Punctuation of dialogue
As we say in our guide to the minimum quality standards for the archive, one of the most common errors we see in story submissions - and one of the most common reasons for rejecting stories - involves incorrect punctuation, particularly the punctuation of dialogue. At the moment we are spending an excessive amount of time explaining to authors whose stories have either been rejected outright (no letters) or accepted in spite of the errors (yes but letters) how to punctuate dialogue.

Unfortunately, the number of submissions, and the number of submissions containing these basic errors, have increased to the point where it is no longer feasible to expect us to contiue to explain to individuals how to punctuate dialogue. Hence this post, which I'm hoping will reduce the number of submissions containing errors and therefore reduce both the number of rejection letters we need to send and the level of detail in those letters. In future, rather than using specific examples from your stories to explain to you individually why it's a problem, we're far more likely to simply point to this post or the minimum quality guidelines.

At the risk of being mean, at the end of the day it is your responsibility, as the author, to ensure that you get the technical basics of writing right, not ours to fix it for you.

There are a number of things you can do to help with this:

i) read professionally published fiction. If you read professionally published novels, you will be able to see how dialogue should be punctuated and hopefully become aware of the issues around punctuation and your own mistakes.

ii) find and use a beta reader. This isn't a foolproof method as we frequently get replies that state that the story has been beta read - often by more than one beta reader - and that the author therefore thinks that there are no problems. A quick application of the first suggestion - reading professionally published novels - will show you that there are. However, some beta readers are worth their weight in gold, and a good one will not only keep you straight but explain exactly why it is an error and how to make sure you don't repeat this error in future. This is what we, as archivists, have been doing to date but what we cannot do in future.

iii) please do not volunteer to beta read other people's stories if your own stories have been rejected from the archive. It isn't fair to the author, it isn't fair to us as archivists and it isn't fair to readers.

iv) invest in a good quality grammar and punctuation guide. There are also some resources online, but be wary of them. We do, however, list some of the better online resources in the minimum quality guidelines and I'm repeating them here for information:

Back to Basics: Punctuating Dialogue
Dialogue Formatting Tutorial: Star Wars Version
Punctuation in Dialogue by Karen Lee Field
Dialogue Basics

A google search of 'dialogue tag punctuation' will pull up many more examples.

v) finally, feel free to ask us if you have any questions or need some pointers. While it's true that we don't have time to give the level of information in rejection letters that we have given previously, all of us are willing to answer questions or provide any help needed, provided this does not involve beta reading your stories for you (unless you bribe us with a lot of chocolate ::g::)
Posted by: Alyse on 09 Oct 2006 8:44 pm()
Thank you for number 3. Different beta readers have different skills to offer - reading for plot and characterization is just as important, but if grammar, punctuation, and spelling are not among your skills, you should make that clear to any author for whom you beta read, so the author can find a second person who *is* skilled in that area.

Also, most people who beta read for grammar and punctuation will expect an author to learn from their mistakes, and to eventually not need as much help as they did to begin with.
Posted by: Ellex on 10 Oct 2006 2:04 am
PS: beg pardon for that split infinitive in the second paragraph.
Posted by: Ellex on 10 Oct 2006 2:05 am
Yep. And you'll notice that this post is a lot less tactful about it than the mail I sent a couple of months ago to the relevant mailing list ::g::
Posted by: alyse on 13 Oct 2006 6:19 pm
Sometimes tactful works, and sometimes you have to go with the tough love. Most archives don't even bother with a minimum quality level - personally, I very much appreciate that this one does.
Posted by: Ellex on 14 Oct 2006 2:28 am
Hoorah for archivists with a mission! :)

Thank you, thank you, thank you for clarifying this! I have rolled my eyes and quickly run away from many a story that is either run on paragraphs, or horrible punctuation because the author said, "Well, I'm just doing this for fun and don't need a beta reader."

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