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While writing a short memoir for a college course, I wrote the dialogue without quotation marks, the biggest reason being that I do not like how clunky it looks in Times New Roman. I do not mind it with other fonts, but when I look at it in Times New Roman, it just feels like it is affecting the mood of the piece. Instead, I am separating dialogue into their own line as the speaker switches. I did not worry until another student in the peer review wrote quotation marks around all of my dialogue.

This assignment is the closest to creative writing that I will have in this class, so if I do decide not to use quotation marks, I want to be able to defend that choice to my professor.

So what are reasons that writers will omit quotation marks from dialogue?

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    Quite unrelated to the quotation mark issue, but is there no way you can avoid using that ghastly blemish on the typographic world known as Times New Roman? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 14 '14 at 19:01
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    @JanusBahsJacquet You seem to have misspelled "Comic Sans MS". – Elliott Frisch Feb 14 '14 at 19:23
  • Well, basic mla seems to be the standard among all my professors in the English department. I'll see if ai can wriggle out of that. – ChristianAndrew Feb 14 '14 at 19:25
  • @ElliottFrisch, oh no—there are much worse things one could call Comic Sans (not to mention Arial, Papyrus, Calibri, and all their ilk), but I’ll refrain from doing so here. All that bile would clash with the lovely, subdued colour scheme. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 14 '14 at 19:29
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    I wish the question had been about reasons not to omit quotation marks. Answer #1 would have been to avoid annoying, distracting, and confusing the reader. – Ben Crowell Feb 14 '14 at 19:44
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Typography and rules of punctuation are entirely in the purview of the venue, and should NOT be varied for reasons as ephemeral as whether or not you like the glyph used by a specific font.

If you don't like the quotation marks of a font, the right answer is to use a different font. While writing you can use whatever font you want; when you have in your memoir, follow the specific guidelines specified by your instructor, editor, agent, or publisher. If they say "use this font" it's likely because they are used to that font and want to evaluate your writing, not your ascetic taste in typography.


By the way, quotation marks are required in English narrative writing when including the exact words of another voice, which definitely includes any spoken dialog in prose. Inserting a paragraph break between speakers is likewise part of how to write dialog.

You could omit the quotation marks if you were writing a script, but then you're writing a script and not a narrative.

  • +1 for part one. re. part 2: Cormac McCarthy is a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Faulkner and Joyce are literary greats. I would say that quotation marks are expected, but hardly required unless author relies on someone in power for a paycheck. – anongoodnurse Feb 15 '14 at 1:09
  • Yes, authors who are independently wealthy and have no need to follow the rules can ignore them. But that doesn't change what the rules are. (Shakespeare broke rules, too, but no one claims they didn't exist before he broke them.) – DougM Feb 15 '14 at 1:16
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I've asked myself this question before, upon reading Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses maybe 20 years ago. It was the first time I came across that style of writing. I really liked it, and on reflection, I realized there was a natural feel to it, an immediacy, that it removed a layer of separation between myself and the characters. Also, it's a marginally quicker read when it involves an entire book.

McCarthy credits Joyce as his model for his minimalist punctuation. I agree with him that it takes greater skill as an author to pull this off without potential for confusion.

It's strange that I didn't notice this when I was reading Faulkner; Joyce's style was so far from center that I expected this from him.

  • you may want to add a example of what style you're taking about. Not everyone reads twenty-year old literary fiction. – DougM Feb 15 '14 at 1:19
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    Joyce in turn likely took the style from it being commonly used in French. – Jon Hanna Sep 20 '17 at 15:58
  • @JonHanna - Thanks! I did not know that! And I always learn good stuff from your answers and comments. :) – anongoodnurse Sep 20 '17 at 17:09
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If you are doing creative writing that has almost all dialogue then I suggest that you use the old style movie script formatting. Don't confuse this with modern screenplay scripting that I have had to do - that looks terrible and is more for the director.

Character A: How are you?
Character B: Doing great.

Character B then reaches down to grab his gun.

Character A: Don't shoot me.
Character B: Then vote up my answer!

You can ask your professor if this is acceptable but in any creative writing class I have taken it would have been.

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    I'm all for derangement of genres, but that's very disruptive to narrative flow in either fiction or essays. – StoneyB Feb 14 '14 at 19:47
  • @StoneyB - I have and certainly use this if 80%+ of the text is dialogue. I know when reading Hemingway there are certain sections that I would have loved formatted like this. I am not saying this is how I would write an essay or book - I am saying this is an option for something super heavy on dialogue. – RyeɃreḁd Feb 14 '14 at 20:10
  • Or basically, the layout of any play in most modern editions. – aeismail Feb 14 '14 at 21:11
  • Please use > block quotes (not verbatim code formatting) for block quotes. – Bradd Szonye Feb 15 '14 at 1:50

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