quoted verbatim) and remembered things characters have said in the past. Not so many she/he thought tags that way. I use italics a lot of time to convey emotional internal dialog. However one chooses to write, like Tom said, I think being consistent is the key.

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  3. I don’t think I’ve noticed either method speeding up or slowing down my typing speed;I assumed (if I ever thought about it at all) that over the length of a novel, singles take up less space than doubles ergo less paper/printing costs 😀

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    • If I ever get to the stage where my dialogue is affecting how much paper I’m using there will be a lot of nodding and shaking of heads by my central characters. 🙂

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