Questionable punctuation question

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Amerigo

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Does the following work, or should 'clean' be in quotes. Perhaps a different way altogether?
He quickly dressed in a slightly too-small button-up shirt and a pair of clean? blue jeans and put on his sneakers.
 

ChaseJxyz

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What is it you're trying to communicate?

I used parenthesis in this sentence because I wanted those bits to be asides, also because I'm using a very casual style for the narrator:

The “meet-cute” at the bus station had whatever was the inverse of chemistry (gym class?) and they were almost late to meet the parole officer because she had to go clothes shopping, as what he had brought wasn’t suitable (even though he got exactly what she had asked for).
I also do this elsewhere in the story:
The producer(?) was telling him what to do, giving him advice on how to act, what the procedure for this was.
since the POV character for that scene doesn't know who that person was, they presumed she was a (reality tv) producer due to what was going on, and I wanted to communicate it that way instead of "The producer, or at least that's what they assumed she was, ..."

Oh yeah I use air quotes/scare quotes for meet-cute because that's what it was supposed to be, but it really wasn't, which is what the scare quotes imply (with the inverse of chemistry giving an explanation as to why). I use parenthesis, scare quotes, and italics to stress/imply different things. But in my main manuscript, I only use scare quotes and italics with the narrator because I want it to be More Formal. I DO use parenthesis in the footnotes, as one would normally use parenthesis in academic work, but that's because the (story's in-universe) author is intentionally writing the narrative like a normal narrative and the footnotes as more academic. They're two different voices, so the types of punctuation I use (and how) is different as part of that.

SO If your character thinks the jeans are clean, but really aren't (like they were sitting on the floor for a week but you've only worn them once since they've last been washed) then they're "clean" jeans. If you want it to come off like the NARRATOR themselves are asking the question if the jeans are clean, like if the narrator is very casual or this is first person, then you can do "and a pair of clean(?) blue jeans" or "a pair of (clean?) blue jeans."

The fun thing about writing is you can play around with the rules of grammar to communicate different stuff. You can use it to imply thoughts or intent without words, or you can intentionally introduce ambiguity (both thought-speech and thinking are italics for me, and there's a time or two where I want it to be unclear if the dialogue is the character's own thoughts or not, as they're not really sure, either).
 
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Izz

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Does the following work, or should 'clean' be in quotes. Perhaps a different way altogether?
Clean should be in quotes if you're trying to communicate that the jeans might not actually be clean.

He quickly dressed in a slightly too-small button-up shirt and a pair of 'clean' blue jeans

Still, you might think about considering other ways to phrase the sentence, too, to make it less list-like, give more voice, characterization etc. Suggestions to show what I mean :) (just riffing, of course):

He quickly dressed in a slightly too-small button-up shirt and pulled on a pair of jeans that had lain crumpled beside the bed for at least a week.
He whipped on a slightly too-small button-up shirt and a pair of blue jeans fished from the floor beside the bed.
He wriggled into a pair of blue jeans he'd discovered on the floor and then forced his upper body into a slightly too-small button-up shirt.


I'd also think about either cutting the sneakers portion of the sentence completely or making that a sentence of its own.

Just thoughts. Your mileage may vary, and all that :)
 
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Silenia

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To me, the use of scare quotes implies that the narrator is well aware they don't quite fit the definition of being actually clean, whether that's the typical definition (e.g. they've got that stain at the bottom of the leg and have been worn a day or two already, but they're less dirty than his other clothes so...clean enough in his opinion and f* whoever disagrees) or the narrator's own definition (they're fresh from the wardrobe, so other folks would call 'm clean, but *gasp* they were just washed with store-brand laundry detergent in a washing machine, not carefully and repeatedly handwashed with this special, super-expensive detergent he usually insists on). Alternatively, narrator is snarkily commenting on the dirty state of those jeans. Essentially, scare quotes play at a contrast between general (or a specific character other than the narrator's) opinion and narrator's opinion, and/or suggests snark or sarcasm.

TL;DR: "clean" jeans can roughly be read as so-called clean jeans or supposedly clean jeans or not-actually-clean jeans.

On the other hand, a question mark implies that the narrator is uncertain of the state of said jeans. (E.g. he can't quite remember whether he actually washed them after wearing them earlier that week). The way Chase did it in their second example--attaching (?) to the word in question, rather than just ?--reads more clearly, because normally a question mark signals not just a question, but also the end of a sentence much like a period or exclamation mark would. By parenthesizing it, it's more clear that it doesn't fulfil that second function here.

TL;DR: clean(?) jeans can roughly be read as clean (were they, though?) jeans or clean (he thought, but wasn't sure) jeans.
 
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Amerigo

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Thank you all. He's not sure if they're clean. I'm going with clean(?).
 

Lakey

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In that case, Amerigo, I would go with something like “…in jeans he hoped were clean” or “...in jeans that might be clean”. I wouldn’t have any idea what (?) meant if I came across it while reading — I might think it was an editing note that was erroneously left in the final draft.

:e2coffee: