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I have a rather tricky question - I'm a writer, about to send my manuscript off to agents and publishers, and have noticed I have a rather strange writing style, particularly when it comes to dialogue.

I tend to do this:

"We can't know for sure," he mused, leaning back in his chair, "Not until we ask more questions."

I capitalize the first letter of the first word in continuing dialogue. I can't stand using a lower-case letter (as below).

"We can't know for sure," he mused, leaning back in his chair, "not until we ask more questions."

It doesn't look right to me, but am I committing some horrible faux pas here? I do the same with interior monologue.

I have to get out of here, he thought, But there's not enough time.

I also don't like putting full-stops everywhere. Most readers probably wouldn't notice the difference, but I'm afraid an Editor might look at the work, scoff, and toss the whole thing in the bin.

To complicate matters, I'm an Australian, writing in American English, but submitting to both British and American agents. Somewhere in there, I'm sure I've butchered up my grammar, but this is the most striking thing I noticed throughout my novel.

Any advice? Editing an 88K novel to find all the instances of dialogue might take a while, so is it really worth my time?

Thanks in advance!

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    You should think about asking this on the Writers site instead. – curiousdannii Jul 26 '14 at 2:31
  • @curiousdannii Okay, I might go post it over there as well. Thanks! – Singular1ty Jul 26 '14 at 2:32
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Different publishers are likely to handle the punctuation differently. I doubt that you'll be able to please them all, whichever convention you adopt.

At this point, I'll express my own preferences plus my reasons for those preferences.

Where you wrote

"We can't know for sure," he mused, leaning back in his chair, "Not until we ask more questions."

I would turn the dialogue into two separate sentences:

"We can't know for sure," he mused, leaning back in his chair. "Not until we ask more questions."

This is particularly justified here, because if you cut out the description and present the dialogue on its own,

"We can't know for sure, not until we ask more questions."

it becomes apparent that what you wrote is a run-on sentence (i.e. its clauses are grammatically entirely independent).

With your other query sentence,

I have to get out of here, he thought, But there's not enough time.

the interior monologue is not a run-on:

I have to get out of here, but there's not enough time.

Accordingly, I would put but in lower case:

I have to get out of here, he thought, but there's not enough time.

In that sentence, you don't need to capitalize but to signal the resumption of the monologue: the italics are already doing that.

  • Thanks Erik, I've started work on converting my dialogue to the preferred style - I think too many years of drafting my work has let my grammar slip a little! – Singular1ty Jul 26 '14 at 5:35
  • @Singular1ty - I'm glad you found my answer helpful. Good luck with your submission! :) – Erik Kowal Jul 26 '14 at 5:37
  • Good answer, but I disagree about splitting that the first sentence with a full stop. To me, it reads more flowingly with a comma. – dwjohnston Jul 29 '14 at 5:44
  • @dwjohnston - It sounds as though we want different things here. I actually like the fact that the flow stops for a moment, because of the rhetorical impact of the pause on the speaker's next utterance: I picture him thoughtfully going over the known facts in his mind, then stopping for a moment to consider his conclusion before he resumes, "Not until we ask more questions". It's like a pause immediately before the last bang of a drum that emphasizes the finality of a musical conclusion. – Erik Kowal Jul 29 '14 at 5:57
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I think Erik's answer is good. I wouldn't myself want to write a capital letter in either position in your examples. I'd look for some way to start a new sentence or drop the interjected phrases ("he thought" in particular).

It's not easy to see the wood for the trees when you're self-editing. Have you considered paying for an editor? A successful indie author I know, who writes for the US market though himself Swiss-German, has an American editor go through his mss. It might sound expensive, but a second pair of eyes is really invaluable. Perhaps you can find someone to do a Quid pro quo with.

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