Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Punctuate! Punctuate!

I'm reading porphyrin's copy of Liz Jensen's The Ninth Life of Louis Drax, and so far it's interesting. But. BUT! There's one thing driving me nuts, and that is how Jensen has chosen to render dialog. It goes like this:

--Have you been out for lunch? she asked. I was going to leave immediately.

Now, with a first-person narrator, this leaves open the following possibilities:
"Have you been to lunch?" she asked. "I was going to leave immediately."
"Have you been to lunch?" she asked. I was going to leave immediately.
Sometimes Jensen appears to be introducing a consistency, where all stretches of dialog begin with --. But sometimes not, and consistency doesn't mean "sometimes." Grrrarrr.

I understand that there are times when obfuscation lends depth to the text and variety of meanings and blah blah etc. But I will submit that who is going to leave immediately to get their lunch is not one of those times. No. Obfuscation on the lunch question is a boring annoyance, not a bit of fascinating depth and insight into the human condition.

We have dialog punctuation conventions for a reason. If you choose not to use them, I would like to see a very, very, very good reason why not. And "I thought it looked arty on the page" is not a very, very, very good reason. It's not even a mediocre reason, actually. Why not mark the end of a bit of dialog? Tell me: why not? Why not consistently mark the beginning?

Quotation marks. I don't care if they're single or double. They are your friends. Use them. If you don't know how, that is your zeroth task in writing a novel, before a plot outline or a character sketch or an organic flowing beginning or whatever it is that floats your very own little fruitbat writer boat. Quotation marks. I really mean it. I will put up with this behavior in some writers who are otherwise very good*, but I won't like it in them, either. I'll praise their book and then complain about the stupid dialog conventions.

Yes, I realize that I am a mean, horrible, cranky, rigid person. Deal.

*If porphyrin had not recommended this book, I'd have quit on page 2, when the title character starts talking to someone else and using the damned dash.

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