>Punctuate quotes correctly

>Last week I promised to go over the rules for punctuating quotes. It’s surprising how many people just don’t get it, but editors get tired of fixing misplaced quotation marks, commas, periods, and their kin.

Here are a few guidelines:

* Beginning a quote requires beginning a new paragraph.
“Why don’t you buy a new car?” Jane asked. “The Ford dealership has some great bargains right now.”
“It’s too expensive,” Smith said.

* In the U.S., direct quotes–which means you write exactly what they said–call for double quotation marks on each end. “It’s too expensive,” Smith said.

* The other punctuation goes INSIDE the quotation marks. See where the comma is in the above quote?

* A quote within a quote calls for single quotation marks. “My daughter said, ‘It’s not that expensive,'” Smith added.

* If an attribution such as “Smith said” comes after the quotation, end the quotation with a comma because the sentence isn’t finished yet. The period goes after Smith said.

* If the word that follows the quotation is not a proper noun, don’t capitalize it.
“It’s too expensive,” he said.

* If you are paraphrasing, rather than using a direct quote, don’t put quotation marks around it. For example, Smith said it was too expensive.

* If you want to show us an emotion, pick a quote that shows it or include a gesture or expression that conveys how the speaker feels. For example, don’t write, “It’s too expensive,” Smith said angrily. How about, “It’s too damned expensive,” Smith said. Or, “It’s too expensive,” Smith said, pounding the table with his fist.

For more on punctuation, check the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the guide for most newspapers. For books and magazine articles, many editors use the Chicago Manual of Style. A great online reference is grammarbook.com, which not only explains things clearly, but offers quizzes to test yourself.

Happy quoting.


>Big pen for really big stories

>Yesterday in a Christmas gift exchange, I wound up with a 12 1/2-inch long pen topped by a snowman. It actually writes, but I’m finding it hard to get a foot away from the paper. So, do you think a big pen will allow me to write really big stories? Or taking it a step further, do you need a really expensive computer to wow the big markets? No. As long as you can send them what they want, they don’t care what you produced it on. But if a piece of writing equipment inspires you to write more or write better, by all means use it.

Speaking of what people want, most of us know newspapers have a special “style”, a way of doing numbers, abbreviations, capitalization, etc. Most use the AP style book or a variation thereof. Well, I just sold a story to one of the Cup of Comfort books, and they don’t use newspaper style. Nearly all the edits had to do with making my writing conform with the Chicago Manual of Style. It’s like the fancy way to write vs. the everyday way. Where newspapers use numerals, they spell them out as words. Where newspapers leave the extra comma off, they put it in.

In newspapers, we look for short paragraphs because when you cut them into columns, your sentences can go on for days. I’m always breaking things up. This editor, who by the way is very skilled and kind, combined paragraphs into longer ones. The moral of the story? Match the style of the publication you’re writing for. You can usually tell by reading it. And if you find you want to write for someone regularly, ask what stylebook they use. Some papers have compiled their own style guides. Request a copy. Needing to make fewer changes makes everybody happy.

This editor also urged me to try the Change Tracker function in MS Word. If you haven’t done it before, give it a shot on something unimportant just to see how it works. It’s quite useful, especially if you’re afraid to make big changes for fear you’ll lose something important forever. It keeps track of everything you add or delete. I had to consult the help screen a few times, but I think I’ve got it now. Those computer guys are smart!

One more note on the Cup of Comfort. This is a book, right? An anthology. I still had a tight deadline. The editor said yes on Saturday and needed a bio and the edits done by Sunday night. It’s not only newspapers that work last minute, but if you write for newspapers on a regular basis, you’ll get it done, no problem.

Okay, back to practicing with my really big pen.