If you do it the other way, it would totally pull me out of the story to think, "Why didn't he add a question mark to the end of the question? Is that right? Is that appropriate? Ooh, it bugs me. Oh well, now what was going on again?"
"Why, that thing," said John. "Why that thing?" asked John. "Why that thing," said John, "is utterly rediculous." "Why that thing," asked John, "and not another?" "Why ask why," said John. "Why ask why?" asked John.
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited August 28, 2008).]
In formal attribution it is a common practice to follow standard subject-predicate syntax, if for no other reason than having a proper noun begin the attribution allows for both clauses to be in sentence case, ie, both clauses begin with initial capitals.
"Why that thing?" John asked.
"Why that thing?" John said.
or less commonly;
John asked, "Why that thing?"
All are proper in the strictest usages. However, creative writing more readily allows for informal usages, especially for varying syntax to avoid wooden structures. Taken to one extreme, "Why?" asked John, "that thing." is also acceptable in informal dialogue. The question mark, though, terminates the question clause in any usage.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited August 28, 2008).]
Extrinsic, I became suddenly curious while doing my little play - must one put a "?" at the end of what is intended to be a rhetorical comment? i.e. "Why ask why," John said.
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If the context makes the rhetorical intent clear, then no, a question mark is not indicated. However, the exemplar by itself doesn't quite make the intent clear. It could be a direct question or not.
Why ask why was the question on John's mind. The rhetorical intent is clear in that example.
Imperative and courteous queries are also not terminated with a question mark.
Can you tell us what's on John's mind. Would you tell us what's on John's mind.
Indirect discourse takes a question mark when a direct question is within a declarative statement.
The question on John's mind, why ask why? was on everyone else's mind.
In spoken recordation, though, eg, a stenographic transcript, a question as part of a statement is not marked with a question mark.
He asked me what was on John's mind.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited August 29, 2008).]
I'm sorry, but in my opinion, all of these questions are for an editor to answer. They pay them money to do it you know. I think when I obsess over tiny details like that it distracts me from writing my story. Just write. The editor can fix it if the story is good enough to publish.
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Shimiqua, You bring up an interesting point. How much does it really matter to editors or publishers whether or not a writer demonstrates mastery (or at least minimal proficiency) in his or her craft? If it does matter, then what exactly does an editor edit? Are there any editors out there that would like to comment?
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I am a freelance editor. Ultimately, all responsibility for a work of writing is the writer's responsibility, be it style, grammar, permissions for using other's copyrighted material, copyright registration, or accuracy of facts, etc. That some publishers today still do some editing, verify permission or acquire permissions, register copyrights, and do fact checking is so they don't lose face or wind up in court.
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What editors do varies hugely according to the editor. In terms of editors for short story magazines, they have a range of jobs, but as far as the writer is concerned there are two that are important; selecting material, and suggesting rewrites/changes.
I've had editors accept stories as is, I've had editors ask for minor correctons here and there, I've had editors ask for more significant rewrites (cutting a story down, altering an ending to be more climactic). It depends on how they want to work and how they see the writer/editor dynamic - there is no "one size fits all" approach.
Shimaqua, it's all very well to say "I get distractd by obsessing over tiny details", and it can be true, but that's a dangerous and slippery slope - I've known people claiming to be writers who say "I can't spell but that's not the point, editors can fix that". Editors always have far more material coming in to them that they can handle, and it would be a VERY rare editor who struggled on through a piece with poor grammar and spelling just because it might have a really good story.
Don't obsess when you are writing. Bu DO obsess when you are reviewing/editing your own work - and you SHOULD always review/edit your own work, no matter who else is going to see it.
I'm still wavering over the point I originally asked. Rather than use the actual quote from my story, I tried to make up one that presented the problem in its extremity.
What I had was --
"That research thingamabob? asked John.
You see how my actual bit of dialogue is not immediately identifiable as a question. So, do I need the question mark so the reader more immediately understands the phrase is a question, or is the question mark redundant since I tell the reader that John asked it as a question?
For some reason, gut feeling, I'm resisting going with this:
"That research thingamabob?" said John.
I think it may be I have enough "said"s around there and feel like using something else although I know I need a dialogue tag.
Yeah, it's a pick, picky point. Getting it wrong is probably not a reason for the story to be rejected, but I got to thinking about the problem and realized I had no gramamtical basis -- to my knowledge -- to make the decison.
I am no editor, but I tend to understand punctuation fairly well. My initial response was meant to suggest that this all depends on the intent of the sentence. If you mean this to be a question deserving a response, then do it the original way or invert your attributive phrase like extrinsic suggested - "...?" John asked. If you do not feel the order of these two words corresponds with the rest of your writing, I believe - "...?" asked John - would be fine. It sometimes disrupts my reading when I see a question in dialogue followed by the word "said." Most people would probably read straight over this without a blink. However, I tend to read differently from most people, and I get agitated by what I see as the lack of correlation between punctuation and attributive phrases and such. If it is meant to be a question, then give it a question mark and write "asked." If it is rhetorical, then don't use either one. I hope that helps.
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Consider this. If verb-subject agreement is grammatically important, even though it could be considered redundant because the verb and the subject provide a certain amount of identical information, then punctuation-verb agreement in this case is also grammatically important, even though it could be considered redundant.
If you don't put a question mark after a question, and then use "asked," you are grammatically incorrect.
If you put a question mark after a question, and then don't use "asked," you are being contradictory.
Use the question mark when you use "asked" and vice versa.
"That research thingamabob? asked John. is correct but that
"That research thingamabob? said John. is incorrect although understandable
"That research thingamabob, asked John. is totally incorrect --???
Hmmm...aside from grammar, I think I detect lessening of the questionness of the question from first to last.
although...the last version seems to want to be part of a longer sentence. More like -- 1) "That research thingamabob? asked John before I could stop him. 2) "That research thingamabob, asked John before I could stop him. 3) "That research thingamabob, asked John. "The one in the deep freeze?"
[This message has been edited by arriki (edited August 30, 2008).]
I could call this correct. It's like squares and rectangles. A square is a special kind of rectangle, but it's still a rectangle. Similarly, asking is more precise, but "said" includes "asking", in my opinion. You have to say something in order to ask something.
It's a matter of knowing the rules/conventions and deciding which ones you can break for stylistic reasons and what those stylistic reasons would be.
Whenever you break a rule or go against a convention, you run a risk of distracting the reader from the story--if the reader notices, of course. As I have said before, a really great story covers a multitude of writing "sins."
Here's the absolutely final and last word on style. Sure, I don't mean that my word is the last word. Regardless, it's not mine anyway. I've heard it in one form or another from hordes of writers, authors, editors, and publishers. Aristotle thought he had the final word on style 2300 years ago. Who am I to attempt a trumping of Aristotle?
The English writer who seeks publication tacitly agrees to a contract with English readers, to write in standard written English. The rules of style for standard English usage are prescribed by an ever-expanding global consensus that originated in the era of the first dictionaries and evolved to the present ever-changing and evolving style. In America, one progenitor of style was Mr. Noah Webster. The most widely accepted style manual for creative writing in America today is The Chicago Manual of Style, first published in 1906. It's in its fifteenth edition. It has six "rules" for the question mark, thirty-nine for the comma.
Note; Prescribed rules. Conforming to the prescribed rules of standard written English allows for the easiest and simplest reading. Learning the rules, conforming writing to them is not as simple nor easy.
On the other side of the grammarian aisle is the rule for descriptive-usage written English. Anything goes, grammatical vice as rhetorical virtue is acceptable, if not profoundly darling, as long as it makes sense, contributes to the story's meaning, and doesn't disrupt the flow of reading. Even the most beautiful and appropriate clever darlings can be disruptive to reading. English usage dictionaries are helpful for exploring accepted descriptive-usage English writing practices, but are by no means comprehensive or prescriptive in nature.
There are very, very few writers in the imaginative and speculative genres who write and successfully publish by any partial foray into the descriptive-usage school. With one notable exception, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I know of no published science fiction or fantasy that doesn't rigidly conform to the prescriptive-usage school. There are also very few published writers in the literary genres who follow the descriptive school either, though more than the former.
For more on what an editor does, copyeditor actually, Chicago has a general overview of the copyeditor editing process, as well as a detailed description of an author's manuscript preparation responsibilities. There's a large section on manuscript editing: copyediting, or line editing as correcting style is also known, as well as an overview of how an editor communicates revision suggestions with a writer. NB, there is a fine line between nondiscretionary edits and discretionary edits. In the lightest copyedit, only nondiscretionary corrections are made by a competent copyeditor. The considerate copyeditor always queries on discretionary edits.
I bill my regular clients, who are all professional business writers, thirty-five cents a page for light copyediting. (I'm not prospecting for work.) I "read" about forty pages an hour and average roughly two thousand pages a month. For heavier copyedits, I charge up to thirty-five cents a word. I've entertained a few copyediting projects by creative writers. I accepted one. None of the rest justified the expense of copyediting without significant revisions, in my opinion. <shudder> That's another editorial process called developmental editing. Publishers in the olden days did do developmental editing. It's exremely rare these days for a publisher to do it. In one way, that's what writing workshops are intended for anymore.
Bookmaking: Editing, Design, Production, Third Edition, by Marshall Lee is a detailed survey of the business of book publishing. It also explores the author-editor interface; however, the emphasis is more from the publisher's perspective than the writer's, as is the case with Chicago.
I own a copy of Chicago and Bookmaking. They are invaluable references for my copyediting work and my creative writing and for guiding my limited publishing ambitions. I want to publish another book sometime in the next year. I've also read the editorial correspondence between an author and a copyeditor-editor-publisher (circa 1957) who published the title. Fascinating!
I've taken the advice of that horde of others to heart. To succeed in publishing, leave nothing to chance, write the best story possible, including writing in standard written English.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited August 30, 2008).]
As an editor, my attitude toward writers is that they should show me their level of commitment to their writing, their respect for their peers and to the institution of writing through the product they present.
That means the story contains an absolute minimal amount of spelling, vocabulary, and grammar errors. Everyone misses one or two. Grammar and spell checkers don't pick up everything, and I'm cool with that.
But writers also shouldn't rely completely on them. Edit yourself. Read through the story, every word, yourself. Make sure it makes sense and that it reads well. Read it out loud just to be certain. Make corrections, then send.
But when it comes to reading a story for potential publication, if I have to struggle to understand the story because of poor writer editing, there's no way I'd consider passing it for possible publication. Too much bother on my end.
The point it, writers have to sell themselves, and they do it through the quality of their end product.