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Punctuation in dialog

by Phyllis
(US)

Please help. I need advice on the correct puntuation for thought. The following is an example:


After ending the phone call with her sister, Carla thought long and hard about her situation. "Why does this have to happen at all? Am I the only one going through this mess?"
She started to tear up and suddenly stiffened her back and thought, "Oh no! Not this time."

ANSWER

Hi Phyllis. You punctuated the word "thought" correctly in this example by putting a comma after it. However, do not put quotation marks around passages of thought, only around spoken dialog.

The context and the fact that readers are told that Carla "thought" makes it clear that the words are unspoken.

A few other minor points that would tighten a passage such as this:

1.) I wouldn't break to a new paragraph for the second thought, as it is not sufficiently different to warrant a break.

2.) Avoid having characters do something "after" something else. It is better to simply show both actions in the order in which they occur.

3.) Avoid adverbs.

4.) Avoid having characters "begin to" or "start to" take action. If they start to do it, they are taking action. Even when someone "starts to" speak and then stops, they have still made the initial sounds. If they have not, you might write instead, Carla opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it without making a sound.

5.) To provide the most continuity for readers, do not change tenses and POV to have the character think in the present tense, first person POV. Remain with the past tense, third person POV. You'll see others make this switch in published books, but most editors prefer a more continuous approach, as it is less jarring for readers. This passage demonstrates the use of a third person limited omniscient POV, limited to Carla, which means that an outside, "invisible" narrator has the ability to recount all that Carla, does, says, smells, thinks, and feels, so the POV should remain the same whether the narrator reports on her actions or her thoughts.

So, given all this, I would revise the passage to read:

Carla ended the telephone call with her sister and considered her situation. Why did this have to happen at all? Was she the only one going through this mess? Her eyes teared up, and then she stiffened her back and thought, No! Not this time.

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