quotation marks, and their abuse

Why have I raised this subject, when not so long ago I was saying in no uncertain terms that puncutation is boring, and unworthy of discussion? It’s my way of preparing you for a short but very intense rant:

There are people who pepper their prose with quotation marks and not as a way to punctuate dialog. You know what I mean, those “writers” who try to make a point more “clearly” by isolating specific words with quotation marks. As I just did. Forgive me; it was all in the service of making my point.

Using quotation marks in the way says one thing very clearly, and it’s most certainly not the thing you mean to say:

This is not exactly the right word; I know it, and so do you.

It’s is a lazy and distracting habit, and I suspect that it correlates closely to an excessive fondness of exclamation points.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to point out that it is possible to do without quotation marks completely, even in punctuating direct dialog between characters. This is from The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s collection of interwoven short stories about his experiences in Vietnam, exactly how it appears on the page:

Henry Dobbins asked what the moral was.


You know. Moral.

Sanders wrapped the thumb in toilet paper and handed it across to Norman Bowker. There was no blood. Smiling, he kicked the boy’s head, watched the flies scatter, and said, It’s like what that old TV show — Paladin. Have gun, will travel.

Henry Dobbins thought about it.

Yeah, well, he finally said. I don’t see no moral.

There it is, man.

Fuck off.

Not that I’m promoting this practice, particularly. Just an observation; and yes, okay, a violent observation, but that is, I assure you, a coincidence. Really, it is.

I’m still thinking about non-negotiables in character development, and will have something about that tomorrow.