I’ve been thinking a lot about the absence of quotation marks in recent literature. Our current generation of fiction writers is not the first to cast off traditional dialogue punctuation. James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and E.L. Doctorow were among the early pioneers in that regard.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy, published in 1992, was the first quotation mark free novel I read. Readers complained about the difficulty to distinguish dialogue from narration. I remember my own concentration being pulled from the story. Oh wait, someone just spoke? Who said that? After a few chapters, persistence paid off. The story’s current pulled me forward.
Today’s reader has grown accustomed (haven’t we?) to the removal of quotation marks. Readability is sustained when artfully composed dialogue is paired with their absence. I enjoyed half of Linda Spalding’s novel, A Reckoning, before realizing her dialogue was punctuation free. If not masterfully written, however, readers won’t turn the page.
I’m considering the use of quotation marks in my own work which leads me to question what dictates the choice of whether or not to use this traditional punctuation. If I choose to write a novel or story quotation mark free, must all my future writings follow suit? Is this a true creative choice for me or my ego pressing me to be on trend?
In Fates and Furies, author Lauren Groff used quotation marks, yet in her literary historical novel Matrix, she omitted them. In a Twitter thread she wrote, “as a person who (generally but not always) eschews quotation mark— for deeply thought-out reasons! (…) It’s always textural, a question of intimacy. (…) Quotes feel declaratory, as though the speaker steps onto a pedestal before they speak. Useful for some texts, but for others (…) You want a closer texture, a feeling as though the dialogue is integrated into the flow of the text, or as though the text is being held close to the reader’s face.”
The process of writing this piece has evoked ‘deeply thought-out reasons’ why my short story in-progress is best served by excluding quotation marks. Dilemma resolved.
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