June 14, 2016

The em dash and other heartbreaking compromises

A few years ago, an editor at a literary journal wanted me to change the way I indicated direct speech. I like to comply with most suggestions if I can, and it might have seemed like a small ask to her, but I dreaded the conversion of all my em dashes to quotation marks. I’ve never been completely at ease with suggested revisions. I’m not suffering under the delusion that my particular arrangement of words is perfect, but I want an edit to be an improvement, not a change to accommodate differing tastes. Plenty depends on the tone of my exchange with the editor. Sometimes I feel directed to make a change, as if publication depends on it. I’m more likely to agree with changes if I feel I’m in good hands, and trust has been established. There are potential problems using the em dash for direct speech, at least the way I use it. Since the dialogue stands alone, with no tag at the end to show who’s speaking, I always try to make that clear in the sentence that precedes or follows the quote. In addition, the style can’t handle more than two speakers. What I eventually sent […]