Insert quotation marks here. Please.

You know what annoys me? When I pick up a book, and it looks interesting, and I flip open the pages…only to find that the dialogue is not enclosed in quotation marks. It just bugs me.

Why don’t we storm the castle, he asked, thoughtfully tapping his chin with one finger.
There’s only two of us, she said. It would be suicide.
Maybe not.
You’re daft, she said, cutting off all future discussion on the matter.
Except they wound up storming the castle anyway.

See? See? Don’t you see how annoying that is?

Doesn’t this look better?

“Why don’t we storm the castle?” he asked, thoughtfully tapping his chin with one finger.
“There’s only two of us,” she said. “It would be suicide.”
“Maybe not.”
“You’re daft,” she said, cutting off all future discussion on the matter.
Except they wound up storming the castle anyway.

See how much easier that is to read? It is for me, anyway. It just doesn’t scan right to my eye without the quotation marks.

That being said, if it’s a really really good book, I might put up with the lack of quotes anyway, just to get the benefit of a great story. But if I’m on the fence about a book, usually a lack of quote marks is enough to make me stick that baby right back on the shelf. Shallow? Sure. But who has time to read things when the format annoys you, regardless of the content? Not me.

I was thinking about this today when I picked up a copy of the first book in the Kristin Lavransdatter triology by Sigrid Undset. I’ve been saying that I need to read Eric Larsson’s trilogy of books–you know, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, et. al.–because Larsson was Scandinavian, and I am Scandinavian by heritage. Well, Undset was Scandinavian, too, and her books, which are set in medieval Norway, won some fairly major awards, including a little ole trinket known as the Nobel Prize for Literature. So I was thinking I’d like to try out her books. But I opened up the first book, and damned if there were no quotation marks around the dialogue passages. Ack. As if it wasn’t going to be challenging enough for me to read as it was.

I’m probably going to regret putting the Kristin Lavransdatter book back on the shelf, just because it was missing quote marks. Everyone I know who’s read those books has raved about them. But what can I do? I just have a hard time getting past the lack of quotes.


About jenniferlarsonwrites

I'm a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tennessee. I have a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor's degree in English from Rhodes College. I'm a born-and-bred Southerner who spent a few years in Southern California, a rabid baseball fan and a would-be grower of tomatoes. You can also visit me at LinkedIn or on Twitter at @JenniferLarson.
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5 Responses to Insert quotation marks here. Please.

  1. Diane says:

    Do you suppose it was the translator who omitted the quotation marks. Were they used in the original language?

  2. Beth Blevins says:

    I suppose you could get out the old editing pencil and add them yourself–? Pretend it’s a puzzle you’re trying to solve (that is, trying to find the dialogue) to make reading the book a little less of a passive experience.

  3. Cathrine says:

    Please, please go back and pick up that book! I’m reading it (for the third time, I seem to read it once in every decade) right now and I just love the way she writes. It’s hard in the beginning, but it won’t take that many pages before you get it. And the prose really is beautiful, if the translator has done the original justice at all. Found your blog due to this entry, and think I just might keep reading for a bit. Good luck with your ankle, by the way – I broke mine … 7 years ago, and while it DID take time to heal, I have been able to run faster and dance better than before, even with som shrapnel that I never bothered to take out.

  4. Cathrine says:

    And… Obviously, What I WANTED to say, there aren’t quotation marks in the original text. Also, Undset uses what we call the “thought line” (This sign: – ) weirdly, often at the end of phrases. I believe this is to weaken the emphasis on the end of the phrase, as if it is some kind of afterthought.

  5. Diane says:

    After reading Cathrine’s comments, I think I’ll try this series.

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