If you grew up writing, whether you were forced to by teachers or wanted to as a creative outlet, you probably have at least a basic understanding of how to punctuate any written communication. But then, maybe you’ve forgotten. Or you read something that makes you question everything you ever thought you knew. I’m here to reassure you–you can read these guidelines and say, “Yes! I knew that already!” Or you can say, “Oh, that’s what I thought but it’s good to know for sure.” Or you might say, “I never knew that. Good thing April clarified it for me.” Whatever your responses, I hope these are helpful.
Ellipsis, Exclamation mark, Question mark and Quotations
Ellipsis—probably my second favorite mark, after the em-dash. It’s a failing, I know… However, when put to good use, especially in dialogue, it (they?) can really convey a sense of reluctance or unease, absentmindedness…what else? Perhaps a trailing off thought as one is distracted by—ooh! by the sweet butterfly making merry in the sunshine! Btw, ellipsis is a singular instance of … while ellipses means more than one. There are a couple ways to execute an ellipsis, and it depends on your personal preference or the preference of the publishing house whether you use … or . . . but no matter what, it’s always three dots…no more, no less.
Exclamation mark and Question mark—probably somewhat self-explanatory, but I thought I’d cover them anyway. Because these are the two most often doubled up or paired together which is, I hate to say it, generally frowned upon in publishing. Just as you wouldn’t use two commas together, nor two periods, exclamation points and question marks stand on their own. They are perfectly strong and able to carry the meaning you intend without help. One possible exception is if your book contains a letter, note or text—we do all sorts of crazy stuff in hand-written/typed messages, and as an editor I allow most of it for the sake of realism.
Quotations—again, another bit which is generally used correctly, but just in case, and for clarification… They are used mainly in two ways in fiction: to contain dialogue and to quote someone or something (which isn’t dialogue). In US English they are double quotations in dialogue, but in British English, they’re singular. Unless there’s a quote within a quote, then you use singles (USEng usage). “She questioned whether this was even necessary, but her friend said ‘yes’ so she droned on.” Like so. BrEng is opposite of what I just typed. Clear? And punctuation goes inside dialogue quotes always. I hope you already knew that, but sometimes the quotes-within-quotes can get confusing. 😊