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I am wondering what is the convention for punctuating dialogue with oneself.

In particular, if a character speaks to himself, does the words need to be put in open and closed quotes. Note that the words in this case are merely the thoughts of the character.


  • How could I be so complacent, Alex said to himself.
  • I will not give in, Alex told himself
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You say "thoughts", but both examples as well as your specific question are about something the character says. At least to my mind, the two are different (though you could use the same style for both). Which are you referring to? (Also, I don't really see what this has to do with punctuation, but that could be just me...) –  Michael Kjörling Jun 7 '13 at 7:39
Since dialog is formatted differently in different areas of the world, can you clarify your location? I assume Australia? –  Neil Fein Jun 7 '13 at 12:29
In line with this I'd like to add that I'm British. –  CLockeWork Jun 7 '13 at 12:50

2 Answers 2

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In most instances thought is presented as italicised text.

If they’re physically talking I’d present it as normal text.

Thought - Damn it, what’s the matter with me? She thought as she closed the door.
Speech - ‘Damn it, what’s the matter with me?’ She cursed as she closed the door.

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"Before I start my reply, I want to point that, afaik, in Portuguese speaking countries, the most common way to delimit dialogues is to use only dashes. The quotation marks are reserved for thoughts and, sometimes, foreign words. I'm answering based on that criteria."

I handle that in my books as a normal dialogues.

How could I be so complacent? - Alex said to himself.

In the phrase below, maybe it makes more sense to consider it as a thought, but I don't know to context.

"I will not give in." – Alex thought while climbing the mountain. – "I must continue on."

Normally I rule that, if a character expects an answer from himself, he is dialogging with himself, otherwise, he's just toughing about something... But that's only me. You should choose what works better for you.

I guess the answer on quotes, depends on how you think you should deal with the dialogue. If it's a dialogue, don't quote. If it's a thought, quote.

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"If it's a dialogue, don't quote. If it's a thought, quote." I would have thought exactly the opposite. Why would you want speech to not be treated as speech? –  Neil Fein Jun 7 '13 at 11:48
That's one point where culture counts, I guess... Afaik, in Portugal and Brazil the dialogues are not quoted, just delimited with dashes. –  Psicofrenia Jun 7 '13 at 12:22
Ah, I see. OP is in Australia, however. If you want to specify this is a regional thing, I'd be happy to remove my downvote. I learned a new thing today! Purely for my own curiosity, do you have an example of this or a reference? –  Neil Fein Jun 7 '13 at 12:28
Yes, you're right. I should have pointed that. Commented fixed. –  Psicofrenia Jun 7 '13 at 12:48
Thanks. Markup was rendering one of your dashes as a bullet; are the hyphens here correctly formatted now? –  Neil Fein Jun 8 '13 at 19:07

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