Monologues, Dialogue, and Characters

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book doctor 2015by Bobbie Christmas

Q: I have written a novel that could be described as conversational style. There are large blocks of text in which one of my characters is telling the story of her life to someone. I am having a little trouble finding information that explains how to use punctuation marks in this type of writing. Any suggestions?

A: Without seeing the manuscript, I’ll take a stab at the answer.

Monologues (long dialogue without anyone interrupting) are discouraged in contemporary literature, because readers today prefer to see a story unfold with action as well as dialogue. You may want to intersperse action with the dialogue, and you will more clearly know when to start and stop the quotation marks.

Even though readers today don’t want to be told a story and they want to watch it happen, monologues do have a place, and they also have punctuation guidelines.

Here’s the key: When a character speaks for more than a paragraph, do not end the paragraph with end-quotation marks. Leave it open. Open the next paragraph with quotation marks, however. At the end of the monologue, close it with quotation marks. Here’s a brief example:

John shifted his weight to his left leg. “One night my father came home stinking of whiskey. He yelled at us and woke us from a deep sleep. We didn’t know what he was going to do next.

“To our surprise, he made us all get up, Ruth, Susan, Samuel, and me, and he danced with every one of us in the living room.” John shook his head. “That night turned out to be one of my best memories of my old man.”

Q: My fiancée thinks I should change my main character to a woman, to make my novel more marketable. What say you?

A: Marketability is something to consider, but few men can write well from a feminine point of view. If you do not feel confident writing from the perspective of the opposite sex, the book will be less marketable, not more marketable. Show caution with any suggestion; follow your writer’s gut. We all have things we do instinctively, and we do them for a reason.

I’m a woman, so I write from a woman’s point of view. The one time I tried to write from a male perspective, the men in my critique circle pointed out serious flaws in the thoughts and actions of my male character. Few of us understand the opposite sex. I say stick with what you know.

Q: One of my characters is a ghost, and I’m really not sure how to have him reply in dialogue. Should I write that my protagonist is hearing him (she heard) versus “he said” or “he answered?”

A: My guess is that you have not ever met a ghost. If you had, you would know they talk in normal dialogue. Yes, I met one, and she said my name clearly, although she said no more. As a “ghost expert,” I would use dialogue the same as if the person were alive and present in the flesh.

As the author, you may choose to use whatever method feels right for you, though.

Q: When a character speaks in dialogue, are terms of endearment such as honey, love, buddy, etc., always capitalized?

A: The latest version of The Chicago Manual of Style says terms of endearment should not be capitalized unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence. Examples: “I love you, honey, but your feet sure stink.” “Hey, buddy, can you spare a dime?” “Ma’am, may I be of help?”


Send your questions to Bobbie@zebraeditor.com. Bobbie Christmas, book editor and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions quickly. Read more Ask the Book Doctor questions and answers at www.zebraeditor.com.

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