Careless quoting is a writing crime. Fiction or nonfiction, a writer must be scrupulous in quoting words precisely and crediting their source. Most publishing contracts hold the author liable for misrepresentations and plagiarism, but even without that legal pressure, a writer, of all people, should naturally respect the intellectual property of others.
Quotation marks, or “quotes” for short, like to work in pairs. But they’re not all the same. They can be double or single, left or right, curly or straight. Part of an editor’s job is to know which marks to use in which context—and to make sure they’ve been used consistently.
Not all fictional characters are meant to be smooth-tongued and lyrical in their speech. Rather, just like us, they sometimes mumble or stumble. Giving a character flawed speech is a way to make dialogue more realistic. And this very human kind of talking often involves the use of interjections.
Parentheses and brackets (specifically, square brackets) normally come in pairs, as do other types of brackets and braces. Their main job is to set things off from their surroundings.
A chapter is a chunk of a book that comes to a recognizable end, usually marked by a page break or by an extra space followed by a new numbered or titled chapter. Chapters give readers of long works a place to pause. They provide a rhythm to the experience of reading.
Apostrophes, like quotation marks, hang out far above the baseline, where they have two main roles: contraction and possession. They also occasionally have a third role: as a marker of the plural.
Almost every writer I know has a love-hate relationship with their writing program, whether it’s Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Scrivener, or a yellow legal pad. It’s clear there’s no single perfect choice for drafting, editing, and formatting your work for publication.
Copyeditors typically work in a word-processed manuscript, making and suggesting changes directly in the document. Proofreaders come in at a later stage, after the manuscript has been converted and formatted for publication in a program like Adobe InDesign.
Semicolons, when they’re not winking at you, can be a useful punctuation mark. Some writers are fans of the mark; others could do without it. But whatever you think of semicolons, it can be helpful to know how they’re used.
Exclamation has always announced straightforward shouting, alarm, surprise, excitement, amazement, disbelief, exasperation, or even just helpless flustering. In the eighteenth century, readers could expect melodrama.