Writer’s Craft #2 – Quotes and Context
“A misfit is what you are,” Lywulf told her. “Like the rest of us.”
(from Healer’s Sword, ETA Sept 2011, Lynda Williams)
Is the line above punctuated correctly? It got past my editor, so I’m going with “yes”. The rule is to put a period after the tag line if the preceding quote completes a sentence, then follow with a capital for the start of the next quoted sentence.
But just a minute. Isn’t “like the rest of us” a fragment? If it is, shouldn’t the punctuation be:
This sort of problem made me nutty when wrestling with quotes until I had an inspiration. Don’t we all use sentence fragments now and then, for pacing or emphasis? I might, for example, have written: ‘She was a misfit. Like the rest of them.’ and not been troubled by the fact it would be more correct to run the two sentences together. The same principle applies here.
In short, I think the solution in cases like these is to ask yourself whether the speaker makes a definite pause between halves of the quotation or runs them together smoothly. And in this case I definitely envisioned a full stop as Lywulf realized the label he was slapping on his pupil, Ilse Marin, could be equally applicable to himself and the other people he trains, creating a bit of awkward irony. To me, this proves that even as mechanical a business as punctuation can be influenced by the story you are telling, and contributes, in turn, to the story. I’m not an advocate of “anything goes” by any means, but story always trumps the rule for me.
What do you think? Please share examples from your own work, or that of published authors (don’t use unpublished work of anyone but yourself without their permission!) to support my case or argue your own variation on the theme. General comments are also welcome, naturally.
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