Recently, while reading a manuscript, I came across some dialogue that looked to be punctuated incorrectly, so I made a note about it that I intended to give to the author. This morning, I got online to find reputable sources that would back my claim. To my surprise, honestly horror, I found seven different sources that said: the rule for quotation marks in dialogue, if one person is speaking continuously over multiple paragraphs, is to start the speech with quotation marks and continue to put quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph, until finally putting closing quotation marks at the conclusion of the speech. Only one source agreed with me, that if a single person is speaking, no matter how long their speech, the writer puts quotation marks at the beginning and closing quotation marks at the end.
I looked over the pages of dialogue in the manuscript again, since the overwhelming majority of style informants told me I was wrong, and I still couldn’t stomach it. Each time I saw the quotation marks at the beginning of a paragraph, it triggered new speaker in my reader’s brain. I tried to recall any memory of seeing this form of monologue before. I started tearing through the books on my shelves looking for just one other example, but didn’t find one. It looked like the characters in the books on my shelves didn’t give speeches–especially not the kind that would have separate paragraphs.
I wondered if this was an evolution of style, something new that I missed, but that wasn’t the answer: I’ve been reading a lot of current fiction lately. Those extra quotation marks just looked so wrong.
Another thing that bothered me about “the rule” was the reasoning. In all of the informative posts I read on the subject, the reason for the extra quotation marks was so the “lazy reader” wouldn’t forget that someone was talking. Honestly? I’m supposed to put weird, out of place quotation marks within one character’s monologue–as a rule– because someone thought my readers would forget someone was talking? I’m going to go with rules, once learned, are meant to be broken.
I can’t imagine what it would take for me to put those distracting, confusing marks in my dialogue, but I now know better than to tell someone else that it’s wrong. At the moment I don’t see any of my characters giving long-winded speeches, but if they do, I’ll make sure they won’t speak in paragraphs. I do not foresee my readers ever being described as “lazy”.
Have any of you come across writing “rules” that you can’t abide? I’d love to hear about it.