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Quotation Mark and Ending Punctuation Confusion

by Weston Kincade on 12/04/13

From https://www.facebook.com/GuyitoWildHuntPromo/posts/611590995539943

Many writers are often confused by something that should be simple, but is still written differently throughout the world—the order of closing punctuation when a line of dialogue or sentence ends with quotation marks.


Example 1 - Ending Punctuation Standard

Normally, everyone agrees that the punctuation applying to the sentence should always go inside the closing quotation marks. This can get a little convoluted when dialogue ends with previously quoted material, titles of poems, and other items which call for their own quotation marks within the sentence.

Consider this:        

Trevor said, “I can’t believe he called you a devil.”

“What do you mean, ‘a devil’?”

The couple lines of dialogue above are standard and shouldn’t be confusing. The quoted words “a devil” properly use single quotation marks inside speech, and the question mark follows the quoted closing quotation mark but is inside the quotation marks encapsulating the entire sentence. However, confusion can stem from this structure when the sentence no longer calls for a semicolon, question mark, or exclamation point.


Example 2 - Ending Punctuation Confusion

If the end punctuation needed is either a comma or period, there are two different standards depending on where you are located and to whom you are shopping the manuscript.

US Standard

US publishers and agents use the US standard, which says commas and periods ending the sentence go inside all closing quotation marks.

Consider this example continuing from the previous dialogue:

“How can you ask that? As in ‘Satan,’” Trevor repeated, “the big, bad kahuna and those folks down south where it’s a tad hotter than roasting.”

You will notice in example 2 above that the US standard is different from example 1, where the question mark came after the single closing quotation mark.


Worldwide Standard (Except in the US) 

The rest of the world orders punctuation and quotation marks more logically, applying all forms of end punctuation after the closing quotation marks that apply to individual words within the sentence, but inside the closing double quotation marks encapsulating the entire sentence. This is because ending punctuation for a sentence applies to the entire sentence.

Using the worldwide standard, the previous example would look like this:

“How can you ask that? As in ‘Satan’,” Trevor repeated, “the big, bad kahuna and those folks down south where it’s a tad hotter than roasting.”

As I said, which format you use depends on where the publisher or agent is in the world and what audience you are appealing to.


Ending Punctuation Confusion - Added Tip

Another common problem I have encountered is when authors choose to use single or double quotes for emphasis. This formatting decision can make the above problem that much more prevalent. A preference in the publishing industry is to use italics for emphasis instead of quotation marks, and I recommend writers do the same.


I hope these editing recommendations help in your future writing ventures.

Avoid Adverb Overuse

by Weston Kincade on 12/02/13

Adverb poster available at http://thoseposters.com/emailPosters/poster1290.jpg

A writing error many authors new to professional fiction writing make is the overuse of adverbs.

What are adverbs?

The Marriam-Webster dictionary defines adverbs as: a word that describes a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence and that is often used to show time, manner, place, or degree.


The Problem with Adverbs

You are probably telling yourself, added description is great, isn’t it?

Yes, that’s true. However, there are two very big reasons most professional fiction writers avoid using many adverbs unless the sentence cannot be written another way:

1. Adverbs tend to create a repetitive sound that can annoy readers, especially when they are in close proximity to one another.

2. Adverbs are often very vague descriptions.


Adverb Overuse Example

Consider this sentence:

Incorrect: Myra slowly walked down the carpeted hallway, listening intently to her mother’s snores echoing from the bedroom.

The above example has two uses of adverbs. Can you find them? (Here’s a helpful hint—most adverbs end with an –ly suffix.)

Right, the adverbs are slowly and intently. Slowly modifies how Myra walked, a verb, and intently modifies how she listened, another verb.

While this example is grammatically correct, it has the two problems mentioned above.


1. Repetitive –ly Sound Analysis

The –ly suffix is repeated a couple times in this sentence due to adverbs. If it were a couple of lines from poetry, this rhyming could be used for positive effect. However, in creative fiction the repetitive sound can irritate readers, so it should be avoided.

How should this sentence be rewritten? 

With more accurate verbs. (See the solution below)


2. Adverbs as Vague Descriptors

Revisiting the sentence above, I have also revised the sentence using more accurate verbs and getting rid of the overused adverbs ending in –ly suffixes. Compare them for yourself.

Incorrect: Myra slowly walked down the carpeted hallway, listening intently to her mother’s snores echoing from the bedroom.

Correct: Myra tiptoed down the carpeted hallway, tensing as she listened to her mother’s snores echoing from the bedroom.


The Solution to Adverbs

Each use of an adverb should be seen as an opportunity to improve the description without halting the flow of the story. Paragraphs of description like Dickens used to write in A Tale of Two Cities are inappropriate for modern audiences, so using accurate verbs that will help further the plot while adding more vivid description can go a long way.

In the revised sentence above, the first change I made was to replace slowly walked with tiptoed. This more accurate verb gives the reader a detailed look at how Myra was walking and eliminates the repetitive –ly suffix in the adverb slowly.

The second change I made was to replace listening intently with tensing as she listened. There are other phrases I could have used to describe what she was doing as a reaction to listening, but this one worked for me. It eliminated the redundant adverb intently while still getting across the same information, plus a bit more. The reader can envision her tensing up as she listens. These more accurate verbs will help bring out the details in your story while fine-tuning the sentence structure for the benefit of the reader.


What does this mean for you?

This doesn’t mean you should never use adverbs, but that they should be used only on rare occasions. In most cases, adverbs are either unnecessary and can be taken out without losing any meaning in the sentence or they can be replaced with more accurate verbs, as I demonstrated above.


Editing Tip for Writers

Those writers who have already completed a manuscript may be thinking to themselves, I just finished revising it, and now I need to read over it for a fifth, seventh, or even tenth time. Here’s a little tool of the trade me and many editors have learned that can be very helpful. If you use Microsoft Word, there’s a little tool called Word Search. You’ve probably heard of it and may even have used it. However, if you just want to find adverbs throughout your manuscript so you can read the surrounding sentences and correct them without having to reread the entire book, try this:

In the text box of the word you are going to search for, type ly and add a space afterward. Then hit enter or search. It won’t show the space you added afterward, but the Word Search function will only find instances where ly is used at the end of a word.

The end product will highlight all uses of ly at the end of words and allow you to go from one ly to the next, reading and correcting each adverb use.


I hope this helps. If you have questions or comments about adverbs and their use, feel free to leave a comment.

Don't Cannibalize Grandma, Invite Her - Writing Personal Address

by Weston Kincade on 11/27/13

In this section, I am not referring to when you write down an address. The personal address I will be covering is in reference to the dialogue you write in a short story or manuscript. If improperly punctuated, it can have disastrous consequences for your characters.


What is personal address?

A personal address is when a line of dialogue uses a pronoun, name, or nickname of the character being spoken to. When you are writing a line of dialogue such as, “Robert, don’t touch that!” it doesn’t have to be elaborate, but punctuating your personal addresses properly can prevent reader confusion.


Punctuation Rule for Personal Address

When using a personal address, always remember that the name, nickname, or pronoun of the person being addressed must be set off with one or more commas. If it is at the beginning or end of the sentence, one comma should be placed within the sentence either before or after the name. For example:

“You’d best get moving, Courtney.”


“Boy, don’t get on my bad side.”

However, if the name occurs in the middle of the sentence, two commas will be needed to set it off on either side, like in this example:

“Just because you’re dating both of us, Trevor, doesn’t mean the rules change on Valentine ’s Day.”


Potential Problems in Incorrect Personal Address

A missing comma can change the meaning and course of events within your story. One example that illustrates just how drastic this problem can be is below. See if you can figure out the difference in meaning between the two following sentences:

A: “Let’s go eat Grandma.”


B: “Let’s go eat, Grandma.”


If you haven’t figured it out yet, A is happily promoting cannibalism of Grandma. Because the comma is missing in the personal address, it isn’t a comment intended for Grandma, but is instead a comment said aloud, inviting others to join the speaker in the cannibalistic family meal.

Sentence B is a properly punctuated personal address. Here, instead of promoting cannibalism of the speaker’s grandmother, the speaker is addressing her Grandmother, inviting her to come eat with her.

I think we can all agree that this demonstrates how one comma can drastically change the meaning of a sentence. So, be sure your personal addresses are punctuated properly. If you have further questions, feel free to comment.

6. Pronoun-Antecedent Order

by Weston Kincade on 11/23/13

The last common pronoun-antecedent agreement error many writers make deals with pronoun order, also known as anticipatory reference. The pronoun should not come before the antecedent it is referring to in a sentence. If it does, the reader has a tendency of looking for the antecedent in the previous sentence, which can cause confusion.


Pronoun-Antecedent Order Error

IncorrectStan was enamored with her, but Megan had no interest in him.

The pronouns in this sentence are her and him. The problematic one is her. On its own, this sentence wouldn’t pose a problem for most readers. However, if the sentence before this one mentioned another woman, then confusion could ensue. The pronoun her should never have come before the antecedent Megan.


Pronoun-Antecedent Order Solution

The solution to this pronoun-antecedent error is simple, change the order. This may require you to use a different pronoun, like in this sentence.

CorrectStan was enamored with Megan, but she had no interest in him.

Now the sentence makes complete sense without the risk of confusion.


For more explanations of common pronoun-antecedent agreement errors, try the following articles.


Common Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Errors

1. Singular-Plural Inconsistency

2. Singular Indefinite Pronoun Inconsistency

3. Gender Inconsistency

4. Missing Antecedents

5. Ambiguous Antecedents

6. Pronoun-Antecedent Order

5. Ambiguous Antecedents

by Weston Kincade on 11/23/13

Ambiguous antecedents are inconsistencies between pronouns and the nouns they refer to. For a reader, sometimes this can be confusing or lead to an unintentional, comedic interpretation. Either way, it will force the reader to stop, halting the flow of the plot and storyline. This isn’t something you want. As a writer, you want your reader to flow through the book, hooked and unable to set it aside.


Ambiguous Antecedents Example

IncorrectAfter sampling the delectable cheesecake, I couldn’t help but indulge and dug in with my spoon until it disappeared.

This is a complex sentence, but a format writers commonly use. Especially with more complicated sentences, one must be careful not to confuse the pronouns and their antecedents. The pronouns used in this sentence are I and it. The problematic one is it. There are two ways the sentence could be interpreted:

1. The pronoun it could be referring to the antecedent cheesecake. This is the intended meaning, that the cheesecake disappeared.

2. However, confusion can occur here because some readers may first associate the pronoun it with the antecedent spoon. In this case, the spoon disappearing isn’t as likely and might even be humorous, creating an expectation that the reader would choke on it.


Ambiguous Antecedents Solution

The simplest solution in this instance is to take the unnecessary statement of what utensil was used out. The reader probably doesn’t need to know specifically that a fork was used to eat the cheesecake, so the revised sentence would read:

CorrectAfter sampling the delectable cheesecake, I couldn’t help but indulge and dug in until it disappeared.


For more explanations of common pronoun-antecedent agreement errors, try the following articles.


Common Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Errors

1. Singular-Plural Inconsistency

2. Singular Indefinite Pronoun Inconsistency

3. Gender Inconsistency

4. Missing Antecedents

5. Ambiguous Antecedents

6. Pronoun-Antecedent Order

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