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Complex Multi-Paragraph Quote within Quote Dialog

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johnnyque

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Below is a bit of sample dialog for a work of fiction. The speaker is telling a story aloud for several uninterrupted paragraphs with him quoting someone else inside. Grammar rules stipulate that quotes within quotes get a single ' instead of a ", but when you apply it in this context you get "' , which looks like a mistake. My take on it is that while it may be correct, nearly all readers will assume it's wrong. Any thoughts?

"So I was working the night shift at the time, and this crazy lady walks in. Her shirt is falling off her shoulder, glasses crooked on her face and her purse dragging on the ground.
"She asks me, 'What isle is the booze on?'
"'Isle three.'
"'Where the hell is isle three?'
"'Right after isle two, m'am.'
"And, I swear, she spit right in my face."


All of the lines between the second paragraph and the last line are grammatically correct as far as I can tell, but they clearly "look" wrong. The double plus single quotation mark in the beginning looks odd when the line only ends with a single quotation mark at the end. If you had to publish this to a group of people, how would you handle it?

Thanks for your help.
 
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Duncan J Macdonald

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Below is a bit of sample dialog for a work of fiction. The speaker is telling a story aloud for several uninterrupted paragraphs with him quoting someone else inside. Grammar rules stipulate that quotes within quotes get a single ' instead of a ", but when you apply it in this context you get "' , which looks like a mistake. My take on it is that while it may be correct, nearly all readers will assume it's wrong. Any thoughts?

"So I was working the night shift at the time, and this crazy lady walks in. Her shirt is falling off her shoulder, glasses crooked on her face and her purse dragging on the ground.
"She asks me, 'What isle is the booze on?'
"'Isle three.'
"'Where the hell is isle three?'
"'Right after isle two, m'am.'
"And, I swear, she spit right in my face."


All of the lines between the second paragraph and the last line are grammatically correct as far as I can tell, but they clearly "look" wrong. The double plus single quotation mark in the beginning looks odd when the line only ends with a single quotation mark at the end. If you had to publish this to a group of people, how would you handle it?

Thanks for your help.
This is all one character recounting a story? Then it is all one paragraph.

Try this:

"So I was working the night shift at the time, and this crazy lady walks in. Her shirt is falling off her shoulder, glasses crooked on her face and her purse dragging on the ground. She asks me, 'What isle is the booze on?' I sez, 'Isle three.' She weaves a bit, 'Where the hell is isle three?' I sez, with a straight face, 'Right after isle two, m'am.' And, I swear, she spit right in my face."
 
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absitinvidia

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Unless they're shopping in an archipelago, I'd suggest changing "isle" to "aisle."

:)
 

ldhoyt

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I like Duncan's suggestion, it looks better and was easier to read.
 

johnnyque

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Thanks for the suggestions.

Duncan's suggestion won't work in this situation as the length of the dialogue spreads for the majority of a page (the text above is just an example). It would be way too unwieldy and tedious as one page-long paragraph with constant "I said-She said" labels appearing at the start or end of every line. It is more of someone telling a story within a long speech. It definitely calls for separate paragraphs whenever the speaker changes in the story within the story.

Any thoughts on what to do with it without making it one paragraph? I'm fairly sure it is grammatically correct (barring the "isle" error). If there is an error with the dialog format, please let me know. The real question is whether to leave it grammatically correct which will make many readers assume it's an error.

I had to make a similar decision recently with the word "number" as in meaning more numb. The obvious problem with it, although it's perfectly correct, is that the reader will assume it's a mistake and referring to a numeral.

I appreciate everyone's responses. I've been scouring the net for days without finding a conclusive answer. There are ample sites covering multiple-paragraph same speaker dialog and many sites covering quotes within quotes, but I can't find one that shows a combination of the two.
 

raburrell

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If the story keeps going for longer than that, I'd really try to find a different way to get the information across. Let another character break in, for example. Or lose the 'I said' 'she said' all over the place. (i.e. instead of
She said 'where's the booze', so I told her 'It's over there' (etc), try
She asked me where the booze was and I told her it was in aisle three.
 

johnnyque

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Hi, Rebecca, thanks for the suggestion.

The scene is more of a graduation speaker telling a story within his/her speech or a general giving a speech to an army. While it's a great suggestion to use another character to deliver the lines, it won't work here as it's not possible to utilize another character in this situation. It's basically a one-man show at this point.

IMHO, the dilemma with the second half is that's not how people tell entertaining stories. Good storytellers (stand-up comedians, etc.) use direct quotations from others as if they're reenacting the conversation in front of you, not a paraphrase of it. I think cutting the quotes and paraphrasing what was said ruins that live feel, although it would solve the awkward-looking punctuation.

The crux of the problem is to leave it correct and have people assume it's wrong (possibly the majority of people), or to make it incorrect but possibly more acceptable. Closing each paragraph of the dialog with a quotation mark would be wrong, but would probably appear correct to the average reader. Both options are trade-offs. The difficulty is deciding which one is better.
 

Duncan J Macdonald

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Thanks for the suggestions.

Duncan's suggestion won't work in this situation as the length of the dialogue spreads for the majority of a page (the text above is just an example). It would be way too unwieldy and tedious as one page-long paragraph with constant "I said-She said" labels appearing at the start or end of every line. It is more of someone telling a story within a long speech. It definitely calls for separate paragraphs whenever the speaker changes in the story within the story.
Well, I got confused by the fact that your quotation marks weren't in pairs:
e.g.: "'Right after isle two, m'am.' That should be written "'Right after isle two, ma'am.'"

But, back to the thread of the story. If you need to have that much dialogue within dialogue, I'd approach it this way:

Fred settled back in his chair, took another long pull at his beer, and started the story.
"So I was working the night shift at the time, and this crazy lady walks in. Her shirt is falling off her shoulder, glasses crooked on her face and her purse dragging on the ground."
She asks me, "What [a]isle is the booze on?"
"[A]Isle three."
"Where the hell is [a]isle three?"
"Right after [a]isle two, m'am."
Fred belched with enough vigor to rattle shop windows three blocks away.
"And, I swear, she spit right in my face."

I added transitions at the beginning and end to try to mark the actual *story*.
 

backslashbaby

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You know how in academic writing, you indent on both sides, single-space, and lose the quote marks for long quotes? I wonder if there is anything similar used here? I don't know, but if you're Googling, that might help. Or not ;)

**cross-posted. Sorry!
 
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johnnyque

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Hi, Duncan, thanks for the feedback.

I appreciate your help, but your punctuation advice is not right. When one character is delivering multi-paragraph dialog, you do not use a closed punctuation mark until the end of the last paragraph. It is incorrect to use it at the end of every line. That is the basic problem that made me ask the question. The example dialog is punctuated correctly; it just looks wrong. The average reader will think a closed quotation mark should be at the end of every line, but it's wrong to put them there.

"So she asked me" also needs a quotation mark in front of it to denote a character and not the narrator is speaking. It can't work the way you have it.

The multi-paragraph punctuation rules can be found at any of these links:

http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/dialogue.shtml
http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?p=227841
http://www.writingforums.org/blog.php?b=294
 

johnnyque

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Hi, backslashbaby

I was hoping to find exactly what you're talking about. Being able to indent to denote that all of it is being said by one speaker would make my life much easier right now.

Unfortunately, everything I've found universally says not to indent and to mark each paragraph of a single-speaker multi-paragraph dialog with a quotation mark at its beginning and no mark at all at the endings. That applies until you reach the last paragraph of the dialog, and then you close quote it. Only one closed quotation mark is used in the entirety of a multi-P dialog, regardless of how long it goes on.

The other rule that I've found universally posted on a quote within a quote is to 'use single quotes around the inside quote.'

The problem is that when you combine the first rule with the second in the middle of a multi-para quote, you get, "'A double and a single mark appearing at the beginning of the lines, and a single at the end.'

I've Googled the heck out of this, and can't find anything dealing with this specific situation. I think it's an uncommon problem. If anyone ever writes a story including a stand-up comic routine, they'll have the same trouble.
 
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IceCreamEmpress

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I appreciate your help, but your punctuation advice is not right. When one character is delivering multi-paragraph dialog, you do not use a closed punctuation mark until the end of the last paragraph.


That's not an invariable rule; some stylebooks call for quotation marks at the end of every paragraph.

That said, if you're following the "don't close the quotation marks until the last paragraph" style, you do need to be consistent about it, as you have been.

And yes, "' looks weird, but it's correct.
 

johnnyque

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Hi, IceCreamEmpress,

Great! That's exactly what I'm looking for. Can you cite any manuals that claim any different? Everything I've seen so far says that you cannot use quotation marks at the end of paragraphs in multi-para dialog. I'd love to find a style book that would justify the closed quotes.
 

IceCreamEmpress

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I know I've had to work that way (quotation marks at the end of each paragraph) but I don't remember which style books prescribe that--it's by far a minority view, and the Chicago Manual of Style, which is the US publishers' preferred style guide, calls for the closing quotation marks at the end of the last paragraph.

Try the AP Stylebook, maybe?
 

ideagirl

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If the story keeps going for longer than that, I'd really try to find a different way to get the information across. Let another character break in, for example.

I agree. Outside the context of a formal speech or a one-man play, I don't think a human being would let another human being talk that long without interrupting.

Also, that much dialogue with no action, no setting, etc. would make me disconnect from the story--if persons A and B are in place X and A is telling a story, A and B are still DOING something in the meantime: there are gestures, facial expressions, interruptions (see above), perhaps motion, things happening around them and so on. So it feels unnatural to me to lose all of that detail and have nothing but A's voice for one or two pages. It would work much better to intersperse A's story with concrete details that remind us that B is present and reacting, that they're in location X and things are going on around them...
 

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"So I was working the night shift at the time, and this crazy lady walks in. Her shirt is falling off her shoulder, glasses crooked on her face and her purse dragging on the ground.
"She asks me, 'What isle is the booze on?'
"'Isle three.'
"'Where the hell is isle three?'
"'Right after isle two, m'am.'
"And, I swear, she spit right in my face."

I have a little problem with this quoted dialogue and it has nothing to do with grammatical style. So this graduation speaker is telling a story (maybe on stage.) I'd imagine he produces a series of words: She asks me, what aisle is the booze on? Aisle three. Where the hell is aisle three?......

That doesn't sound right to me. He has to do something, either with pauses, change of tone, gestures, etc. to identify which were his words and which were the woman's. It's different to winding back in time and have him and the woman actually doing the talking, in which case it may be clear from the context who was talking, and may even indicate the hidden gestures and emotions.

Maybe it's just me?
 

RJK

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AP Style book agrees with the Chicago Manual of Style on multi-paragraph quotes.
The grammar is correct when you place the single and double quotes next to each other, However, In a book I'm currently reading, they placed a space between the punctuation marks.
" 'Isle three.'
" 'Where the hell is isle three?'
" 'Right after isle two, ma'am.'
I don't know if the author (Jeffrey Deaver) or the publisher (Simon & Shuster) initiated this.
 

Izz

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I have a little problem with this quoted dialogue and it has nothing to do with grammatical style. So this graduation speaker is telling a story (maybe on stage.) I'd imagine he produces a series of words: She asks me, what aisle is the booze on? Aisle three. Where the hell is aisle three?......

That doesn't sound right to me. He has to do something, either with pauses, change of tone, gestures, etc. to identify which were his words and which were the woman's. It's different to winding back in time and have him and the woman actually doing the talking, in which case it may be clear from the context who was talking, and may even indicate the hidden gestures and emotions.

Maybe it's just me?
I agree. If it's a speech he will have to at least denote who's speaking with 'I said,' 'she said,' type wheelie-dealies.

As the passage stands, it's grammatically correct. However, it doesn't feel right to me for the same reason as it doesn't feel right to GordonK. Try reading it aloud, pretending that you're giving the speech. How does the audience know who's speaking?
 
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