Gwen Tuinman



Writing Craft

Using Quotation Marks: Yes or No

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.

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On Writing: A Body at Work in a Body of Work

A few summers ago, my reading of Alias Grace kicked off a Margaret Atwood obsession. The inside cover listed 26 novels, 7 nonfiction works, 8 children’s books and 16 books of poetry. Other titles have since joined this dizzying inventory. While I listened to scores of online interviews to glean every bit of her wisdom, I most remember her advice to a pair of eager high-school-aged would-be writers. Take care of your back.

She reminded us that a body of work comes not only from cerebral exertion, but from unsung heroics of the body.

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The Lost Daughter

On the advice of another author, I read Elena Ferrante’s novel The Days Of Abandonment. Her storytelling is direct, often addressing uncomfortable and socially taboo feelings about marriage divorce and motherhood. Parts left me cringing. The novel reaffirms that a character’s unabashed honesty pulls readers deep inside their point of view.

Netflix is showing The Lost Daughter, a small budget indie film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal. She wrote the script based on Ferrante’s novel of the same title about Leda, a middle-aged divorcee whose long-awaited vacation leads to painful introspection. I once binged on episodes of Actors Roundtable that featured Gyllenhaal. She asked why women actors arrived on set in full makeup and dress like bridesmaids while male panelists dress casually in T-shirts and jeans. She also pointed out that the male-dominated film industry generates movies to satisfy the male gaze.

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