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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Join in the discussion

What are the proper uses of literary conventions?
Let's talk a minute about the use of literary conventions, shall we?  Why do we use paragraphs, periods, capital letters, and quotation marks?

What are conventions?  Convention: (1) a rule or practice based upon general consent and upheld by society at large; (2) an arbitrary rule or practice recognized as valid in any particular art or discipline, such as literature or art. (Literary Terms)

I just finished reading a lovely book, Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins.  I loved the book and hated the book in equal measure.  I loved the story and the characters and I hated it that the author left out quotation marks, making it very difficult to read the dialogue or to figure out who was speaking. Here is an example of the text from the book:

Where's the traveling ditto circus off to this weekend? Flash said as they stood together in the half-deserted street. I got a date with Moby in the morning if you want to witness it for history. And Fos, if you say Call me Ishmael again you're gonna fry. No offense, dit, but your husband isn't funny. ---Evidence of Things Unseen, p.109
See what I mean?  It is very difficult to tell who is talking.

Join in the discussion.  How do you feel about it when authors don't use customary literary conventions?  Have you ever experienced frustration when reading something where typical literary conventions weren't used?  Share your thoughts, please.


3 comments:

  1. I'm surprised the copyeditor didn't say anything to the author. That would've drove me nuts! Bad grammar and ignoring literary conventions irritate me to no end. That's why I'm going to school to become a copyeditor. Hopefully, I can save books one at a time. ;)

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  2. This site supports your feeling but also talks about why an author would choose to forgo the quotation marks:
    These authors choose not to use quotation marks to differentiate dialogue, but rather simply allow their dialogue to blend with the text. Even some great authors have done this, notably James Joyce or, more recently, Cormac McCarthy. Presumably this is done for the sake of style, but to my mind this makes the reading experience unnecessarily hard on the reader. Why boycott quotation marks? The quotation mark does its job very well: it is unique and highly visible. It is as near perfect as a punctuation mark could hope to be. It was invented in the first place because there was a need for a mark to help clearly indicate dialogue. Omitting it, or refusing to indent, or replacing it with dashes, will just confuse a reader.

    There are, of course, exceptions. As I mentioned, even great authors have crafted works that, for whatever reason, avoided quotation marks. Consider this example from William Carlos Williams's "The Use of Force"...
    The lack of quotation marks to me did make the story flow seamlessly, sort of like a Joycean stream of consciousness feel, although I do hate Joyce. :)

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  3. Margaret and Jenni-
    I am currently reading Ragtime by Doctorow and he also doesn't use quotation marks consistently. His work and his characters, therefore, feel distant to me. Almost as if I am watching a TV show with the volume turned down to low. It is is odd.

    Now that I know that Joyce writes in this style will ensure that I will avoid him.

    Love the quotes, Margaret, they were very helpful in putting my thoughts about quotation marks together in my mind.!
    -Anne

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