Formatting dialogue and everything else. Just a mishap or I screwed it all?

Hi all, I was just starting to make the first review after finishing the first draft of +200k words and found this.

At the time I started to write (looong time ago) I probably didn’t knew there was a forum, so I remember have searched how to write a novel and found some guidelines I’ve been using since then, I don’t remember where I found all that but I do remember that the dialogues were opened with em dashes, and on the document says I should use " "
here is an example of what I’ve been doing.

—Well, I don't know if we can do that, it's too risky —Roger said while rubbing his short haired chin.

—There is always a risk, whether we do something or not, they're not gonna give up just because!

—Yes, yes, I know —he said frowning and waving down his hands to try to calm her down. He knew it was a long shot but regardless, a third opinion is always welcomed in a situation like this —"Are you there grumpy" —he thought inside his head.

—"[i]I'm always here, although not always grumpy[/i]" —the voice came to him as if he were listening it from all the angles.

—"What do you think? What's the chance of succeed?" —he thought.

—"[i]I'm sorry if I'm being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee as the main course of action[/i]" —he speaks calmly —"[i]at least for now.[/i]"

Roger sigh —"I was afraid you'd say that" —his eyes go straight to Betty, she was palpably tense with her arms knotted against her chest —We may need to choose another option —his deep voice draws her from the worrying concentration.

And here is how it would look like

———————————cheap separator line —————————————

—Well, I don’t know if we can do that, it’s too risky —Roger said while rubbing his short haired chin.

—There is always a risk, whether we do something or not, they’re not gonna give up just because!

—Yes, yes, I know —he said frowning and waving down his hands to try to calm her down. He knew it was a long shot but regardless, a third opinion is always welcomed in a situation like this —“Are you there grumpy” —he thought inside his head.

—“I’m always here, although not always grumpy” —the voice came to him as if he were listening it from all the angles.

—“What do you think? What’s the chance of succeed?” —he thought.

—“I’m sorry if I’m being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee as the main course of action” —he speaks calmly —“at least for now.

Roger sigh —“I was afraid you’d say that” —his eyes go straight to Betty, she was palpably tense with her arms knotted against her chest —We may need to choose another option —his deep voice drawing her from the worrying concentration.

———————————cheap separator line —————————————

I used the em dash — to start/end dialogue.
“normal” ←this one for thoughts of the main character
italic” ←this one for thoughts inside the MC head that are not coming from him.

I’m 100% sure I found in several places that the em dash was used as a dialogue tag. The “normal” and “italic” I associated it myself as a way to differentiate the voice of the characters from their thoughts and external voices that aren’t heard by anyone else.

So the question is, should I rewrite my whole book to the format I should have used since the beginning? or I’m just worrying too much about it and it really makes no difference as long as it is consistent and understandable?

I really don’t want to rewrite the whole book so if you say it’s okay the way I did it it would be nice :man_facepalming:

Thank you all for your time.

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Honestly, when it comes to normal novels, there are many ways to mark dialog, and em dashes are perfectly understandable. If you are publishing through Hosted Games, see the guidelines as tips more than laws.

As for dealing with telepathy/thoughts, there’s really not any real rules. I personally use the italics like you do, for the other party in question.

The thing that looks a bit odd to me, is the —“ combination. It looks like it is in error, since you are combining the two major signifiers of dialog. Personally, I like the tilde ~ to signify telepathic dialog, it goes especially good with the em dash.

Like so:

—Yes, yes, I know —he said frowning and waving down his hands to try to calm her down. He knew it was a long shot but regardless, a third opinion is always welcomed in a situation like this ~Are you there grumpy~ he thought inside his head.

~I’m always here, although not always grumpy~ the voice came to him as if he were listening it from all the angles.

~What do you think? What’s the chance of success?~ he thought.

~I’m sorry if I’m being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee as the main course of action~ he speaks calmly ~at least for now.~

It’s not hard to do a search and replace in case you want to change things, and this is just my personal opinion. In the end, what matters is if it is internally consistent.

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I’ve personally never seen em dashes used to denote dialogue. You can always use find-replace to automatically replace every em dash with a quotation mark

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You can do triple stars *** for separating line, even in succession.



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There are many different style guides out there. That being said em-dash for dialogue is common in Portuguese and Spanish, but not at all in English. I think the readers would find it at least unusual.

If I’m not mistaken, CoG’s guideline is mandatory for CoG’s games, not for Hosted Games, although, it is a good idea to adhere to it.

Like @daydreamsincolor has said, you can use find-replace to remove the em-dashes. But you might need to go over the text again and re-introduce the em-dashes that should be there.

And, yes, you should use dumb quotation marks because smart quotation marks might screw up with the encoding (not to mention it looks ugly, imo).

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Honestly? I’ve never seen that usage of em-dashes in my life. Usually they’re more of a stylistic choice used instead of a semicolon or to separate out a thought in the middle of a sentence. Then again, I only speak English. But as others have mentioned, the CoG guidelines aren’t strictly enforced for Hosted Games, so you might be good.

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Oh em dashes is what is the first choice for dialog in swedish too, at least it used to be. Never realized that english was different…

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Additionally, Ctrl + F will be your best friend.

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@malinryden Alright, “~” seems a good choice just like any other to me, I think I’ll do a census and I see which symbol would be preferred by the majority. +1 to change it all because I don’t want to risk it to be seen as something wrong by the readers.

@daydreamsincolor +2 to change it all

@Szaal I don’t understand what you’re saying about ***, +3 to change it all I think?

@cup_half_empty Thanks, at least someone tells me that I; m not 100% wrong, maybe 90% …
I don’t understand that thing you mention about dumb besides myself, It seems that I should have studied more before I started writing. And +4 to change it all.

@GreekWinter I can remember clearly to have searched on how to do this at the beginning, it seems though that I didn’t look well. On the other hand, I’m sure I can find books using em dash to mark dialogue, and though for a HG this are just guidelines it can be a throw off if the majority of the readers see it as weird, unusual, wrong. So +5 to change it all.

@Szaal Yeah, Ctrl + F, I know that one, at least … this is a +1 to change it all but you’ve already gave your opinion so it only counts +0.5

Final result, +5.5 to change it all.
Well, I’m used to this kind of things happening in my life so… It’ll take a little longer of what already has.

Thank you all for stopping me before it’s too late, I’ll be back… hopefully without more mishaps.

Edit: It seems I’m more dumb than I thought, I’d just found this:
" Telepathic communication should be marked in italics, without quotation marks. "
so I think I’m confusing even more than I was a moment ago.

"Well, I don't know if we can do that, it's too risky." Roger said while rubbing his short haired chin.

"There is always a risk, whether we do something or not, they're not gonna give up just because!"

"Yes, yes, I know." he said frowning and waving down his hands to try to calm her down. He knew it was a long shot but regardless, a third opinion is always welcomed in a situation like this [i]Are you there grumpy[/i] he thought inside his head.

[i]I'm always here, although not always grumpy[/i] the voice came to him as if he were listening it from all the angles.

[i]What do you think? What's the chance of succeed?[/i] he thought.

[i]I'm sorry if I'm being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee as the main course of action[/i] he speaks calmly [i]at least for now.[/i]

Roger sigh [i]I was afraid you'd say that[/i] his eyes go straight to Betty, she was palpably tense with her arms knotted against her chest "We may need to choose another option." his deep voice draws her from the worrying concentration.

“Well, I don’t know if we can do that, it’s too risky.” Roger said while rubbing his short haired chin.

“There is always a risk, whether we do something or not, they’re not gonna give up just because!”

“Yes, yes, I know.” he said frowning and waving down his hands to try to calm her down. He knew it was a long shot but regardless, a third opinion is always welcomed in a situation like this Are you there grumpy he thought inside his head.

I’m always here, although not always grumpy the voice came to him as if he were listening it from all the angles.

What do you think? What’s the chance of succeed? he thought.

I’m sorry if I’m being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee as the main course of action he speaks calmly at least for now.

Roger sigh I was afraid you’d say that his eyes go straight to Betty, she was palpably tense with her arms knotted against her chest “We may need to choose another option.” his deep voice draws her from the worrying concentration.

———————————cheap separator line —————————————

"Telepathic communication should be marked in italics, without quotation marks. "

That is what the guidelines say but I really don’t see how just italics without quotations can work on a telepathic dialogue. Or maybe I’m doing all wrong. Any help over here?..

The em-dash is often use to open dialogue in Italian too, it looks perfectly fine to my eyes.
And, yes, I also think you’d need quotation marks for the telepathy, for consistency - but you are really breaking new ground here! :slight_smile:

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Yeah, dashes are widely used outside the Anglophone world. And for Hosted Games you don’t need to follow the style guide.

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Yeah, so I think the reason behind the “no quotation marks for telepathy” thing is because it’ll reduce confusion whenever a sentence of dialogue begins with an emphasis but then loses it almost immediately. Consider the following passages. See how confusing it can get, and then compare with the quotationless version to see how much clearer it can be without them.




I stand there, watching Zachary’s figure grow smaller and smaller until I’m left alone on the sidewalk—as alone as can be with strangers filing past me in both directions.

Well, that didn’t work out as expected.”

I whip my head around, searching in vain for Alex’s face.

Oh, yeah, don’t bother with that,” he says. “I’m in your head.

Wh-What? How is that possible??

Man, it’s really roomy in here.” Somehow I can hear wood scraping against tile in my head, as though someone is moving furniture. “You know, most people’s heads are too full of running thoughts for me to get comfy or anything, but I’ve got the whole place to myself here!

Uh, I’m glad I could—Hey! Wait a minute, was that an insult??”

People around me begin to stare and I realize I had said that aloud. I sheepishly turn around to find somewhere I can hide and…maybe die of embarrassment.

It’s ok, you’ve done a lot more embarrassing things and survived,” Alex says—thinks?

You! Are not! Helping!!” I hiss aloud, blanching when a mother pulls her daughter up by the arms and walks in the opposite direction from where they were coming.

Oh God,” I think to myself, “Everyone thinks I’m crazy.

Aw, don’t sweat it, man, they never thought much of you anyway.

“…You’re really bad at comforting people, you know that?

Who said I was trying to comfort you?




Now, it might not be terribly difficult to follow who’s talking and who’s thinking in this passage, but I also have much more experience when it comes to writing and when it comes to writing mental conversations, so I already have an idea of what I need to compensate for and what I need to clarify.

Hopefully it becomes a little bit more obvious what I mean when you compare the previous with the following:




I stand there, watching Zachary’s figure grow smaller and smaller until I’m left alone on the sidewalk—as alone as can be with strangers filing past me in both directions.

Well, that didn’t work out as expected.

I whip my head around, searching in vain for Alex’s face.

Oh, yeah, don’t bother with that, he says. I’m in your head.

Wh-What? How is that possible??

Man, it’s really roomy in here. Somehow I can hear wood scraping against tile in my head, as though someone is moving furniture. You know, most people’s heads are too full of running thoughts for me to get comfy or anything, but I’ve got the whole place to myself here!

Uh, I’m glad I could—Hey! Wait a minute, was that an insult??”

People around me begin to stare and I sheepishly turn around to find somewhere I can hide and…maybe die of embarrassment.

It’s ok, you’ve done a lot more embarrassing things and survived, Alex says—thinks?

You! Are not! Helping!!” I hiss, blanching when a mother pulls her daughter up by the arms and walks in the opposite direction from where they were coming.

Oh God. Everyone thinks I’m crazy.

Aw, don’t sweat it, man, they never thought much of you anyway.

You’re really bad at comforting people, you know that?

Who said I was trying to comfort you?




So, the advantage of having quotationless thoughts is that it’s much clearer who’s thinking and who’s actually talking because you already have a visual cue telling you what’s out loud and what’s not. You can still manage it with quotations, but if you notice, you have to be much clearer when using quotations than when not and even for a seasoned writer it can be difficult to know where readers might be confused and when not. So I would personally suggest to make your life easier and not deal with quotations. If you’re still having issues seeing this in your own writing, then I’ve reworked your writing below to be clearer without quotations:

Your writing

“Well, I don’t know if we can do that, it’s too risky.” Roger said, rubbing at his chin.

“There is always a risk, whether we do something or not. They’re not gonna give up just because!”

“Yes, yes, I know," he said, frowning and waving down his hands to try and calm her down. He knew it was a long shot but regardless, a third opinion was always welcomed in a situation like this.

He let his mind’s voice wander.

Are you there, grumpy?

I’m always here, although not always grumpy, the voice had come to him as if he heard it from all angles.

What do you think? What’s the chance of success?

I’m sorry if I’m being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee.

Roger sighed aloud.

I was afraid you’d say that.

His eyes went straight to Betty. She was palpably tense, arms knotted against her chest

“We may need to choose another option.” His voice, deep and soft, drew her away from concentrating on her worries.

Honestly, this kind of thing is just something you need to practice, as with all aspects of writing. With time and experience, you’ll find what works and what doesn’t with your particular style of writing.

I’d also like to take the time to suggest you keep a closer eye on which tenses you’re using. You switched between past tense and present tense about halfway through your excerpt. Generally speaking, it’s advised to keep to a single tense.

I personally prefer present tense as it makes everything come across as punchier and more lively (in my opinion) while past tense has a tendency to become passive. Compare your excerpt here, presented in present tense:

Your writing (present tense)

“Well, I don’t know if we can do that, it’s too risky.” Roger says, rubbing his chin.

“There is always a risk, whether we do something or not. They’re not gonna give up just because!”

“Yes, yes, I know," he replies, frowning and waving down his hands to try and calm her down. He knows it’s a long shot but regardless, a third opinion is always welcomed in a situation like this.

He lets his mind’s voice wander.

Are you there, grumpy?

I’m always here, although not always grumpy, the voice comes to him as if he can hear it from all angles.

What do you think? What’s the chance of success?

I’m sorry if I’m being pessimistic, but I would happily recommend to flee.

Roger sighs aloud.

I was afraid you’d say that.

His eyes go straight to Betty. She’s palpably tense, arms knotted against her chest

“We may need to choose another option.” His voice, deep and soft, draws her away from concentrating on her worries.




As for the em dashes, I would also advise against them but only because—and I’m actually just assuming this, if you can find evidence otherwise then I’m all ears—but a majority of your readers will have English as their first and likely only language, and em dashes aren’t grammatically correct ways to start a sentence of dialogue. So you’ll might (might) save yourself some grief or curtail any comments about your dialogue’s grammatical error if you just don’t include them. In this way readers will focus on the actual content of your story rather than be distracted by something relatively minor.

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Coming from a language that does quite often (at least in older novels) use em dash for dialog, I’m actually extra curious now as to how different the usage apparently is in different languages, since the way you’ve used it seems quite off to me. Cross-language punctuation is weird.

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Oh, no. I noticed you used “----------------------------cheap separator line---------------------------” in your post. Just wanted to let you know that you can type triple stars on its own line to create Discourse’s web-based separator line like so



Unless it’s something you actually put in your script, ofc.

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Lol! That’s exactly how I felt when I first read this topic. In English, em dashes as most often used to interject an incomplete idea without stopping the flow, like parentheses. For example:

Coming from a language that does quite often (at least in older novels) use em dash for dialog, I’m actually extra curious now as to how different the usage apparently is in different languages, since the way you’ve used it seems quite off to me.

can be written as

Coming from a language that does quite often—at least in older novels—use em dash for dialog, I’m actually extra curious now as to how different the usage apparently is in different languages, since the way you’ve used it seems quite off to me.

One difference to note between parentheses and em dashes is that when the aside/incomplete idea is at the end of a sentence, you only need to use the one dash—you could probably just as easily start a new sentence, though. :wink:

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Ha! We use it for that too, but at least in my head there’s a slight tone difference between dashes and parentheses in that case. It’s a very multi-purpose mark. (Although now that I’m thinking about it, I’m not 100% sure when it’s em dash and when it’s some other dash; I was taught the grammar for the dash usage when writing by hand, and the difference between dashes is different there.)

But what I meant was that in my language, using dash as a dialog identifier is used at the start, but not at the end, so it would be something like
– Yes, he said. – That wouldn’t work.

So this

actually reads to me as
”Well,” I don’t know if we can do that, it’s too risky, ”Roger said while rubbing his short haired chin.”
Which obviously doesn’t make much sense. Which is (one of the) reasons I can’t help thinking cross-language punctuation is a really difficult thing. (Since I don’t doubt that would be the correct usage in some languages; I just don’t know them.)

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@choicehacker @Havenstone @LiliArch Thanks, it’s good to know I’m not just crazy about the em dash used for dialogue, I was starting to think I invented it out of nothing.

@Szaal Oohhhh, that one I didn’t know, I’ll upgrade my cheap separator line, thanks!

Everything seems to point out that I just used the right way for my demographics right? or at least kind of the right way.
So maybe it isn’t all wrong but it’ll throw off most of the readers.

Honestly, I don’t see it as confusing. But that obviously should have to be because I’ve already wrote 250k words and I’m fairly sure I burned down the wrong way with the “italics” in my brain at this point.

The quotationless thoughts throw me off because I’m used to expect a dialogue after a quotation, so I read that as something else but dialogue, then I rewind my brain and at some point I realize it is a dialogue, maybe I could get used to it with time, again, my brain has being wired the wrong way all this time so I’m not the right one to tell, and I’m sure I saw many books using em dash to open dialogues, so I can’t really take any decision about this because I’m spoiled + more confused than ever.

I think that my train of thought was, em dash for dialogue, telepathic conversation are dialogue too, so em dash + “” for the MC, and em dash + “” + italics for the non MC. That way everything has its own distinguishable way. But it seems that I don’t have a choice but to change it if I don’t want to be critiqued for it.

It’s okay, I made a mistake (another one! yay!), the only thing I don’t want to do is make it wrong again, so I’ll review the whole book, but I just want to do it once the right way. I get that you are experienced and I really appreciate your input, but I honestly don’t see a “this is the right way and period” way in which everyone agrees, so I still don’t know what to do :man_facepalming:

I’ll make a poll to see what information I can gather. Thanks to all of you.

edit:
@rose-court don’t worry about the tense I’m using, I just wrote that as it came to my head so I didn’t pay attention to it, I know I still have to get used to all that, but I usually notice it when I’m reviewing what I wrote. Thanks for point it out though.

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This must be frustrating for you, so I’m sorry it’s happened!

They mean dumb quotes, which are straight: "" / ''. That is opposed to smart quotes, which are curly or sloped: “” / ‘’.

I’ve also never seen em-dashes used that way in any English-language book and I would be very confused if I did, unfortunately. Clearly they’re notably used in foreign language books, however I would personally advise that most people shouldn’t mix foreign grammar rules. Since it’s compulsory to write in English for HG, authors should probably use English grammar for English writing, is my view.

Mind if I ask what language your old guidelines were written in, just out of curiosity?

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Yes, frustrating is a way of seeing it, though it is just a pebble in comparison to other things that are happening in my life right now, so don’t worry, this is a mistake I made, I take full blame for it, it doesn’t matter, it can be fixed without major repercutions.

Dumb quoter, alright, just like it says the guidelines, got it.

Yes, it seems I looked on the wrong places about writting guidelines, but again, it can be fixed, i just only want to do it once as I said, I don’t want to screw it again.

I’m latin american, spanish my main language, so I guess it came from there. It was a long time ago, maybe 10 years, so I don’t have the slightest idea of where I got that information. Maybe I mixed everything I was researching and ended up with this.