Speech marks, confusing myself

edited February 2013 in - Writing Problems
After Nena's thread about dots, thought I'd have another trawl through my punctuation (always slightly insecure about it). I'm not certain about reported speech within direct speech. This is a character reporting a conversation with another character. I've just amended it. Are the speech marks correct like this?

'I told him I’d been out trapping but had no luck. “It’s overhunted down here,” I said, “I’ll head up and join the big trappers next time. Is that where you been, taking supplies up to the trappers?” “Yes,” he says. “It must take a lot of skill driving a cart on those narrow mountain roads,’’ I says. ‘‘I bet a cart couldn’t get any further than the trapper’s camp.” "Oh, I been up past the tree-line,’’ he tells me. “Never,’’ says I. “I’ve raced avalanches on tracks where there’s no more than a hand’s width between my wheels and long miles of crystal air,’’ says he.'

Comments

  • It is clear which character is speaking and quoting.
    Format of single or double quotation marks will be a matter for the publisher's preferred style.
  • edited February 2013
    As Jan said, it's certainly very clear who is speaking, however that first sentence is a tad confusing without knowing what comes before it, Ana. Is [I told him I'd been out trapping but had no luck] direct speech or also a retelling of a past conversation?

    If this is a character talking now, and explaining a past conversation to someone else (reported speech within direct speech) then yes, you'll need ( " ) quotation marks around the outsides beginning at the "I told him I'd been...right up to...says he." The actual reported speech in the body of the text should have ( ' ) single marks.

    In other words, like this:
    "I told him I’d been out trapping but had no luck. 'It’s overhunted down here,' I said, 'I’ll head up and join the big trappers next time. Is that where you been, taking supplies up to the trappers?' 'Yes,' he says. 'It must take a lot of skill driving a cart on those narrow mountain roads,' I says. 'I bet a cart couldn’t get any further than the trapper’s camp.' 'Oh, I been up past the tree-line,' he tells me. 'Never,' says I. 'I’ve raced avalanches on tracks where there’s no more than a hand’s width between my wheels and long miles of crystal air,' says he.' "

    Another idea is to put past speech in italics but if there is a lot of it, it can get tiresome to read.
  • [quote=Island Girl]If this is a character talking now, and explaining a past conversation to someone else (reported speech within direct speech) then yes, you'll need ( " ) quotation marks around the outsides beginning at the "I told him I'd been...right up to...says he." The actual reported speech in the body of the text should have ( ' ) single marks.[/quote]

    I think the other way around (as Ana S currently has it) is more common these days (single quotes for normal, direct speech). Either is correct, as long as you're consistent throughout the book. And, as Jan says, different publishers will want to see it according to their own house style.

    The problem with one character recounting a conversation is that it can get confusing and look untidy, something that's exacerbated by breaking up the dialogue with speech tags - it gets tricky to keep track of who's saying what. It also sounds a bit forced, particularly that last, long sentence - would a character really quote verbatim a description like that (lovely though it is)? It might work better as a flashback scene or if you convert more of it to reported speech rather than direct quotes.
  • Some places I write for use " for direct speech and ' for all other quotes and some do it the other way round.
  • Thanks everyone. I think I've got it. Since I am the house in this case, I'll go with my house style.

    I've just found another bit where the direct speech and reported speech end together, which seems to call for 2 sets of speech marks, one double, one single. This looks weird and I can't bring myself to do it. You could say rewrite it to avoid the issue but shouldn't punctuation serve what we want to say and how we want to say it, rather than the other way round.
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