Friday, November 13, 2015

7 Punctuation Pitfalls for Writers to Avoid

by Vonda Skelton @VondaSkelton

First of all, here's my disclaimer: I am NOT an expert in English. I don't have a degree in English and wouldn't dream of trying to tell you how to create perfectly-punctuated pieces. 

That said, I do a fair amount of critiquing and do feel fairly confident in offering some general hints to finding the most frequent errors I see. And yes, I've seen variations of each of these examples in manuscripts I’ve critiqued. 

These 7 punctuation pitfalls could mean the difference between an acceptance and a rejection in your writing life.

1. When writing dialogue, place quotation marks around the spoken words, not the speaker tag.
Correct:     "You didn't tell me that," Tom said.
Incorrect:   "You didn't tell me that, Tom said."

2. Do not use semicolons or colons to denote dialogue in prose.
Incorrect:    Sally said: "I want you to go with me."

3. Start a new paragraph with each speaker, including any action or thoughts that speaker may have.
Correct:     
    "I will if you will." Sarah stared across the table at her little sister.

    Carrie met her gaze. "I'm in."

4. Be sure to include the dash, question mark, and exclamation mark within the quotation marks when they are part of the quoted material. Put them outside the quotation marks when they are part of the whole sentence.
Correct:     "Why do you say that? It wasn't me!" Jerry said.
Incorrect:   "Why do you say that? It wasn't me"! Jerry said.
Correct:       How can you call them "half-truths"?
Incorrect:     How can you call them "half-truths?"

5. Do not use a question mark with an indirect question.
Correct:      He didn't ask how anyone could know that.
Incorrect:    He didn't ask how anyone could know that?

6. Use an ellipsis (three spaced periods) to denote omitted words in a quote, to designate a pause, or to show an unfinished statement.
Correct:    I pledge allegiance . . . with liberty and justice for all.
Correct:    "But I didn't know you were so . . . so . . . " 

7. Use an em dash (two dashes) to indicate an interruption in dialogue, a break in thought or sentence structure, or a parenthetical explanation.
Correct:    "But you never said--"
                 "I never said what? Tell me!"
Correct:    Who would have thought--who could have thought--it would ever come to this?
Correct:    There were only three careers--doctor, lawyer, and Indian chief--that I would even consider.

Okay, so there they are, seven punctuation pitfalls you’ll want to avoid. Develop a keen eye and ear for such mistakes and you'll increase your chances of publication!

What mistakes bug you? Share your pet peeves below in the comments.

Don’t forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,

Vonda

TWEETABLES


Vonda Skelton is a speaker and the author of four books: Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe and the 3-book Bitsy Burroughs mysteries for children 8-12 yo. She’s the founder and co-director of Christian Communicators Conference, offering speakers’ training and community for Christian women called to ministry. Vonda is a frequent instructor at writer’s conferences and keynotes at business, women’s, and associational events. You can find out more about Vonda, as well as writing opportunities and instruction at her writer’s blog, The Christian Writer’s Den at VondaSkelton.com.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you very much. I now know what a emdash is. Thanks

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    1. You're very welcome, Tillie! I'm glad you found it helpful. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

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  2. I love em dashes. I think they add emphasis where a comma often fails to do so.

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    1. I totally agree, Joan! I have to make myself not overdo them. :-)

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  3. Thanks, Vonda. Thank you, too, for the great advice and encouragement you gave to me at Autumn in the Mountains Retreat.

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    1. It was such a joy to get to know you. And I love your story! Can't wait to see it in print. :-)

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  4. Vonda, Great information. I learn so much from this blog.

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    1. I agree, Cherrilynn. I do, too! Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Great advice, Vonda. I have an aversion to the "em dash" at the end of dialogue--probably because, as in this sentence, I employ those in my narrative. I prefer to use the ellipsis to show a pause or break in the dialogue. One thing I'd add, though: When using the ellipsis, please stick to three dots rather than endless dots. A fourth period is okay at the end of the sentence, but liberal use of dots is distracting to the reader...and not necessary. :) Am sharing your post. Thanks!

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    1. Amen, Linda! The ellipsis is three spaced periods, four if it's the end of a sentence. The ellipsis is exactly what we need for pauses, but the em dash is more likely to be used for interruption in dialogue.

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing the post.

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  6. Thanks for these reminders, Vonda! It was great seeing you at the retreat a few weeks ago. =)

    Tessa
    www.tessaemilyhall.com

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    1. So good to see you again, too! Blessings on all your projects!

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  7. Vonda, this is so helpful. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Thank you for your kind words, Crickett! I'm glad you found it helpful. :-)

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  8. Very valuable information. Thank you. I don't think a lot of these things are taught in school any more.

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    1. I certainly didn't learn about ellipses or em dashes in school. That's why writing blogs and conferences are so helpful. Thanks for your encouragement!

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  9. Thanks, Vonda. It's so easy to be thinking a few words ahead when writing and make mistakes like these even when you know better. I also find them harder to catch when it happens like that. BUT, when reading someone else's work, they jump out at me. Great reminders, all.

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    1. So true, Jay. I can see errors in others writing much quicker than I see my own. After all, I know what I MEANT to say, and that's what I see! Thanks for joining the conversation.

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