Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts, Part 8

Punctuation Issues: use of single quotes, double quotes and italics, 5R house style, dialogue, proper suffix for adverbs

Quotation marks and italics

I’m going to delve into purely Five Rivers house style. We have an aversion here to the overuse of quotation marks and italics to create emphasis on a word. If you’ve written your sentence or scene well, emphasis will be implied without any additional gimmick by way of quotation marks or italics. Again the rule, less is more, should apply.

If, however, it is necessary to set a word off in quotes, as in a nickname (Leo ‘The Hammer’ Porter), the nickname should be set off in single quotes, not double. Double quotes, at least in Canada and most especially in Five Rivers’ world, are reserved for dialogue, i.e. “Where are you going?” asked Diane ‘Dix’ Peters.

As to punctuation, some of the common errors we see are:

Over use and misuse of ellipsis. Ellipsis should only be used for a trailing thought or incomplete sentence; three in the middle of a sentence, four at the end where the fourth indicates a period. If in dialogue you mean to indicate an interruption, an em dash is appropriate:

“Where are you—”

“Don’t even ask!”


Too often we see stilted, unnatural dialogue that is poorly punctuated. For example:

He thought about asking her where she was going. “Where are you going Diedre?” he whined, gritting his teeth.

She leered, “Peter don’t even ask!” She tossed her head. “It’s none of your business anyway.”

Revised to eliminate all the silliness and bad writing:

“Where are you going, Diedre? he asked, wincing at the whine in his voice.

“Don’t even ask, Peter. It’s none of your business.”

You will notice we’ve indicated Peter’s discomfort through the fact he’s uncomfortable with the sound of his own voice, as well as saved him a fortune in dental bills. And Diedre’s anger is fully implied, without the need of her attempting to leer something (you can’t leer dialogue), and without the need of the removal of her head so she can toss it.

Proper suffix for adverbs

Call us old fashioned, but we like our adverbs to end in ‘ly’. Why? Because that’s how you know it’s an adverb. It’s like being able to tell the difference between a boy child and a girl child. You know it’s an adverb, not a verb, because of that tail, that ‘ly’.

So, you don’t go down the street slow. You go down the street slowly.

You don’t tell someone to go safe. You tell them to go safely.

You don’t go up the stairs quiet. You go up the stairs quietly, hoping the treads don’t creak and alert the maniac with the knife at the top of the stairs, who will quickly kill you.

Make a song out of the adverb suffix: ly, ly, ly, ly-oah-le-ly, I will sing this song so sweetly.

Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.