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I have a character unleash a monster hiccup in a scene. I'd like advice regarding whether or not it should be in quotes.

Here's the scene, in summary

"Hiccup!" Jane tried not to look embarrassed.

[Characters carry on]

"Hiccup!" This time, she was embarrassed.

[Conversation turns to focus on the hiccups]

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4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You would not use quotations, because it implies that she shouts hiccup rather than hiccups. If you replace hiccup with bang the difference becomes more apparent.

she hiccuped = A women has just hiccuped, and this refers more to the action than the sound itself.

Hiccup! = A sound occurs, and it specifically sounded like the word used.

"Hiccup!" = Someone shouts hiccup. Presumably Stoick, from How To Train Your Dragon.

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3  
+1 just for referencing How to Train Your Dragon. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 20 at 9:44
    
That nailed it. Thank you. –  Driss Zouak Mar 21 at 1:46

If you really feel the need to have whatever noise she makes expressed as dialogue, I would write it as "Hic!"

However, I personally would either write it as Hic! to indicate it's more of a sound than speech, or just relate it narratively:

Jane hiccuped loudly, startling even herself. She tried not to look embarrassed.

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The thing is, the impact of the action in that case doesn't catch the reader by surprise and instead makes it more mundane. Thanks for the option though. –  Driss Zouak Mar 15 at 1:23
3  
I agree with Lauren. Quotation marks mark direct speech. A hiccup is not speech. What you hear is the sound caused by a physiological process. You wouldn't have heartbeat in quotation marks or the sound of footsteps. If you want to use onomatopoeias (sound words) you should keep them outside your dialogue, because they are not dialogue. Italics are a common way to indicate sounds. On the other hand, sound words are not standard literary style. They were adapted by writers of pulp and "low brow" fiction from comic books. Depending on genre and stylistic level you might want to avoid them. –  what Mar 15 at 9:48
3  
If you feel you cannot surprise your readers without an explosive sound, then you think like a movie goer, not like a writer. Well written fiction can cause extreme emotion without resorting to comic book style. In fact, sound words always carry an aspect of tounge-in-cheek humorous writing. If you write a slapstick novel, they are great devices, but in a romantic situation they appear ridiculous. For that reason I like the narrative solution Lauren gave best. –  what Mar 15 at 9:54

Surprise requires context, so don't worry too much about it not being at the beginning of a sentence.

Jane listened intently, nodding, then immediately hiccuped.

Bob smiled slightly but kept going.

On a side, note, if she was simply "embarrassed", that's probably obvious, and could be omitted. Now, if she did something to show that she were embarrassed, you might want to write that.

Jane hiccuped again and covered her mouth, blushing.

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I'd consider rewriting, I don't think it's common to put such bodily interruptions into dialogue. Consider this wince from Harrison Bergeron, by Vonnegut:

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

"Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer," said George.

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