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Graeme

Editing and Style -- was "Formatting questions"

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Since I've started writing, I've noticed things in the material I read that I hadn't before.

One of those is variations in formatting. As I have no real education in writing (and my school days are more than half my life away), I thought I'd poll for opinions.

Paragraphs

Many authors on the internet seem to use a simple format where each paragraph is separated by a blank line. Some, however, use indentation on the first line, sometimes without the blank line between the paragraphs.

Any comments on the various options?

Quotation marks

Most authors seem to use double quotes for dialog, but reviewing some of my paperbacks, most of these seem to use single quotes.

Are there rules on when to use double vs single quotes?

Section breaks

When there is a scene or significant change, many authors use some sort of section break, ranging from a simple line of asterisks to more complex lines.

What do people recommend as the most effective scene break? Does it really matter?

That's it for the moment!

Graeme

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For myself, a screen is much easier to read with some space between paragraphs.

For quotations, I was taught that double quotation marks are used for standard quotes, speech, etc., and single quotes are used for quotations within a quotation.

Section breaks really depend on an author's preference and the format one is using, but I prefer to keep them simple. If I'm using HTML, I like a 20% horizontal rule. In text, a series of separated asterisks followed by a few blank lines seems to work well.

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Hey Aussie--

good questions! As you may have noticed, I use a simple block style in my writing: no indent at the beginning of paragraphs, and separated by a space.

Double quotes around dialogue...but note that if a speech carries over into another paragraph, no double quote at the end of the paragraph within the monologue...just double quotes at the beginning of the next part of the speech (by the same person) thusly:

"...But if you double the carrot quotient in the recipe, it turns a rather unattractive color.

"Then preheat the oven to 800 degrees..."

It's all speech by the same person, you see.

Single quotes for quotes within dialogue, as Dewey stated, and i use 'em if i'm using omniscient point of view, where we're seeing the character's thoughts as well as what he/she is saying:

'God, this chef is a pompous jerk!' I thought, listening to him drone on about the virtues of extremely hot ovens.

so that's my little set of tips for the day. Hope it's helpful...

cheers!

AJ

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Single quotes for quotes within dialogue, as Dewey stated, and i use 'em if i'm using omniscient point of view, where we're seeing the character's thoughts as well as what he/she is saying

That's a nice idea! Up until now, I've mainly written in first person. Working out how to distinguish between thoughts and spoken comments was one the things that made me hesitant in writing in third person.

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Single quotes for quotes within dialogue, as Dewey stated, and i use 'em if i'm using omniscient point of view, where we're seeing the character's thoughts as well as what he/she is saying:

'God, this chef is a pompous jerk!' I thought, listening to him drone on about the virtues of extremely hot ovens.

For thoughts, I always used italics without quotation marks to differentiate it from dialogue, or, as is the case with Mike from Life From A Distance: Ben, I used italics to indicate when Mike's spirit was speaking to Ben in his head.

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Paragraphs

Many authors on the internet seem to use a simple format where each paragraph is separated by a blank line. Some, however, use indentation on the first line, sometimes without the blank line between the paragraphs.

Any comments on the various options?

If you want to submit to a publisher the correct answer is NO SPACE between paragraphs and indent the first line. However, for online reading it's HORRIBLE so everyone puts a blank space between lines. I do not indent my paragraphs for my online works, however many people do.

Quotation marks

Most authors seem to use double quotes for dialog, but reviewing some of my paperbacks, most of these seem to use single quotes. Are there rules on when to use double vs single quotes?

Everyone here has given you incomplete answers. If you speak the Queen's English you use SINGLE quotations around dialogue, and DOUBLE on the internal quotes within that dialogue. If you speak American English then it's the OPPOSITE of that. Further, in the Queen's English the punctuation goes on the OUTSIDE of the quote marks and in American English, it goes INSIDE the quote mark.

You, sir, are a man after my own heart because you care. I will direct you to Eat, Shoots, and Leaves a most excellent book on the subject of proper punctuation -- and it includes differences between the US and UK English versions.

When there is a scene or significant change, many authors use some sort of section break, ranging from a simple line of asterisks to more complex lines. What do people recommend as the most effective scene break? Does it really matter?

There is no proper answer for this. For simplicity sake, five asterisks (or bullets) centered with one blank line above and below will do. Or five blank lines works, but when it splits over a page, it gets messed up. So you're better off with the asterisks. For publishing purposes, read the submission guidelines for that house. They will have them on their website.

Hope this was of some value.

-- wbms

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You, sir, are a man after my own heart because you care. I will direct you to Eat, Shoots, and Leaves a most excellent book on the subject of proper punctuation -- and it includes differences between the US and UK English versions.

Thanks for the compliment, but I have to politely disagree. I read the introduction section on the web site and quickly decided that the book was a bit too pedantic for me. I might obtain a copy as a reference for particular issues, but I doubt I'll be able to absorb all the punctuation rules.

My original questions were raised because I've seen differences in styles and, as a new author, I wanted to find out if there were rules or just general guidelines.

Thanks for the helpful information, though. The issue of the quotes had been bothering me and you have settled the question. Many of the books I own are published in the UK, which is why I keep seeing single quotes being used.

Graeme

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I edit a national scholarly journal for my university (yeah go figure the dyslexic boy who screws up it... it's and its...)

Well, there is formating and then there is "formatting"... there is style and "style"

Authors take all kinds of liberities... the correct answer is that there really isn't any correct answer it all "depends."

First of all computers and desktop publishing completely changed some of the rules of formatting... in the good old days we put a double space at the end of periods... that is NO longer an accepted technique... the same with the old double space at a colon. And the -- double slash can now be eleminated... MS Word(gee do I have to put the little MS trademark here ???? hehe) for example will put in the correct "em" space on it's own (although I notice when I put them in they disappear in the actual posting when it gets changed over... but it's cool.

If your serious about formatting you can always purchase a one of the many books on it or check out some listings on the www... for US educational institutions and publications the APA Standards are applied... BUT writing something that gets posted on the web for enjoyment doesn't have to meet this standards... In in published novels I have seen many different styles... pick one and stick to it...

If one of my students hands me a paper that is NOT APA standards they will immediately get docked one letter grade... but if they write a story and ask me to read it... I'm not gonna hold them to the same standards... just like I'm doing in this post... I'm all over the board with style here. In fact I'm not even attempting to write in ANY style as I sip my scotch and look out my window late this next to last nite in Nov 2004 over the beautiful Xmas market being set up in the Center of Brussels... (sorry I had to rub it in)...

I guess the biggest thing is CONSISTANCY... if you are going to always write a #... like 2 miles than always use the # but if your going to write it out as in two miles... then just be consistant... Using a comma before and (one, two, and three or not one, two and three) is fine either way, but whatever you pick just use the whole way through...

But don't let the "rules" stop you from writing... that's what editors are for (right AJ... hehe). A good editor will whip your butt if you try to sneek something over on them... allow the creative process to guide the initial writing... then just have the good sense to go back and clean it up... OR consult a manual OR get someone who knows a bit about grammer, spelling, punc. etc to look it over...

Enough said

Regards

Jamie

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in the good old days we put a double space at the end of periods... that is NO longer an accepted technique.

Seriously? I've always done a double space at the end of sentences. That was the first thing they taught me in all my keyboarding/comp-apps classes (and the first thing that I taught when I was teaching a keyboarding/comp-apps class, for that matter). I had no idea that it wasn't accepted any more. It's become so much of a habit that I'm even doing it now.

Oh, and I'll be sure to pick up Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

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on it's own

on it is own? ::shudder::

If your serious

Your serious what?

First, I wish to scream at the violation of proper grammar above. ::shudder:: Two of my three pet peeves in one document. However, I will move on once I gasp for air. Actually, I don't want to pick on you. I want to point out that this is why one should NEVER, EVER trust a spell checking or grammar checking program. One should ALWAYS read what one has written a day or two later. I do not write with a spell checker. I do not even know how to USE a grammar checker. Simple errors like this will be caught by re-reading your own words. (I also understand that this is a forum and it doesn't really matter but since we were discussing grammar, I seized the opportunity to make a point).

Jamie, grammar offences aside, all your points were actually accurate. I failed Graeme when I didn't point out that style is not dependant upon formatting. Indeed, the most important test is WILL THE READER UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN WITHOUT SLOWING DOWN OR RE-READING. If you can't pass that test, you have failed miserably. If you have passed that, then the rest is details.

-- wbms

(PS: Jamie, don't hate me. I really wasn't picking on you. Promise.)

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There is a website for the book, which includes an excerpt that you can read to see if you think this book is for you:

http://eatsshootsandleaves.com/

When it first came out, there were a series of articles in the weekend papers about it here in Australia. Basically, there is a number of people who disagree with the extent to which Lynne Truss takes her zeal on this subject. Some areas of punctuation (such as Two Weeks Notice) where common usage means that the apostrophe can be left off, though Lynne Truss insists that it should be put back in.

I'm not qualified to say who is correct. I'll leave the fine details to my editors who seem to know what they are talking about ;)

Graeme

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I think I have confused this thread by using the term formatting in my original post, and then style in a later reply.

As has been pointed out, these are two different things. My original question was purely on formatting, simply because I had seen variations.

Having said that, the comments above on style have also been quite informative. Thank you to everyone who has commented so far!

Graeme

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While Write By is shuddering at the misdemeaners of others who make slips typing in the forums, I just can't overlook his FELONY in "Chapter The Third" of his own story.

"Maxfield went along to his next class, and he was hopeful because he loved English. Well, to be sure, he hated parts of the class but since writing was one of his great passions, he put up with the shit in order to be able to exercise his skill. Maxfield went hopefully along to his next class, English, which he loved because writing was one of his great passions. Well, to be sure, he hated parts of the class, but that shit was the price he paid for his passion."

Is this some kind of interactive story where we pick the opening sentences we like the best?

As always,

Ben Dover

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I'm amazed at how much has been generated by this little topic... crazy what we focus on... some of the topics posted on this forum are so thought provoking... but here I am posting once again here...

Anyone reading my stuff (especially with I dash it off like I'm doing now will find so many errors and stuff... I do EVERYTHING wrong... but the words flow, I pound them out... sometimes I go back and recheck... other times I don't... of course any professional work is always checked by somone... I can't EVER trust myself to catch all of my errors... some are so horribly glaring that I can't believe I've missed them when their pointed out to me...

There are multiple parts of the brain used for writing, the creative and the technical (think right/left) some of us are nicely balanced in that area, others lean more to one or the other... I had a friend who ALWAYS wrote technically PERFECT... there was never a comma, or colon out of place or used wrongly. Her spelling was flawless... she could recite (and often did) the most arcane rules of grammer to me as she would tell me for the 100th time that I should be remembering all of this... but the one thing she lacked was creativity, her stuff was BORING... no life, very flat, but technically correct. So when I read a story online if and find some errors and the story is good... I just keep on going. When I stop making mistakes myself, I'll start throwing rocks... but until then I'll keep my mouth shut since my glass house is just as vulnerable as anyone elses...

Having said that corrective criticism is and should be positive. And I'm not one bit against it... I welcome it actually... One shouldn't be offended by someone pointing out an error... if it's done in a polite way... again as a person with a serious LD I was ridiculed beyond belief as a child... teachers called me stupid... classmates laughed at my "funny"way of writing and reading... there were days I felt like a total freek... gee can any of us in the gay community relate to this??? I was even once paraded in front of a whole classroom by a smiling "well meaning" teacher who made me stand at her desk while she pointed out to the class ALL the mistakes I made and how to avoid them... let me tell U THAT was a real self-esteem builder!

Critics... keep commenting... we need U... (just be civilized), Editors be relentless... we want our work to be as technically "perfect" as possible... Authors, be open to corrective criticism and don't quit just because someone may be mean or thoughless and "bash" you a bit... Every popular commercial author can fill a scrapbook with negative clippings... but I don't think they cry to much when they cash their checks at the bank...

Now WBMS pull me to the front of the class and tell me how many errors I made in this post... (hehe... kiss... kiss). No hard feelings... writing is good for my soul and I'll continue to do it until I die... errors and all...

warmest regards...

Jamie

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"Sometimes," he mused, "I use single quotes and italics for thoughts in the omniscient point of view...."

Yep, a good editor is not afraid to get brutal with his/her writer when it's called for...but only when it's called for and only in a nicely phrased way. Don't put up with an editor who can't be kind and helpful is my advice. There are plenty of us out there who love editing enough that you shouldn't have to deal with a lot of evil bitchiness.

As for CS's point about 'its' vs 'it's'....'its' is posessive (I remember it because the t doesn't want the s to be separated from him by the apostrophe--he's too posessive) and 'it's' is ONLY used as a contraction for 'it is'. As for any contraction, if you can replace the 'it's' with an 'it is,' then you're ok.

As i have explained to Jamie, I learned my formal writing habits using a typewriter and an MLA handbook, so some of my vintage style will no doubt show through in the scrolls, though Jamie does his best to curb it.

cheers!

AJ

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Now WBMS pull me to the front of the class and tell me how many errors I made in this post... (hehe... kiss... kiss). No hard feelings... writing is good for my soul and I'll continue to do it until I die... errors and all.

Nope. I had a POINT to make last time. I make errors, too. No shame in errors. Of course, if you make an IT'S error again I may have to hunt you down and kill you because my nerves can't handle another one.

And you make an absolutely CRITICAL point, in that if the story isn't good it really doesn't matter how good or bad you are with grammar, syntax, and diction.

-- wbms

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Yep, a good editor is not afraid to get brutal with his/her writer when it's called for...but only when it's called for and only in a nicely phrased way. Don't put up with an editor who can't be kind and helpful is my advice. There are plenty of us out there who love editing enough that you shouldn't have to deal with a lot of evil bitchiness.

There are many people who like editing, but there are VERY few good editors. I edit for two on-line authors* and I am (realtively) pleasant as long as there are no IT'S errors ::smile:: This is not to say I won't take an author to task over something, but I am nice about it. A good editor cannot be afraid to say, "This isn't working. Do it over."

However, I made so many corrections to one author's first draft he nearly cried and didn't speak to me for a week "There's so much red in this!". Then he realized, it made him a better writer.

-- wbms

* I can't mention I edit for them at their request. My editors are free to brag (or hide in shame) as they see fit ::evil grin::

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However' date=' I made so many corrections to one author's first draft he nearly cried and didn't speak to me for a week "There's so much red

I know one editor who has done some work for me that returns documents filled with so much red that I'm happy if I can find two or three consecutive paragraphs without a change. However, as you said for your writer, it's making me a better author because by looking at what they changed, and why, I am learning how to phrase my sentences to be clearer and more concise.

I think we are in danger of diverging this topic into on editing and editing practises. While I'm quite for happy for this to occur, I think it should be in a thread of it's own.

Anyone want to start one? :D

Graeme

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However' date=' I made so many corrections to one author's first draft he nearly cried and didn't speak to me for a week "There's so much red

I know one editor who has done some work for me that returns documents filled with so much red that I'm happy if I can find two or three consecutive paragraphs without a change. However' date=' as you said for your writer, it's making me a better author because by looking at what they changed, and why, I am learning how to phrase my sentences to be clearer and more concise.[/quote']

That's the ENTIRE point. One of my authors gets a random comma or typo and no other corrections, but he's a much better writer than I am.

I think we are in danger of diverging this topic into on editing and editing practises. While I'm quite for happy for this to occur' date=' I think it should be in a thread of it's :D

You're probably right, but the two topics ARE related. How do you separate the two? Seriously. All these mechanical questions that started it off are directly related to editing.

Anyone want to start one? :D

No :D

-- wbms

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Admin Note:

I've changed the thread title since the thread topic has morphed into editing and style in addition to the original formatting and grammar or mechanics questions.

There is a new thread specifically for spelling and grammar questions. Formatting and presentation will also be in the new thread.

It's good to see so much interest in the editing and writing style issues, and since, formatting and other ways of presenting the characters' voices (speech, thoughts, and narration) are all related, they are still within the thread topic.

If you have a spelling or grammar question, it should go in the new thread, but if you want to discuss how you should use a certain style of spelling and grammar in a story, that's still on topic. -- If that's confusing, go ahead and post your reply. I prefer to include and not exclude, even if a thread topic wanders around some.

I'll have some comments later, after I take off my forum admin hat; you know, the propeller beanie. :grins:

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I know I'm bring this thread up from the dead, but I've hit a situation that's related to part of the discussion above.

I have a character (Michael in the example below) who is quoting another person who is quoting a third (the character is actually reciting something from a book).

Now, the spoken text is put inside double quotes, and the quoted section is put inside single quotes, but I got lost as to what I should be doing for the quoting of the third person. At the moment, I have that section in italics.

eg.

Michael said, "And then he said, 'John told me, Don't go there!' "

Or, put another way, the text in the book that Michael was reciting was:

And then he said, "John told me, 'Don't go there!' "

(this is a completely made up example, and is not part of the story I am writing).

Is there a correct way of doing this, or is my approach acceptable?

Graeme

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Hey Graeme,

From what I've read, you just switch back. For example:

Michael said, "And then he said, 'John told me, "Don't go there!"'"

I (think) I'm basing off of Tolkien; I seem to remember a similar situation came up in Gandalf's long narrative, and what Tolkien did was to switch from single to double back to single quotes. (Of course, he being British, started with single quotes.)

Hope that helps,

dcorvus

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From what I've read, you just switch back. For example:

Michael said, "And then he said, 'John told me, "Don't go there!"'"

That is, indeed, the correct answer.

You can also use DOUBLE CURLY, SINGLE CURLY, DOUBLE STRAIGHT, and SINGLE STRAIGHT quote marks. Although not quite textbook you can visually see the different levels of quoting.

-- wbms

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