Monday, 23 March 2015

Question Corner

Lorraine Mace answers readers’ queries.


I received this plea for layout/punctuation clarification: Please could you clarify punctuation rules for dialogue by e-mail, which separates it from any spoken dialogue in the same piece? I would prefer this question not to be posted in your magazine, unless my contact details are suppressed. You may not need all of the sample, as the problem is really defined in the last paragraph, but I leave that to you.

This is the sample which accompanied the query:

Just then Joe’s phone rang.
‘We need to get together this afternoon,’ Sandra said. ‘Can you come over?’
‘Yes, sure,’ Joe answered. ‘What time?’
‘Three suit you?’
‘OK, see you then!’ Joe hung up, swore, and returned to his e-mail to Mike: “I have to see Megabrain at 4.30pm. She loves making me work late. I’ll get to Mario’s as soon as I can.”

There isn’t a definitive way of showing this, as it could be done in a few different styles. However, the main point to bear in mind is that the reader has to instantly realise what is spoken and what is written, without intrusive explanations.

As convention dictates that only the spoken word requires quote marks, I would advise against using them for the email exchange. It has been made clear Joe is communicating with Mike via email, so you could simply remove the quote marks.

Joe hung up, swore, and returned to his e-mail to Mike: I have to see Megabrain at 4.30pm. She loves making me work late. I’ll get to Mario’s as soon as I can.

If you wished, for added clarity, you could use italics.

Joe hung up, swore, and returned to his e-mail to Mike: I have to see Megabrain at 4.30pm. She loves making me work late. I’ll get to Mario’s as soon as I can.

Whichever style you choose, the two Cs should be in the forefront of your mind: clarity and consistency. Make sure it’s clear to the reader and be consistent in your usage. If you use italics for the email exchanges on one page, but not on another, the reader will get confused (and irritated).

Margaret from Exeter is having trouble with the pluperfect (even if she may not realise that’s where the problem lies): I’ve been told my flashbacks are clunky to read because I use too many hads, but if I’m already using the past tense for the main story, how else am I going to show that I’ve gone even further back? Is there another way to show that other than using had?

Let’s look at the definition of pluperfect in English: It denotes an action completed prior to some past point of time specified or implied, formed by using had and the past participle, as in he had wanted to meet her, but she had already left.

As a flashback shows action completed prior to the time she is writing about using the past tense, this definitely qualifies as a reason to use the pluperfect. So, Margaret is absolutely right in using it, but her friends are also right: overuse can be clunky and distancing to read.

 If we look at this short passage, you’ll see what I mean.

Michael had wanted to see for himself that Janet was meeting another man. He had sat at a corner table of the pub where he had been certain he could not be seen and had waited for over an hour before Janet had appeared. She had been alone when she came in. She had gone straight to the bar. As she had sipped her drink, a man had come in and had stood next to her.

When going into flashback it is important to signal it so that the reader is aware of what is happening, so using the pluperfect in the opening sentence is fine. However, to avoid the clunky feel, you should switch to the simple past tense as soon as possible.

Michael had wanted to see for himself that Janet was meeting another man. He sat at a corner table where he couldn’t be seen and waited for over an hour before Janet appeared. She was alone when she came in and went straight to the bar. As she sipped her drink, a man came in and stood next to her.

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and head competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller novels featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending
The fourth in the series, Looking for a Reason, was recently released by Crooked Cat Publishing.



3 comments:

  1. Thanks, Lorraine. I'm pleased to note that I would have chosen the exact same solution regarding the use of the pluperfect as you did.
    Viktor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well done for working it out for yourself. It is something many writers struggle with.

      Delete
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