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25 Quotes to Inspire Your Creative Writing

Looking for a little advice or motivation to inspire your creativity? Below, we have put together a list of 25 quotes from famous authors, mentors, and other wise individuals to help you on your writing journey. #write #creativewriting #writers #writerslife #writer #writerscommunity #writing #aspiringauthor #writers #quotes #quote #inspirationalquotes #Inspirationalquote #writingquotes

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Looking for a little advice or motivation to inspire your creativity? Below, we have put together a list of 25 quotes from famous authors, mentors, and other wise individuals to help you on your writing journey. #write #creativewriting #writers #writerslife #writer #writerscommunity #writing #aspiringauthor #writers #quotes #quote #inspirationalquotes #Inspirationalquote #writingquotes

Looking for a little advice or motivation to inspire your creativity? Below, we have put together a list of 25 quotes from famous authors, mentors, and other wise individuals to help you on your writing journey.

1) “There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.” – Albert Einstein

“There comes a point in your life when you need to stop reading other people’s books and write your own.” – Albert Einstein

2) “Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – David Foster Wallace

“Good fiction’s job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – David Foster Wallace

3) “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” – Richard Bach

4) “The good ideas come first. The skill to communicate them brilliantly in a way that appeals to readers or to an audience takes years of practice.” – Robin Mizell

“The good ideas come first. The skill to communicate them brilliantly in a way that appeals to readers or to an audience takes years of practice.” – Robin Mizell

5) “The key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not in the way it expects.” – William Goldman

“The key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not in the way it expects.” – William Goldman

6) “Description begins in the writer’s imagination but should finish in the readers’s.” – Stephen King

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination but should finish in the readers’s.” – Stephen King

7) “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain

8) “Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.” – C.S. Lewis

“Write about what really interests you, whether it is real things or imaginary things, and nothing else.” – C.S. Lewis

9) “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” – Anne Lamont

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” – Anne Lamont

10) “Don’t ‘be a writer.’ Be writing.” – William Faulkner

“Don’t ‘be a writer.’ Be writing.” – William Faulkner

11) “A writer never finds the time to write. A writer makes it. If you don’t have the drive, the discipline, and the desire, then you can have all the talent in the world, and you aren’t going to finish a book.” – Nora Roberts

“A writer never finds the time to write. A writer makes it. If you don’t have the drive, the discipline, and the desire, then you can have all the talent in the world, and you aren’t going to finish a book.” – Nora Roberts

12) “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White

13) “When all else fails, write what your heart tells you. You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

“When all else fails, write what your heart tells you. You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

14) “You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can – buy me or not – but this is who I am as a writer.” – David Morrell

“You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, ‘This is me, this what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can – buy me or not – but this is who I am as a writer.” – David Morrell

15) “Ideas come from curiosity.” – Walt Disney

“Ideas come from curiosity.” – Walt Disney

16) “To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” – Anne Rice

“To write something, you have to risk making a fool of yourself.” – Anne Rice

17) “Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.” – J.K. Rowling

“Sometimes the ideas just come to me. Other times I have to sweat and almost bleed to make ideas come. It’s a mysterious process, but I hope I never find out exactly how it works. I like a mystery, as you may have noticed.” – J.K. Rowling

18) “Voice is not just the result of a single sentence or paragraph or page. It’s not even the sum total of a whole story. It’s all your work laid out across the table like the bones and fossils of an unidentified carcass.” – Chuck Wendig

“Voice is not just the result of a single sentence or paragraph or page. It’s not even the sum total of a whole story. It’s all your work laid out across the table like the bones and fossils of an unidentified carcass.” – Chuck Wendig

19) “Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself.” – Mark Twain

“Focus more on your desire than on your doubt, and the dream will take care of itself.” – Mark Twain

20) “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour

21) “Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” – William Faulkner

“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.” – William Faulkner

22) Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” – Isaac Asimov

Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil – but there is no way around them.” – Isaac Asimov

23) “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.” – Virginia Woolf

24) “Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott

25) “You can only write by putting words on a paper one at a time.” – Sandra Brown

“You can only write by putting words on a paper one at a time.” – Sandra Brown

If you have enjoyed these 25 Quotes to Inspire Your Creative Writing, you may want to visit www.aspiringwriteracademy.com for additional writing advice or download our free First Steps Guide for Aspiring Writers.

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The quirky world of quotations: When and how to quote

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Quotations are an indispensable part of writing—academic or otherwise. Even in verbal communication, we use the term “quote-unquote” when referring to an idea that is borrowed or when we want to avoid ownership of others’ thoughts. Using air quotes while speaking has also become a popular trope.

However, there are certain rules and regulations that govern the usage of quotation marks . Improper usage of quotation marks—especially in academic writing—can have implications ranging from inconsistency within the text to parts of the content being deemed plagiarized.

Brushing up on the rules pertaining to the proper use of quotations can help academic writers to create correct and consistent academic works.

example of quotation in creative writing

( Image courtesy: https://quotesgram.com/joey-air-quotes/ , Source: Friends (Season-9, Episode-2), Bright/Kauffman/Crane Productions, in association with Warner Bros)

When to use quotation marks?

There are three examples of quotation mark usage in academic writing: for emphasis, as scare quotes which are quotation marks used around a word or phrase to highlight an unusual or arguably inaccurate usage, and to quote another person.

Quotation marks for emphasis: One may use quotation marks to emphasize a certain word, for example:

COVID-19 swiftly transformed into a worldwide epidemic, which is called a “pandemic.”

However, most journals discourage authors from using quotation marks for emphasis and request the use of italics or boldface instead. This is because the emphatic use of quotation marks may clash with its use when actually quoting someone or the scare quotes.

example of quotation in creative writing

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Quotation marks used as scare quotes: One can think of scare quotes as the equivalent of the term “so called,” which is often used in verbal communication. These quotation marks can be used by the author to clarify that they do not personally endorse the idea presented. It is covertly informal in tone but can be used sparingly in academic writing. Scare quotes are more prevalent in papers from the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences than STEM, as the latter tends to be more specific and mostly includes accurate and statistically backed information. Here is an example of a scare quote used in academic writing.

Although considered “the weaker sex,” female athletes have been bringing home a plethora of medals.

Quotation marks used to quote others: This is the most widely used form of quotation marks in academic writing. It is used to denote a quote derived from a different source to support an argument.

Most ideas borrowed from other scholars are referenced within an academic text following the numbered (Vancouver) or author‒date (Harvard) style. However, some sections are presented in an academic paper verbatim as running text using quotation marks or as block quotes , if the quote has a higher word count. Block quotes are distinguished from the main text by using a different indentation and do not have opening and closing quotation marks; however, quotes within quotes can be presented in a block quote by using quotation marks.

Example of quotes used in a running sentence:

As Aristotle’s Poetics states, “With respect to the requirement of art, the probable impossible is always preferable to the improbable possible.”

Example of a block quote:

Aristotle’s Poetics states the following:

Thus, since time immemorial, it has been customary to accept the criticism of art from a man who may or may not have been artist himself. Some believe that artist should create its art and leave it for critic to pass judgement over it. Whereas dramatists like Ben Jonson is of the view that to “judge of poets is only the faculty of poets; and not of all poets, but the best”. Only the best of poets have the right to pass judgments on the merit or defects of poetry, for they alone have experienced the creative process form beginning to end, and they alone can rightly understand it.

American and British English variances

American and British English differ on their use of quotation marks.

American English:

  • Double quotation marks (“…”) are used for quoted text, and single quotation marks (‘…’) are used to highlight a quote within a quote.
  • Periods and commas are placed within the closing quotation. If a quote ends with some other punctuation mark , like a semicolon, question mark or an exclamation mark, it is inserted after the closing quotation.

British English:

  • Single quotation marks (‘…’) are used for quoted text, and double quotation marks (“…”) are used to denote a quote within a quote.
  • Punctuation marks are always placed outside the closing quotation.

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45+ Quotes About Writing from Famous Writers

February 22, 2021

No matter how passionate you are about it, writing can be difficult. Whenever you’re struggling with writer’s block, rejection, competition, insecurity, or any of the countless obstacles that wordsmiths encounter daily, it can help to get encouragement from those who have successfully overcome the very same challenges.

So, whether you’re up against a creative wall or just looking for some inspiration to start your next project, these quotes about writing from writers themselves are sure to be welcome reading! 

Inspirational Quotes from Writers  

Trying to get psyched up to sit down and write? It can be reassuring to hear the words of literary greats celebrating a few of the very best parts of being a writer. 

1. “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” — Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

2. “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly—they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” — Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

3. “Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” — Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

4. “What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing

5. “Stories aren't made of language: they're made of something else... perhaps they're made of life.” — Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling

6. “There is no greater power on this earth than story.” — Libba Bray, The Diviners

7. “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone's soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” — Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

8. “We turn to stories and pictures and music because they show us who and what and why we are, and what our relationship is to life and death, what is essential, and what, despite the arbitrariness of falling beams, will not burn.” — Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

9. “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can't remember who we are or why we're here.” — Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

10. “Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” — Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

11. “First, you write for yourself... always, to make sense of experience and the world around you. It’s one of the ways I stay sane. Our stories, our books, our films are how we cope with the random trauma-inducing chaos of life as it plays.” — Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run

Encouraging Quotes for Writers  

Some of the most famous quotes from writers are about how ridiculously hard writing can be—and why you should rise to the challenge and do it anyway. 

12. “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” — Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

13. “And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

14. “If you are not afraid of the voices inside you, you will not fear the critics outside you.” — Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

15. “The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” — Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

16. “The mind has plenty of ways of preventing you from writing, and paralysing self-consciousness is a good one. The only thing to do is ignore it, and remember what Vincent van Gogh said in one of his letters about the painter's fear of the blank canvas—the canvas, he said, is far more afraid of the painter.” — Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: On Stories and Storytelling

17. “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” — Sol Stein, Stein on Writing: A Master Editor Shares His Craft, Techniques, and Strategies

18. “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing

19. “Writing is supposed to be difficult, agonizing, a dreadful exercise, a terrible occupation.” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Quotes About the Writing Process

From writers who know the drill, these quotes offer valuable insights and practical advice on the craft of writing, and the discipline and rigor it requires. 

20. “Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose.” — William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Audio Collection

21. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” — William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, The Elements of Style

22. “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself. I suppose that it begins or does not begin in the cradle.” — Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

23. “People who think that grammar is just a collection of rules and restrictions are wrong. If you get to like it, grammar reveals the hidden meaning of history, hides disorder and abandonment, links things and brings opposites together. Grammar is a wonderful way of organising the world how you'd like it to be.” — Delphine de Vigan, No and Me

24. “Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.” — Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

25. “Whenever I'm asked what advice I have for young writers, I always say that the first thing is to read, and to read a lot. The second thing is to write. And the third thing, which I think is absolutely vital, is to tell stories and listen closely to the stories you're being told.” — John Green, An Abundance of Katherines

26. “A great novel, rather than discouraging me, simply makes me want to write.” — Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

27. “I read and feel that same compulsion; the desire to possess what he has written, which can only be subdued by writing something myself.” — Patti Smith, M Train

28. “Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.” — Lisa See, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

29. “If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.” — Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

30. “The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis.” — William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Audio Collection

31. “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.” — Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

32. “One writes out of one thing only—one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art.” — James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

33. “We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.” — Chris Cleave, Little Bee

34. “A man who tells secrets or stories must think of who is hearing or reading, for a story has as many versions as it has readers. Everyone takes what he wants or can from it and thus changes it to his measure. Some pick out parts and reject the rest, some strain the story through their mesh of prejudice, some paint it with their own delight. A story must have some points of contact with the reader to make him feel at home in it. Only then can he accept wonders.” — John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

Funny Quotes About Writing

Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of a third, fourth, or fifth edit and ready to throw in the towel, what you need most is a good laugh, courtesy of someone who understands your plight. 

35. “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” — Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

36. “Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons… All they do is show you've been to college.” — Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

37. “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn't work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right just before they go on to the next one. When they're done, they're done." — Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake

38. “I’m sure I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.” — Patti Smith, M Train

39. “You want to tell a story? Grow a heart. Grow two. Now, with the second heart, smash the first one into bits. Gross, right? A bloody pulpy liquid mess. Look at it, try to make sense of it. Realize you can't. Because there is no sense.” — Charles Yu, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

40. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Quotes About Writers

Many artists draw much of their inspiration from introspection, and writers are no different. These quotes feature sayings about writers from the ultimate authority: writers themselves.  

41. “If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.” — Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm

42. “Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Love of the Last Tycoon

43. “A storyteller makes up things to help other people; a liar makes up things to help himself.” — Daniel Wallace, The Kings and Queens of Roam

44. “The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” — Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings

45. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” — E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

46. “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” — Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

47. “We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” — Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Becoming a writer is especially difficult if you don’t know where to start. To help, we’ve rounded up advice from several authors on starting out as a writer. Take a look at our infographic below to learn what these wordsmiths think you should do to kick off your writing career.

Click to view a full sized writing quotes graphic .

35+ Inspirational Quotes About Hope

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Using Literary Quotations

Use the guidelines below to learn how to use literary quotations.

Download this Handout PDF

Introduction

When you’re asked to write a paper analyzing a work of literature, your instructor probably expects you to incorporate quotations from that literary text into your analysis. But how do you do this well? What kind of quotations do you use? How do you seamlessly weave together your ideas with someone else’s words?

On this page we clarify the purpose of using literary quotations in literary analysis papers by exploring why quotations are important to use in your writing and then explaining how to do this. We provide general guidelines and specific suggestions about blending your prose and quoted material as well as information about formatting logistics and various rules for handling outside text.

Although this material is focused on integrating your ideas with quotations from novels, poems, and plays into literary analysis papers, in some genres this advice is equally applicable to incorporating quotations from scholarly essays, reports, or even original research into your work.

For further information, check out our Quoting and Paraphrasing resource, or you may wish to see when the Writing Center is offering its next introductory workshop about the genre of literary analysis. Additionally, our Short Guide to Close Reading for Literary Analysis offers wonderful insight into how you can read a piece of literature in order to analyze it.

Why should I use literary quotations?

Within a literary analysis, your purpose is to develop an argument about what the author of the text is doing—how the text “works.” You use quotations to support this argument. This involves selecting, presenting, and discussing material from the text in order to “prove” your point—to make your case—in much the same way a lawyer brings evidence before a jury.

Quoting for any other purpose is counterproductive. Don’t quote to “tell the story” or otherwise convey basic information about the text; most of the time within this genre you can assume your reader knows the text. And don’t quote just for the sake of quoting or to fill up space.

How do I use literary quotations?

General guidelines.

The following paragraph is from a student’s analysis of the relationship between two characters in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse . Notice how statements expressing the writer’s ideas and observations are verified with evidence from the novel in both summarized and quoted form.

We learn about Mrs. Ramsey’s personality by observing her feelings about other characters. For example, Mrs. Ramsey has mixed feelings toward Mr. Tansley, but her feelings seem to grow more positive over time as she comes to know him better. At first Mrs. Ramsey finds Mr. Tansley annoying, as shown especially when he mentions that no one is going to the lighthouse (7). But rather than hating him, she feels pity: “she pitied men always as if they lacked something . . .” (85). Then later, during the gathering, pity turns to empathy as she realizes that Mr. Tansley must feel inferior. He must know, Mrs. Ramsey thinks, that “no woman would look at him with Paul Rayley in the room” (104). Finally, by the end of the dinner scene, she feels some attraction to Mr. Tansley and also a new respect: “She liked his laugh . . . She liked his awkwardness. There was a lot in that man after all” (110). In observing this evolution in her attitude, we learn more about Mrs. Ramsey than we do about Mr. Tansley. The change in Mrs. Ramsey’s attitude is not used by Woolf to show that Mrs. Ramsey is fickle or confused; rather it is used to show her capacity for understanding both the frailty and complexity of human beings. This is a central characteristic of Mrs. Ramsey’s personality.

Your ideas + textual evidence + discussion

Notice that this paragraph includes three basic kinds of materials: (a) statements expressing the student’s own ideas about the relationship Woolf is creating; (b) data or evidence from the text in summarized, paraphrased, and quoted form; and (c) discussion of how the data support the writer’s interpretation. All the quotations are used in accordance with the writer’s purpose, i.e., to show how the development of Mrs. Ramsey’s feelings indicates something about her personality.

Textual evidence options

Quoting is only one of several ways to present textual material as evidence. You can also refer to textual data, summarize, and paraphrase. You will often want merely to refer or point to passages (as in the third sentence in the above example paragraph) that contribute to your argument. In other cases, you will want to paraphrase, i.e., “translate” the original into your own words, again instead of quoting. Summarize or paraphrase when it is not so much the language of the text that justifies your position, but the substance or content.

Quoting selectively

Similarly, after you have decided that you want to quote material, quote only the portions of the text specifically relevant to your point . Think of the text in terms of units—words, phrases, sentences, and groups of sentences (paragraphs, stanzas)—and use only the units you need. If it is particular words or phrases that “prove” your point, you do not need to quote the full sentences they appear in; rather, incorporate the words and phrases into your own sentences that focus on your own ideas.

Blending your prose and quoted material

It is permissible to quote an entire sentence (between two sentences of your own), but in general you should avoid this method of bringing textual material into your discussion. Instead, use one of the following patterns:

An introducing phrase or orienter plus the quotation:

  • In Blake’s poem “The Tyger,” it is creation, not a hypothetical creator, that is supremely awesome. [ argument sentence ]. The speaker asks, “What immortal hand or eye / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” [ data sentence; orienter before quote ]
  • Gatsby is not to be regarded as a personal failure. [ argument sentence ] “Gatsby turned out all right at the end” (2), according to Nick. [ data sentence; orienter after quote ]
  • “Our baby was a boy,” Shukumar tells his wife in the conclusion of Lahiri’s “A Temporary Matter” (22). [ data sentence; orienter after quote ] This admission is a death knell, tolling the end of their failing marriage. [ argument sentence ]

An assertion of your own and a colon plus the quotation:

  • In the midst of discussing the fate of the Abame tribe, Uchendu presents his own theory: “There is no story that is not true” (141).
  • Fitzgerald gives Nick a muted tribute to the hero: “Gatsby turned out all right at the end” (2).
  • Within Othello , Cassio represents not only a political but also a personal threat to Iago: “He hath a daily beauty in his life / That makes me ugly . . .” (5.1.19-20).

An assertion of your own with quoted material worked in:

  • For Nick, who remarks that Gatsby “turned out all right” (2), the hero deserves respect but perhaps does not inspire great admiration.
  • Satan’s motion is many things; he “strides” through the air (55), arrives like a “rattling” cloud (56), and later explodes—“wandering,” “hovering and blazing” like a fire (270).
  • Walking through Geraldine’s house, Pecola “wanted to see everything slowly, slowly” in order to fully appreciate its comparative order and opulence (Morrison 89).

Maintaining clarity and readability

Introduce a quotation either by indicating what it is intended to show, by naming its source, or by doing both. For non-narrative poetry, it’s customary to attribute quotations to “the speaker”; for a story with a narrator, to “the narrator.” For plays, novels, and other works with characters, identify characters as you quote them.

Do not use two quotations in a row without intervening text of your own. You should always be contextualizing all of your outside material with your own ideas, and if you let quotes build up without a break, readers will lose track of your argument.

Using the correct verb tense is a tricky issue. It’s customary in literary analysis to use the present tense; this is because it is at the present time that you (and your reader) are looking at the text. But events in a narrative or drama take place in a time sequence. You will often need to use a past tense to refer to events that took place before the moment you are presently discussing. Consider this example:

When he hears Cordelia’s answer, King Lear seems surprised, but not dumbfounded. He advises her to “mend [her] speech a little.” He had expected her to praise him the most; but compared to her sisters’, her remarks seem almost insulting (1.1.95).

Formatting logistics and guidelines

If for the sake of brevity you wish to omit material from a quoted passage, use ellipsis points (three spaced periods) to indicate the omission. Notice how in the paragraph about To the Lighthouse , above, the writer quoted only those portions of the original sentences that related to the point of the analysis.

When quoting, you may alter grammatical forms such as the tense of a verb or the person of a pronoun so that the quotation conforms grammatically to your own prose; indicate these alterations by placing square brackets around the changed form. In the quotation about King Lear at the end of the previous section, “her” replaces the “your” of the original so that the quote fits the point of view of the paper (third person).

Reproduce the spelling, capitalization, and internal punctuation of the original exactly. Of the following sentences presenting D. H. Lawrence’s maxim, “Books are not life,” the first is not acceptable in some style systems.

  • For Lawrence, “books are not life.” [ UNACCEPTABLE ]
  • For Lawrence, “[b]ooks are not life.” [ acceptable but awkward ]
  • Lawrence wrote, “Books are not life.” [ acceptable ]
  • “Books,” Lawrence wrote, “are not life.” [ acceptable ]
  • For Lawrence, books “are not life.” [ acceptable ]

Punctuation

You may alter the closing punctuation of a quotation in order to incorporate it into a sentence of your own. For example:

  • “Books are not life,” Lawrence emphasized.

Commas and periods go inside the closing quotation marks; the other punctuation marks go outside. For example:

  • Lawrence insisted that books “are not life”; however, he wrote exultantly about the power of the novel.
  • Why does Lawrence need to point out that “Books are not life”?

When quoting lines of poetry up to three lines long (which are not indented), separate one line of poetry from another with a slash mark with a space on either side (see examples from Blake’s “The Tyger” and Shakespeare’s Othello above).

Indentation

Prose or verse quotations less than four lines long are not indented. For quotations of this length, use the patterns described above.

“Longer” quotations should be formatted according to the expectations of a block quote. This unit of text should be positioned one half inch from the left margin, and opening and closing quotation marks are not used. The MLA Handbook , 8 th edition (2016) recommends that indented quotations be double-spaced, but many instructors prefer them single-spaced. The meaning of “longer” varies slightly from one style system to another, but a general rule is to indent quotations that are more than two (or three) lines of verse or four lines of prose.

If you’re quoting a series of dialogue dialogue between characters in a play, indent these lines and place the speaker’s name before the speech quoted. For example:

  • CAESAR: Et tu, Brute! Then, fall, Caesar! CINNA: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! (3.1.77-78)

Documentation

Follow your course instructor’s guidelines for documenting sources. If your instructor hasn’t told you which system to use to document sources, ask.

The documentation style used in this handout is that presented in the MLA Handbook , 8 th edition (2016), the most common citation style for literary analysis papers. The Writing Center has information about the rules of documentation within the most common systems .

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinau. Things Fall Apart . 1959. Anchor Books, 1994.

Blake, William. “The Tyger.” Poets.org , American Academy of Poets, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/tyger. Accessed 1 July 2018.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby . 1925. The Scribner Library, 1953.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. “A Temporary Matter.” Interpreter of Maladies , Mariner Books, 1999, pp. 1-22.

Lawrence, David Herbert. “Why the Novel Matters.” Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays , edited by Bruce Steele, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 191-8.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost . Printed for John Bumpus, 1821. Google Books , https://books.google.com/books?id=pO4MAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false. Accessed 1 July 2018.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye . 1970. Plume, 1993.

Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Wordsworth Editions, pp. 582-610.

–. King Lear. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare . Wordsworth Editions, pp. 885-923.

–. Othello, the Moor of Venice. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare . Wordsworth Editions, pp. 818-57.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse . 1927. Harcourt, 1981.

example of quotation in creative writing

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How to Write Quotations in a Story

How to Write Quotations in a Story

Including quotations in your story can bring it to life, making it more engaging and emotionally resonant.

Yet, incorporating quotations isn’t merely adding speech marks; it requires proper quotation marks, accurate punctuation, and avoiding common pitfalls.

From selecting the appropriate quotation marks to creating emphasis and sidestepping quoting blunders, you’ll gain essential insights into making your narrative shine with skillfully crafted quotes.

Mastering the art of quotations can elevate your writing and captivate your audience.

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • Use double quotes for spoken words and single quotes for nested quotations. This helps maintain clarity and distinguishes quoted content.
  • Place closing punctuation (like periods and exclamation marks) inside the quotation marks for quoted speech.
  • Select memorable quotes and consider adding punctuation marks like exclamation points for impact.
  • Use quotation marks correctly, maintain the original wording, prevent misquoting, and ensure consistency in citation.

Selecting the Correct Quotation Marks

To punctuate your quotations accurately, it’s vital to use the correct quotation marks for dialogues in your story. This ensures a clear distinction between spoken words and the rest of the text.

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When writing dialogues , always employ double quotation marks (“) to enclose the spoken words.

For example, when a character says, “I love ice cream,” use double quotation marks to denote their direct speech.

However, when you have a quotation within a quotation, use single quotation marks (‘) to enclose the nested dialogue. For instance, if a character says, “She told me, ‘I can’t wait to try the new flavor,'” use single quotation marks to set off the inner quotation.

Punctuating Quotations the Right Way

After you’ve picked the correct quotation marks, it’s essential to punctuate your quotations correctly to convey dialogue effectively in your story.

Punctuation not only clarifies the speaker’s words but also adds a natural flow to the dialogue.

When punctuating a quotation, always put the closing punctuation inside the quotation marks. For instance, if the character says, “I can’t believe it!” the exclamation mark should be inside the quotation marks.

However, suppose the punctuation is separate from the original quote, like when adding a dialogue tag. In that case, it goes outside the quotation marks.

Remember to use commas to separate the dialogue tag from the quote and start a new paragraph when a different character speaks.

Correct punctuation in quotations boosts the readability and authenticity of your story’s dialogue.

Bringing Quotations into Dialogue

To smoothly incorporate quotations into dialogue, follow a few simple rules and techniques.

First, introduce the quote seamlessly with phrases like ‘he said’ or ‘she replied.’ This makes it clear who’s speaking and keeps the transition smooth.

Second, use quotation marks to show when a character speaks a word for word. This separates their observations from the narrator’s voice.

Third, stay moderate with quotations. Use them strategically to convey essential information or highlight crucial story moments.

Lastly, punctuate quotations correctly by placing commas and periods inside the quotation marks.

Creating Impact with Quotations

Quotations are a powerful tool for adding impact and grabbing the reader’s attention. When used thoughtfully, they create moments of emphasis and highlight vital information or emotions.

One way to add impact is by selecting solid and memorable quotes that convey your message directly and succinctly.

You can also enhance emphasis using punctuation marks like exclamation points or question marks within the quotation. This adds urgency and surprise to your narrative.

Common Quoting Mistakes

  • Proper Attribution: Always credit the original speaker or writer of the quote, including their name and relevant background or expertise.
  • Correct Use of Quotation Marks: Enclose the exact words in quotation marks to indicate the quoted content.
  • Maintain Original Wording: Avoid altering the quote’s wording to ensure accuracy and preserve integrity.
  • Beware of Misquoting: Double-check the quote’s accuracy to prevent misquoting the source.
  • Consistency in Citation: Ensure a consistent citation style throughout your work to maintain clarity and professionalism.

Examples of Quotation Usage

Frequently Asked Questions

How do i properly punctuate a quotation within a quotation.

Use single quotation marks for the inner quotation. This helps differentiate between the two dialogue levels and ensures your readers understand.

Can I Use Single Quotation Marks Instead of Double Quotation Marks?

Yes, you can use single quotation marks instead of double quotation marks. They’re commonly used for quotes or when indicating dialogue within a quote.

They can also be used in certain circumstances, such as when quoting a title or phrase with double quotation marks.

For example, you might write: He said, ‘John told me, “I can’t make it tonight.”‘

In this case, the outer quotation marks are single, and the inner quotation marks are double.

Using single quotation marks in these situations helps to clarify the different levels of quotation.

However, it’s important to note that the specific usage of quotation marks can vary depending on the style guide or formatting guidelines you are following.

How Do I Indicate a Pause or Interruption Within a Quotation?

To indicate a pause or interruption within a quotation, use an ellipsis (…) or em dash (—).

The ellipsis indicates a trailing off, while the em dash signifies an abrupt interruption.

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  • When to Use Quotation Marks (“”) | Rules & Examples

When to Use Quotation Marks ("") | Rules & Examples

Published on May 21, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on November 29, 2022 by Jack Caulfield.

Quotation marks (also known as quotes or inverted commas) are used to indicate direct speech and quotations.

In academic writing, you need to use quotation marks when you quote a source . This includes quotes from published works and primary data such as interviews . The exception is when you use a block quote, which should be set off and indented without quotation marks.

Whenever you quote someone else’s words, use a signal phrase to introduce it and integrate the source into your own text. Don’t rely on quotations to make your point for you.

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Table of contents

Single vs. double quotation marks, quotes within quotes, punctuation following quotations, quotation marks for source titles, indirect quotation, scare quotes, frequently asked questions about quotation marks.

There are two types of quotation marks: ‘single’ and “double.” Which one to choose generally depends on whether you are using US or UK English . The US convention is to use double quotation marks, while the UK convention is usually to use single quotation marks.

Double quotation marks can also be acceptable in UK English, provided you are consistent throughout the text. APA Style requires double quotations.

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example of quotation in creative writing

When your quotations are nested (i.e., a quote appears inside another quote), you should use the opposite style of quotation marks for the nested quotation.

US and UK English also differ on where to place punctuation within quotation marks.

  • In US English,  commas and periods that follow a quote are placed within the quotation marks.
  • In UK English, all punctuation marks are placed outside the quotation marks, except when they are part of the original quotation.

In all variants of English, a question mark appears inside the quotation marks when the person quoted was asking a question, but outside when it’s you asking the question.

  • Smith asks, “How long can this situation continue?”
  • How many participants reported their satisfaction as “high”?

Note that when you include a parenthetical citation after a quote, the punctuation mark always comes after the citation (except with block quotes ).

  • Solis described the situation as “precarious” (2022, p. 16).

Some source titles (e.g., the title of a journal article) should be presented in quotation marks in your text. Others are italicized instead (or occasionally written in plain text).

The rules for how to format different source titles are largely the same across citation styles, though some details differ. The key principles apply in all the main styles:

  • Use italics for sources that stand alone
  • Use quotation marks for sources that are part of another source

Some examples are shown below, with the proper formatting:

  • The Routledge Companion to Critical Theory [book]
  • “Poststructuralism” [book chapter]
  • Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology [journal]
  • “What Is Personality Disorder?” [journal article]
  • Friends [TV series]
  • “The One Where Rachel Quits” [TV episode]

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Indirect quotation means reporting what someone said without using exactly the same words they did.

It’s a lot like paraphrasing , except that you’re only changing the words you need to in order to fit the statement into your new sentence grammatically. For example, changing the pronouns or the verb tense .

Indirect quotation is more common in everyday speech, but it can occur in academic writing too. When it does, keep in mind that you should only use quotation marks around words taken directly from the original speaker or author.

  • One participant stated that “he found the exercises frustrating.”
  • One participant stated that he found the exercises frustrating.
  • One participant described the exercises as “frustrating.”

“Scare quotes” are quotation marks used around words that are not a direct quotation from a specific source. They are used to signal that a term is being used in an unusual or ironic way, that it is borrowed from someone else, or that the writer is skeptical about the term.

  • Many politicians have blamed recent electoral trends on the rise of “fake news.”

While scare quotes have their uses in academic writing (e.g., when referring to controversial terms), they should only be used with good reason. Inappropriate use of scare quotes creates ambiguity.

  • The institution organized a fundraiser in support of “underprivileged children.”
  • Scientists argue that “global warming” is accelerating due to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The “Brexit” negotiations are still ongoing.

In these examples, the words within scare quotes are widely accepted terms with clear meanings that can’t be attributed to a specific person or source. Using quotation marks implies skepticism about the concepts in question.

The use of single and double quotation marks when quoting differs between US and UK English . In US English, you must use double quotation marks. Single quotation marks are used for quotes within quotes.

In UK English, it’s most common to use single quotation marks, with double quotation marks for quotes within quotes, although the other way around is acceptable too.

A quote is an exact copy of someone else’s words, usually enclosed in quotation marks and credited to the original author or speaker.

If you’re quoting from a text that paraphrases or summarizes other sources and cites them in parentheses , APA and Chicago both recommend retaining the citations as part of the quote. However, MLA recommends omitting citations within a quote:

  • APA: Smith states that “the literature on this topic (Jones, 2015; Sill, 2019; Paulson, 2020) shows no clear consensus” (Smith, 2019, p. 4).
  • MLA: Smith states that “the literature on this topic shows no clear consensus” (Smith, 2019, p. 4).

Footnote or endnote numbers that appear within quoted text should be omitted in all styles.

If you want to cite an indirect source (one you’ve only seen quoted in another source), either locate the original source or use the phrase “as cited in” in your citation.

Quotes within quotes are punctuated differently to distinguish them from the surrounding quote .

  • If you use double quotation marks for quotes, use single quotation marks for quotes within quotes.
  • If you use single quotation marks for quotes (e.g., in UK English ), use double quotation marks for quotes within quotes.

Make sure to close both sets of quotes!

Indirect quotation means reporting what someone said (or wrote) but not using their exact words. It’s similar to paraphrasing , but it only involves changing enough words to fit the statement into your sentence grammatically (e.g., changing the tense or the pronouns ).

Since some of the words have changed, indirect quotations are not enclosed in quotation marks .

Sources in this article

We strongly encourage students to use sources in their work. You can cite our article (APA Style) or take a deep dive into the articles below.

McCombes, S. (2022, November 29). When to Use Quotation Marks ("") | Rules & Examples. Scribbr. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/language-rules/quotation-marks/
Butterfield, J. (Ed.). (2015).  Fowler’s dictionary of modern English usage  (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.
Garner, B. A. (2016).  Garner’s modern English usage (4th ed.). Oxford University Press.

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Other students also liked, how to quote | citing quotes in apa, mla & chicago, how to block quote | length, format and examples, what is your plagiarism score.

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  • 7.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Black Representation in Film" by Caelia Marshall
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  • 8.1 Information and Critical Thinking
  • 8.2 Analytical Report Trailblazer: Barbara Ehrenreich
  • 8.3 Glance at Genre: Informal and Formal Analytical Reports
  • 8.4 Annotated Student Sample: "U.S. Response to COVID-19" by Trevor Garcia
  • 8.5 Writing Process: Creating an Analytical Report
  • 8.6 Editing Focus: Commas with Nonessential and Essential Information
  • 8.7 Evaluation: Reviewing the Final Draft
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  • 8.9 Portfolio: Evidence and Objectivity
  • 9.1 Breaking the Whole into Its Parts
  • 9.2 Rhetorical Analysis Trailblazer: Jamil Smith
  • 9.3 Glance at Genre: Rhetorical Strategies
  • 9.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Rhetorical Analysis: Evicted by Matthew Desmond” by Eliana Evans
  • 9.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about Rhetoric
  • 9.6 Editing Focus: Mixed Sentence Constructions
  • 9.7 Evaluation: Rhetorical Analysis
  • 9.8 Spotlight on … Business and Law
  • 9.9 Portfolio: How Thinking Critically about Rhetoric Affects Intellectual Growth
  • 10.1 Making a Case: Defining a Position Argument
  • 10.2 Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow
  • 10.3 Glance at Genre: Thesis, Reasoning, and Evidence
  • 10.4 Annotated Sample Reading: "Remarks at the University of Michigan" by Lyndon B. Johnson
  • 10.5 Writing Process: Creating a Position Argument
  • 10.6 Editing Focus: Paragraphs and Transitions
  • 10.7 Evaluation: Varied Appeals
  • 10.8 Spotlight on … Citation
  • 10.9 Portfolio: Growth in the Development of Argument
  • 11.1 Developing Your Sense of Logic
  • 11.2 Reasoning Trailblazer: Paul D. N. Hebert
  • 11.3 Glance at Genre: Reasoning Strategies and Signal Words
  • 11.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Book VII of The Republic by Plato
  • 11.5 Writing Process: Reasoning Supported by Evidence
  • 12.1 Introducing Research and Research Evidence
  • 12.2 Argumentative Research Trailblazer: Samin Nosrat
  • 12.3 Glance at Genre: Introducing Research as Evidence
  • 12.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth" by Lily Tran
  • 12.5 Writing Process: Integrating Research
  • 12.6 Editing Focus: Integrating Sources and Quotations
  • 12.7 Evaluation: Effectiveness of Research Paper
  • 12.8 Spotlight on … Bias in Language and Research
  • 12.9 Portfolio: Why Facts Matter in Research Argumentation
  • 13.1 The Research Process: Where to Look for Existing Sources
  • 13.2 The Research Process: How to Create Sources
  • 13.3 Glance at the Research Process: Key Skills
  • 13.4 Annotated Student Sample: Research Log
  • 13.5 Research Process: Making Notes, Synthesizing Information, and Keeping a Research Log
  • 13.6 Spotlight on … Ethical Research
  • 14.1 Compiling Sources for an Annotated Bibliography
  • 14.2 Glance at Form: Citation Style, Purpose, and Formatting
  • 14.3 Annotated Student Sample: “Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth” by Lily Tran
  • 14.4 Writing Process: Informing and Analyzing
  • 15.1 Tracing a Broad Issue in the Individual
  • 15.2 Case Study Trailblazer: Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
  • 15.3 Glance at Genre: Observation, Description, and Analysis
  • 15.4 Annotated Sample Reading: Case Study on Louis Victor "Tan" Leborgne
  • 15.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About How People and Language Interact
  • 15.6 Editing Focus: Words Often Confused
  • 15.7 Evaluation: Presentation and Analysis of Case Study
  • 15.8 Spotlight on … Applied Linguistics
  • 15.9 Portfolio: Your Own Uses of Language
  • 3 Unit Introduction
  • 16.1 An Author’s Choices: What Text Says and How It Says It
  • 16.2 Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks
  • 16.3 Glance at Genre: Print or Textual Analysis
  • 16.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Artists at Work" by Gwyn Garrison
  • 16.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Text
  • 16.6 Editing Focus: Literary Works Live in the Present
  • 16.7 Evaluation: Self-Directed Assessment
  • 16.8 Spotlight on … Humanities
  • 16.9 Portfolio: The Academic and the Personal
  • 17.1 “Reading” Images
  • 17.2 Image Trailblazer: Sara Ludy
  • 17.3 Glance at Genre: Relationship Between Image and Rhetoric
  • 17.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Hints of the Homoerotic” by Leo Davis
  • 17.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically and Writing Persuasively About Images
  • 17.6 Editing Focus: Descriptive Diction
  • 17.7 Evaluation: Relationship Between Analysis and Image
  • 17.8 Spotlight on … Video and Film
  • 17.9 Portfolio: Interplay Between Text and Image
  • 18.1 Mixing Genres and Modes
  • 18.2 Multimodal Trailblazer: Torika Bolatagici
  • 18.3 Glance at Genre: Genre, Audience, Purpose, Organization
  • 18.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Celebrating a Win-Win” by Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
  • 18.5 Writing Process: Create a Multimodal Advocacy Project
  • 18.6 Evaluation: Transitions
  • 18.7 Spotlight on . . . Technology
  • 18.8 Portfolio: Multimodalism
  • 19.1 Writing, Speaking, and Activism
  • 19.2 Podcast Trailblazer: Alice Wong
  • 19.3 Glance at Genre: Language Performance and Visuals
  • 19.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Are New DOT Regulations Discriminatory?” by Zain A. Kumar
  • 19.5 Writing Process: Writing to Speak
  • 19.6 Evaluation: Bridging Writing and Speaking
  • 19.7 Spotlight on … Delivery/Public Speaking
  • 19.8 Portfolio: Everyday Rhetoric, Rhetoric Every Day
  • 20.1 Thinking Critically about Your Semester
  • 20.2 Reflection Trailblazer: Sandra Cisneros
  • 20.3 Glance at Genre: Purpose and Structure
  • 20.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Don’t Expect Congrats” by Dale Trumbore
  • 20.5 Writing Process: Looking Back, Looking Forward
  • 20.6 Editing Focus: Pronouns
  • 20.7 Evaluation: Evaluating Self-Reflection
  • 20.8 Spotlight on … Pronouns in Context

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain the role direct quotations play in writing.
  • Select and integrate direct quotations into your writing.

Direct quotation , or someone’s exact words, provide specific, concrete evidence from your primary and secondary sources. When reviewing a film or book, for example, you are likely to incorporate a number of direct quotations into your writing. Quotations are effective when they are used appropriately and correctly. For example, a general statement of observation such as “The candidate for senate gave a disastrous interview on TV last night” should be backed up with concrete evidence from the interview. To demonstrate how and why the interview was “disastrous,” you might give examples such as these: “When asked whether she supported ethics reform, Ms. Simpson did not give a direct answer. She stated, ‘I think ethics are important, and I hold myself to a high ethical standard.’”

While quotations are covered more extensively in Punctuation , this section will introduce you to using quotations in a review.

When to Use Quotations

Use quotations to support a point you are making. Avoid using them to present a point. Don’t pepper your essay with randomly selected quotations because you think they make your essay look well researched. Instead, present your point, and back it up with a quotation.

Using a direct quotation is effective in the following instances:

Wearing a mask is the easiest thing we can do as individuals to stop the spread of COVID-19. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, “There should be universal wearing of masks.” (Castillejo and Yang)

Because Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), his statement on mask wearing is credible evidence that supports the point.

In his review of the Microclimate Air Helmet, critic Drew Magary injects humor by quipping, “No one at the vape shop cared that I was dressed like I was in an old Moby video.”

Using a direct quotation from Magary’s review illustrates his style of humor more effectively than a description or paraphrase of the joke.

Hurricane Harvey brought a record amount of flooding when it hit the Houston, Texas, area in 2017. Harvey’s rainfall “dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of rain over Texas and Louisiana during a 6-day period.” (Griggs)

The direct quotation contains the exact statistics that show the record amount of flooding.

  • Because the quotation adds variety to the language and voice of the essay, it makes the most impact on the audience in its original form. For example, quote directly from a person you are writing about so that the audience imagines them speaking.

A teacher may have suggested you use details to “show instead of tell.” Quotations are one way to show your audience what you mean rather than tell them.

Practice finding quotations to illustrate the following point. You can search the web or your college library’s article databases.

Personal computing has evolved from a single desktop computer for the whole family to a truly “personal” relationship each individual has with their devices.

Hint: Look for information about how the size of personal computers has changed, how the industry has introduced new devices, how many Internet-connected devices an average person owns, and how many different people use an Internet-connected device on average.

Embedding Quotations

In reviews particularly, you may want to use dialogue or narration as evidence to support a point. Because a quotation should illustrate or support your point, be sure to state clearly and in your own words the point you are making. A properly formatted quotation will contain the following:

  • Original Quotation: “Cybersecurity is an important issue for businesses of all sizes. Every business from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop stores has an obligation to protect customers’ sensitive data. Data breaches, such as the Target breach in 2014, have been known to erode trust.” (Flynn)
  • Quotation using ellipses and brackets: “Cybersecurity is an important issue for businesses . . . Data breaches, such as the Target breach in 2014, have been known to erode [consumers’] trust [in the company].” (Flynn)
  • Correct punctuation: Use quotation marks (“”) to show exactly where the quotation begins and ends. This punctuation helps separate the quotation from your words and ideas and helps you avoid plagiarism.
  • Example 1: Smith shows us the importance of good time management skills when she says, “90% of A and B students begin their essays at least two weeks before they are due” (Flynn).
  • Example 2: “Many students,” Smith says, “leave insufficient time for writing assignments” (Flynn).
  • Parenthetical citation: Cite the source of your quotation with a correct parenthetical citation. See the MLA Documentation and Format to learn more about citation.

Practice using a quotation you found in the previous exercise by introducing the quotation with a signal phrase, stating the quotation, and punctuating it correctly. Then introduce the signal phrase in the middle of the quotation, and punctuate it correctly.

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  • Authors: Michelle Bachelor Robinson, Maria Jerskey, featuring Toby Fulwiler
  • Publisher/website: OpenStax
  • Book title: Writing Guide with Handbook
  • Publication date: Dec 21, 2021
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  • Book URL: https://openstax.org/books/writing-guide/pages/1-unit-introduction
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The Editor’s Manual

Free learning resource on English grammar, punctuation, usage, and style.

  • Punctuation |

How to Use an Ellipsis (...)

Neha Karve

An ellipsis (plural: ellipses ) is a mark that comprises a series of three dots. The dots in an ellipsis may be separated by spaces (. . .) or they may not (…), depending on the style you follow.

In a quotation, an ellipsis signifies omitted words and sentences. Be careful not to change or skew the meaning of the original speech or text.

In a dialogue or narrative, an ellipsis shows faltering speech or a pause. Take care, however, not to overuse this mark. Don’t use an ellipsis instead of a period unless a pause is meant to be meaningful to the reader or signify an incomplete thought.

"How to use an ellipsis" on a blue colored textured background. The letters "sis" have three dots over them (including the one over "i").

What is an ellipsis?

An ellipsis (. . . or …) is a set of three periods or dots in a row. In formal writing, it is used to indicate omitted text in a quotation . Ellipses are also used in casual communication, such as text messages, to show indecision or a thought trailing off. In creative writing, an ellipsis can signify a pause.

Spacing of dots in an ellipsis

An ellipsis has three dots. There may or may not be a space separating each of the dots.

  • The government . . . told news channels what to report and when to report it.
  • The government … told news channels what to report and when to report it.
  • “I . . . I can’t remember what happened.”
  • “I … I can’t remember what happened.”

Word processors like Microsoft Word have an ellipsis character (U+2026), which automatically appears when you type three dots in a row. You may use this or type three spaced dots yourself. If you do insert spaces between the dots, they should be nonbreaking, so that your ellipsis doesn’t spread out across two lines of copy.

Spaced dots in an ellipsis are preferred in academic writing, and unspaced in news copy. Some style manuals (like Chicago , APA , and MLA ) recommend spacing before and between the dots of an ellipsis. In contrast, the AP Stylebook treats an ellipsis as one word without internal spacing. Pick a style, and follow it consistently.

For omitted text

Use an ellipsis to indicate the omission of words from quoted text.

  • Original: I can enjoy feeling melancholy, and there is a good deal of satisfaction about being thoroughly miserable; but nobody likes a fit of the blues. Nevertheless, everybody has them; notwithstanding which, nobody can tell why. There is no accounting for them. You are just as likely to have one on the day after you have come into a large fortune as on the day after you have left your new silk umbrella in the train. — Jerome K. Jerome , The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow , 1879
  • Quoted: As the writer says, I can enjoy feeling melancholy, . . . but nobody likes a fit of the blues. Nevertheless, everybody has them . . . You are just as likely to have one on the day after you have come into a large fortune as on the day after you have left your new silk umbrella in the train.

When you quote just a word or a phrase, don’t use ellipses with it, since it is already clear that you are not quoting the entire text.

  • Incorrect As the writer says, nobody likes “. . . a fit of the blues.”
  • Correct As the writer says, nobody likes “a fit of the blues .”

Note that after you have replaced words with ellipses, the reader should still be able to read the text aloud as a grammatically complete sentence .

  • Incorrect As the writer says, I can enjoy feeling melancholy, . . . likes a fit of the blues. After the omission, this no longer reads as a sentence.
  • Correct As the writer says, I can enjoy feeling melancholy, . . . but nobody likes a fit of the blues. Although words have been omitted, the quotation can still be read aloud as a sentence.

When you quote someone, make sure you don’t skew or change the meaning of the original words. Omitting words from a quotation should not cause confusion about the speaker’s original meaning or intent.

  • Original: “We still have many people marginalized and discriminated against in our nation. People in power, people with privilege, who continue to discriminate against the historically marginalized, must be punished, must be made to pay. We must set an example.”
  • Incorrect Quoted: The senator replied, “We still have many people marginalized . . . such people must be punished, must be made to pay. We must set an example.”
  • Correct Quoted: The senator replied, “We still have many people marginalized . . . in our nation. People . . . who continue to discriminate against the historically marginalized . . . must be made to pay. We must set an example.”

You don’t need to insert an ellipsis for text omitted at the start or end of a quotation.

  • Original: In the morning, you must wear your clothes before you leave the house.
  • Unnecessary Unnecessary: In his great wisdom, the guru said, “ . . . wear your clothes before you leave the house.” Better Better: In his great wisdom, the guru said, “Wear your clothes before you leave the house.”
  • Unnecessary Unnecessary: In his great wisdom, the guru said, “In the morning, you must wear your clothes . . . .” Better Better: In his great wisdom, the guru said, “In the morning, you must wear your clothes.”

Only if you wish to leave a quotation deliberately incomplete should you use an ellipsis at the end.

  • Correct Quoted: The guru droned on, “In the morning, you must . . .” It was afternoon, and I drifted in and out of sleep to the sound of his soothing voice.

The term “ellipsis” can mean the omission of words considered superfluous to the meaning of a sentence.

  • France scored three goals ; Germany, four. The words “scored” and “goals” are clear from context and need not be repeated when speaking about Germany’s score.

An ellipsis (. . .) is not used in such elliptical references , where we omit words simply to avoid repetition.

Ellipsis in brackets

When the quoted text itself contains ellipses, surround your own ellipses with brackets to indicate that these have been inserted by you.

For example, if you interview participants in a study, you may want to show faltering speech in your transcription of the interviews. In such a case, use ellipses to show faltering speech, and bracketed ellipses to show your own omission of words.

  • Original speech (including pauses): “For immigrants . . . I mean for immigrant children, especially . . . culture clash, I have often seen, it can cause disorientation.”
  • Quoted (omitted text shown by ellipses in brackets): One of the participants spoke about her childhood as an immigrant: “For immigrant children, . . . culture clash [. . .] can cause disorientation.”

Period after ellipsis

Generally, if the ellipsis falls at the end of a quotation, three dots are sufficient. You don’t need a fourth one for the final period.

  • Original: “They wanted freedom. They would fight for it, lay down their lives for a cause without consideration to their own existence, for that is what it was without freedom—existence without life. You could not call it a life, they said, if you could not choose how to live.”

However, if the ellipsis is followed by another sentence, place a period before the ellipsis to show that the previous sentence has ended.

  • Quoted: In her autobiography, she writes, “They wanted freedom. They would fight for it. . . . You could not call it a life, they said, if you could not choose how to live.”

Punctuation with ellipses

If the omitted text follows a punctuation mark (like a comma or a question mark ), include the mark in the quotation only if it is necessary to the meaning of the sentence. If you do, leave a space after the punctuation mark, and then type the ellipsis.

  • The chief of staff said, “We must be more open, inclusive, . . . and it is important to include the Durandians in the discussion.”

As in prose, use an ellipsis to show an unfinished line in poetry.

  • Day after day, day after day, We stuck, nor breath nor motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean. — Samuel Taylor Coleridge , “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834)

To show the omission of one or more lines, use a row of dots the approximate length of the previous line.

  • Day after day, day after day, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  Upon a painted ocean. — Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834)

As suspension points

The three dots that make up an ellipsis are also called suspension points. In informal writing, these dots can indicate indecision, an incomplete thought, or a pause. The ellipsis then acts as a punctuation mark that indicates a pause.

  • “Are you coming to the party tonight?” “Maybe …”
  • “I saw … I think I just saw a ghost!”

You can also use an ellipsis to show faltering speech in dialogue or a thought trailing off.

  • “The ghost . . . the ghost stole my hat!”
  • “Is he . . . is he quite sane?”
  • Night fell . . .

In literature

Here are some examples that show how a writer can use an ellipsis to make the reader pause between thoughts.

In poetry, an ellipsis creates a gentler pause than that signified by a period, giving the reader time to reflect.

  • I grow old … I grow old … I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. — T.S. Eliot , “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” (1915)

In a narrative, an ellipsis can indicate a thought trailing off.

  • It’s a bird, white, falling from a great height. Shot through the heart, in winter; the feathers coming off, drifting down … — Margaret Atwood , The Edible Woman (1969)

In dialogue, an ellipsis can signify a pause.

  • I mean if you let yourself get angry you’ll be . . . consumed. You’ll burn up. It’s not productive. — Anne Tyler , The Accidental Tourist (1985)

An ellipsis can also be used to show faltering speech.

  • ‘Now … it says here your first name is … can’t read Fred’s handwriting … er …’ There was nothing for it. ‘Cheery, sir,’ said Cheery Littlebottom. — Terry Pratchett , Feet of Clay (1996)

Ellipses are easy to overuse and misuse. In emails and chat messages, remember that an ellipsis indicates an unfinished thought and carries the tone of indecision.

  • “Do you want the job?” Poor Uncertain: “Yes …” The use of ellipsis makes the person sound unsure of their answer. Better Certain: “Yes.” The period conveys a more decisive tone.

In formal writing , use ellipses only to indicate omitted text in a quotation. Avoid using ellipses in business communication.

  • “Will you complete the report by tonight? Poor Poor: “Yes …” Better Better: “Yes.”

Use a period rather than an ellipsis when you want to sound sure about an answer or to mark the end of a complete thought or sentence.

In fiction and creative nonfiction, be careful not to overuse ellipses. Since an ellipsis makes a reader slow down and reflect, overusing this mark can ruin the rhythm of your prose.

Usage guide

When you use an ellipsis to indicate omitted words in a quotation, check that you haven’t changed the meaning of the original text. In general, the text should still read as a complete grammatical sentence even after the omission of words (except when a sentence is deliberately left incomplete).

You can also use ellipses to show indecision, faltering speech, or an incomplete thought. But be careful not to use an ellipsis where a period would fit better—for example, if you wish to convey certainty or need to mark the end of a complete thought.

Share this article

The three dots that comprise an ellipsis may be either spaced (. . .) or unspaced (…). Follow a consistent style in your document.

A quotation should read as a grammatical sentence, ellipses and all. (“It is necessary to effect these reforms for the greater good.”)

Ellipses aren’t needed when you’re quoting just a word or a phrase.

Ellipses can be used in both prose and poetry to signify a pause.

Ellipses signify a pause or a thought trailing off. Since they make readers slow down, overusing ellipses can ruin the flow of your text.

Definition and Examples of Quotation in English Grammar

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

A quotation is the reproduction of the words of a speaker or writer.

In a direct quotation , the words are reprinted exactly and placed in quotation marks . In an indirect quotation , the words are paraphrased and not put in quotation marks.

Etymology: From the Latin, "of what number; how many"

Pronunciation:  kwo-TAY-shun

Examples and Observations

  • "Use quotes when a writer says something so well that you could not possibly capture the idea as well by paraphrasing or summarizing . Quote when your paraphrase would end up being longer or more confusing than the original. Quote when the original words carry with them some importance that helps make a point, such as when the writer is an absolute authority on the subject . . .. "Do not, however, fill your research paper with quote after quote. If you do, your reader is likely to conclude that you really have few or no ideas of your own on the subject or that you have not studied and understood the subject well enough to begin to form your own opinions." (Dawn Rodrigues and Raymond J. Rodrigues, The Research Paper: A Guide to Internet and Library Research , 3rd ed. Prentice Hall, 2003)

Overusing Quotations

  • "Poor writers are apt to overuse  block quotations . . .. Those who do this abrogate their duty, namely, to write . Readers tend to skip over single-spaced mountains of prose . . .. "Especially to be avoided is quoting another writer at the end of a paragraph or section, a habit infused with laziness. Skillful quoters subordinate the quoted material to their own prose and use only the most clearly applicable parts of the previous writing. And even then, they weave it into their own narrative or analysis, not allowing the quoted to overpower the quoter." (Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage . Oxford University Press, 2003)

Trimming Quotations

  • "Speakers are wordy. They are always speaking in the first draft. Remember, you are aiming for maximum efficiency. That means getting the most work out of the few words, which includes quotes . Don't change the speaker's meaning. Just throw away the words you don't need." (Gary Provost, Beyond Style: Mastering the Finer Points of Writing . Writer's Digest Books, 1988)

Altering Quotations

  • "The accuracy of quotations in research writing is extremely important. They must reproduce the original sources exactly. Unless indicated in brackets or parentheses . . ., changes must not be made in the spelling, capitalization, or interior punctuation of the source." ( MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers , 2009)
  • "Never alter quotations even to correct minor grammatical errors or word usage. Casual minor tongue slips may be removed by using ellipses but even that should be done with extreme caution. If there is a question about a quote, either don't use it or ask the speaker to clarify." (D. Christian et al, The Associated Press Stylebook . Perseus, 2009)
  • "Should editors 'correct' quotes? No. Quotes are sacred. "This doesn't mean we need to reproduce every um , every er , every cough; it doesn't mean a reporter's transcription errors can't be corrected; and it certainly doesn't mean that stories should attempt to re-create dialect (plenty of literate people pronounce should have as 'should of'). But it does mean that a reader should be able to watch a TV interview and read the same interview in the newspaper and not notice discrepancies in word choice." (Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma . Contemporary Books, 2000)

Pronouns in Quotations

  • "[P]lease let me indulge in a parenthetical peeve, which has to do with the way in which pronouns can infect sentences that contain interior quotes --the pronouns apparently changing horses in midstream. To give just one random example: 'He arrived at the pier, where he learned that "my ship had come in."' Whose ship The author's ship? Try reading something like that before an audience or on an audio CD. It is factual and correctly punctuated, yes, but it is no less awkward." (John McPhee, "Elicitation." The New Yorker , April 7, 2014)

Citing Quotations

  • "For every summary, paraphrase, or quotation you use, cite its bibliographic data in the appropriate style . . .. Under no circumstance stitch together downloads from the Web with a few sentences of your own. Teachers grind their teeth reading such reports, dismayed by their lack of original thinking." (Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams, The Craft of Research , 3rd ed. The University of Chicago Press, 2008)

On the Record

  • "Ground rules for conversation between reporters and sources come in commonly accepted categories: 'On the record' means that everything said can be used, and the speaker can be quoted by name. "'Not for attribution' and 'on background' are used to mean that a source's comments can be quoted, but he or she must not be directly identified." ("Forms of Speech." Time , Aug. 27, 1984)

Imagining Quotations

  • The life I'd been offered was completely unacceptable, but I never gave up hope that my real family might arrive at any moment, pressing the doorbell with their white-gloved fingers. " Oh, Lord Chisselchin, " they'd cry, tossing their top hats in celebration, " thank God we've finally found you. "  (David Sedaris, "Chipped Beef." Naked . Little, Brown and Company, 1997)

Fake Quotations

  • "Mr. Duke writes as follows: Benjamin Franklin said, ' The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Here it was again, this time attributed to one of the few men who had a hand in drafting both the Declaration and the Constitution. Could Franklin really have got them confused? . . . "Now I was really intrigued. The wording of the quotation reminded me less of Franklin’s well-known style than of mid-twentieth-century self-help. 'You have to catch it yourself,' I soon discovered, is an exceedingly popular bit of Frankliniana, complete with the awkward reference to the Constitution. It can be found on countless quote-compiling websites, the modern-day equivalent of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations minus the fact-checking. Authors associated with the latest right-wing revival routinely attribute great significance to this quotation. Bloggers love it, especially those bloggers partial to a strict, no-welfare-allowed interpretation of the founding documents. . . . "Nowhere, though, could I find anyone who sourced the phrase back to a primary work by or about Benjamin Franklin. It does not appear in Bartlett’s itself. A search of the authoritative database of Franklin’s writings yields no matches. Google Books assures us it does not come up in any of the major Franklin biographies. I contacted six different Franklin authorities; none had ever heard of it. . . . "[G]iven that it is only a little more difficult to use the Internet to check fake quotes than to reproduce them, one wonders: Why don’t the guardians of Founder purity take that step? Why do fakes proliferate instead of disappear? "I think the answer is that the myths are so much more satisfying than reality. In a 1989 study of spurious quotes, They Never Said It , historians Paul F. Boiler Jr. and John George write that quote fakers 'dream up things that never happened but which they think should have and then insert them into history.'" (Thomas Frank, "Check It Yourself." Harper's Magazine , April 2011)

H.G. Wells on the "Nobler Method of Quotation"

  • "The nobler method of quotation is not to quote at all. For why should one repeat good things that are already written? Are not the words in their fittest context in the original? Clearly, then, your new setting cannot be quite so congruous, which is, forthwith, an admission of incongruity. Your quotation is evidently a plug in a leak, an apology for a gap in your own words. But your vulgar author will even go out of his way to make the clothing of his thoughts thus heterogeneous. He counts every stolen scrap he can work in an improvement--a literary caddis worm. Yet would he consider it improvement to put a piece of even the richest of old tapestry or gold embroidery into his new pair of breeks?" (H.G. Wells, "The Theory of Quotation." Certain Personal Matters , 1901)

Michael Bywater on the Lighter Side of Pretentious Quotations

  • "[T]here are some figures of speech which are not to be taken at face value, but which are to be taken at precisely their between-the-lines value. Take, for example, the hoary old 'I think it was X who said . . .' followed by a plausible but obscure quote. What that meant was 'I have just looked through my Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and found this quote from Pindar, whom I have never read but who is generally thought to be the marker of a pretty spiffy sort of mind. Since I would like you to think I have a pretty spiffy mind, I wish to give you the impression that I am intimately familiar with the works, not only of Pindar, but of absolutely bloody everybody, so while I am happy to expose to you an inch or so of my massive, throbbing intellectual armamentarium, I do so with the entirely false caveat that, having been plucked from my capacious intellect, it may be falsely labelled." (Michael Bywater, Lost Worlds . Granta Books, 2004)
  • Definition and Examples of Direct Quotations
  • Difference Between "Quote" and "Quotation": What Is the Right Word?
  • Quotation and Quote
  • How and When to Paraphrase Quotations
  • How to Use Indirect Quotations in Writing for Complete Clarity
  • A Guide to Using Quotations in Essays
  • What are Ellipsis Points?
  • How to Use Block Quotations in Writing
  • Guidelines for Using Quotation Marks Correctly
  • Examples of Signal Phrases in Grammar and Composition
  • What Is Plagiarism?
  • Research Note Cards
  • Examples of Epigraphs in English
  • Writing Prompt (Composition)
  • What Are Endnotes, Why Are They Needed, and How Are They Used?

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Guides • Perfecting your Craft

Last updated on Jul 24, 2023

15 Examples of Great Dialogue (And Why They Work So Well)

Great dialogue is hard to pin down, but you know it when you hear or see it. In the earlier parts of this guide, we showed you some well-known tips and rules for writing dialogue. In this section, we'll show you those rules in action with 15 examples of great dialogue, breaking down exactly why they work so well.

1. Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered 

In the opening of Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered, we meet Willa Knox, a middle-aged and newly unemployed writer who has just inherited a ramshackle house. 

     “The simplest thing would be to tear it down,” the man said. “The house is a shambles.”      She took this news as a blood-rush to the ears: a roar of peasant ancestors with rocks in their fists, facing the evictor. But this man was a contractor. Willa had called him here and she could send him away. She waited out her panic while he stood looking at her shambles, appearing to nurse some satisfaction from his diagnosis. She picked out words.      “It’s not a living thing. You can’t just pronounce it dead. Anything that goes wrong with a structure can be replaced with another structure. Am I right?”      “Correct. What I am saying is that the structure needing to be replaced is all of it. I’m sorry. Your foundation is nonexistent.”

Alfred Hitchcock once described drama as "life with the boring bits cut out." In this passage, Kingsolver cuts out the boring parts of Willa's conversation with her contractor and brings us right to the tensest, most interesting part of the conversation.

By entering their conversation late , the reader is spared every tedious detail of their interaction.

Instead of a blow-by-blow account of their negotiations (what she needs done, when he’s free, how she’ll be paying), we’re dropped right into the emotional heart of the discussion. The novel opens with the narrator learning that the home she cherishes can’t be salvaged. 

By starting off in the middle of (relatively obscure) dialogue, it takes a moment for the reader to orient themselves in the story and figure out who is speaking, and what they’re speaking about. This disorientation almost mirrors Willa’s own reaction to the bad news, as her expectations for a new life in her new home are swiftly undermined.

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2. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice  

In the first piece of dialogue in Pride and Prejudice , we meet Mr and Mrs Bennet, as Mrs Bennet attempts to draw her husband into a conversation about neighborhood gossip.

     “My dear Mr. Bennet,” said his lady to him one day, “have you heard that Netherfield Park is let at last?”      Mr. Bennet replied that he had not.      “But it is,” returned she; “for Mrs. Long has just been here, and she told me all about it.”      Mr. Bennet made no answer.      “Do you not want to know who has taken it?” cried his wife impatiently.      “You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.”      This was invitation enough.      “Why, my dear, you must know, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the north of England; that he came down on Monday in a chaise and four to see the place, and was so much delighted with it, that he agreed with Mr. Morris immediately; that he is to take possession before Michaelmas, and some of his servants are to be in the house by the end of next week.”

Austen’s dialogue is always witty, subtle, and packed with character. This extract from Pride and Prejudice is a great example of dialogue being used to develop character relationships . 

We instantly learn everything we need to know about the dynamic between Mr and Mrs Bennet’s from their first interaction: she’s chatty, and he’s the beleaguered listener who has learned to entertain her idle gossip, if only for his own sake (hence “you want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it”).

Dialogue examples - Mr and Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice

There is even a clear difference between the two characters visually on the page: Mr Bennet responds in short sentences, in simple indirect speech, or not at all, but this is “invitation enough” for Mrs Bennet to launch into a rambling and extended response, dominating the conversation in text just as she does audibly.

The fact that Austen manages to imbue her dialogue with so much character-building realism means we hardly notice the amount of crucial plot exposition she has packed in here. This heavily expository dialogue could be a drag to get through, but Austen’s colorful characterization means she slips it under the radar with ease, forwarding both our understanding of these people and the world they live in simultaneously.

3. Naomi Alderman, The Power

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of The Power by Naomi Alderman

In The Power , young women around the world suddenly find themselves capable of generating and controlling electricity. In this passage, between two boys and a girl who just used those powers to light her cigarette.

     Kyle gestures with his chin and says, “Heard a bunch of guys killed a girl in Nebraska last week for doing that.”      “For smoking? Harsh.”      Hunter says, “Half the kids in school know you can do it.”      “So what?”      Hunter says, “Your dad could use you in his factory. Save money on electricity.”      “He’s not my dad.”      She makes the silver flicker at the ends of her fingers again. The boys watch.

Alderman here uses a show, don’t tell approach to expositional dialogue. Within this short exchange, we discover a lot about Allie, her personal circumstances, and the developing situation elsewhere. We learn that women are being punished harshly for their powers; that Allie is expected to be ashamed of those powers and keep them a secret, but doesn’t seem to care to do so; that her father is successful in industry; and that she has a difficult relationship with him. Using dialogue in this way prevents info-dumping backstory all at once, and instead helps us learn about the novel’s world in a natural way.

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4. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Here, friends Tommy and Kathy have a conversation after Tommy has had a meltdown. After being bullied by a group of boys, he has been stomping around in the mud, the precise reaction they were hoping to evoke from him.

     “Tommy,” I said, quite sternly. “There’s mud all over your shirt.”      “So what?” he mumbled. But even as he said this, he looked down and noticed the brown specks, and only just stopped himself crying out in alarm. Then I saw the surprise register on his face that I should know about his feelings for the polo shirt.      “It’s nothing to worry about.” I said, before the silence got humiliating for him. “It’ll come off. If you can’t get it off yourself, just take it to Miss Jody.”      He went on examining his shirt, then said grumpily, “It’s nothing to do with you anyway.”

This episode from Never Let Me Go highlights the power of interspersing action beats within dialogue. These action beats work in several ways to add depth to what would otherwise be a very simple and fairly nondescript exchange.  Firstly, they draw attention to the polo shirt, and highlight its potential significance in the plot. Secondly, they help to further define Kathy’s relationship with Tommy. 

We learn through Tommy’s surprised reaction that he didn’t think Kathy knew how much he loved his seemingly generic polo shirt. This moment of recognition allows us to see that she cares for him and understands him more deeply than even he realized. Kathy breaking the silence before it can “humiliate” Tommy further emphasizes her consideration for him. While the dialogue alone might make us think Kathy is downplaying his concerns with pragmatic advice, it is the action beats that tell the true story here.

Dialogue examples - Kathy and Tommy from Never Let Me Go

5. J R R Tolkien, The Hobbit  

The eponymous hobbit Bilbo is engaged in a game of riddles with the strange creature Gollum.

     "What have I got in my pocket?" he said aloud. He was talking to himself, but Gollum thought it was a riddle, and he was frightfully upset.       "Not fair! not fair!" he hissed. "It isn't fair, my precious, is it, to ask us what it's got in its nassty little pocketses?"      Bilbo seeing what had happened and having nothing better to ask stuck to his question. "What have I got in my pocket?" he said louder. "S-s-s-s-s," hissed Gollum. "It must give us three guesseses, my precious, three guesseses."      "Very well! Guess away!" said Bilbo.      "Handses!" said Gollum.      "Wrong," said Bilbo, who had luckily just taken his hand out again. "Guess again!"      "S-s-s-s-s," said Gollum, more upset than ever. 

Tolkein’s dialogue for Gollum is a masterclass in creating distinct character voices . By using a repeated catchphrase (“my precious”) and unconventional spelling and grammar to reflect his unusual speech pattern, Tolkien creates an idiosyncratic, unique (and iconic) speech for Gollum. This vivid approach to formatting dialogue, which is almost a transliteration of Gollum's sounds, allows readers to imagine his speech pattern and practically hear it aloud.

Dialogue examples - Gollum and Bilbo in the hobbit

We wouldn’t recommend using this extreme level of idiosyncrasy too often in your writing — it can get wearing for readers after a while, and Tolkien deploys it sparingly, as Gollum’s appearances are limited to a handful of scenes. However, you can use Tolkien’s approach as inspiration to create (slightly more subtle) quirks of speech for your own characters.

6. F Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of The Great Gatbsy by F Scott Fitzgerald

The narrator, Nick has just done his new neighbour Gatsby a favor by inviting his beloved Daisy over to tea. Perhaps in return, Gatsby then attempts to make a shady business proposition.

     “There’s another little thing,” he said uncertainly, and hesitated.      “Would you rather put it off for a few days?” I asked.      “Oh, it isn’t about that. At least —” He fumbled with a series of beginnings. “Why, I thought — why, look here, old sport, you don’t make much money, do you?”      “Not very much.”      This seemed to reassure him and he continued more confidently.       “I thought you didn’t, if you’ll pardon my — you see, I carry on a little business on the side, a little side line, if you understand. And I thought that if you don’t make very much — You’re selling bonds, aren’t you, old sport?”      “Trying to.” 

This dialogue from The Great Gatsby is a great example of how to make dialogue sound natural. Gatsby tripping over his own words (even interrupting himself , as marked by the em-dashes) not only makes his nerves and awkwardness palpable but also mimics real speech. Just as real people often falter and make false starts when they’re speaking off the cuff, Gatsby too flounders, giving us insight into his self-doubt; his speech isn’t polished and perfect, and neither is he despite all his efforts to appear so.

Fitzgerald also creates a distinctive voice for Gatsby by littering his speech with the character's signature term of endearment, “old sport”. We don’t even really need dialogue markers to know who’s speaking here — a sign of very strong characterization through dialogue.

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7. Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet  

In this first meeting between the two heroes of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, John is introduced to Sherlock while the latter is hard at work in the lab.

      “How are you?” he said cordially, gripping my hand with a strength for which I should hardly have given him credit. “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.”      “How on earth did you know that?” I asked in astonishment.      “Never mind,” said he, chuckling to himself. “The question now is about hemoglobin. No doubt you see the significance of this discovery of mine?”     “It is interesting, chemically, no doubt,” I answered, “but practically— ”      “Why, man, it is the most practical medico-legal discovery for years. Don’t you see that it gives us an infallible test for blood stains. Come over here now!” He seized me by the coat-sleeve in his eagerness, and drew me over to the table at which he had been working. “Let us have some fresh blood,” he said, digging a long bodkin into his finger, and drawing off the resulting drop of blood in a chemical pipette. “Now, I add this small quantity of blood to a litre of water. You perceive that the resulting mixture has the appearance of pure water. The proportion of blood cannot be more than one in a million. I have no doubt, however, that we shall be able to obtain the characteristic reaction.” As he spoke, he threw into the vessel a few white crystals, and then added some drops of a transparent fluid. In an instant the contents assumed a dull mahogany colour, and a brownish dust was precipitated to the bottom of the glass jar.      “Ha! ha!” he cried, clapping his hands, and looking as delighted as a child with a new toy. “What do you think of that?”

This passage uses a number of the key techniques for writing naturalistic and exciting dialogue, including characters speaking over one another and the interspersal of action beats. 

Sherlock cutting off Watson to launch into a monologue about his blood experiment shows immediately where Sherlock’s interest lies — not in small talk, or the person he is speaking to, but in his own pursuits, just like earlier in the conversation when he refuses to explain anything to John and is instead self-absorbedly “chuckling to himself”. This helps establish their initial rapport (or lack thereof) very quickly.

Breaking up that monologue with snippets of him undertaking the forensic tests allows us to experience the full force of his enthusiasm over it without having to read an uninterrupted speech about the ins and outs of a science experiment.

Dialogue examples - Sherlock Holmes

Starting to think you might like to read some Sherlock? Check out our guide to the Sherlock Holmes canon !

8. Brandon Taylor, Real Life

Here, our protagonist Wallace is questioned by Ramon, a friend-of-a-friend, over the fact that he is considering leaving his PhD program.

     Wallace hums. “I mean, I wouldn’t say that I want to leave, but I’ve thought about it, sure.”     “Why would you do that? I mean, the prospects for… black people, you know?”        “What are the prospects for black people?” Wallace asks, though he knows he will be considered the aggressor for this question.

Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is drawn from the author’s own experiences as a queer Black man, attempting to navigate the unwelcoming world of academia, navigating the world of academia, and so it’s no surprise that his dialogue rings so true to life — it’s one of the reasons the novel is one of our picks for must-read books by Black authors . 

This episode is part of a pattern where Wallace is casually cornered and questioned by people who never question for a moment whether they have the right to ambush him or criticize his choices. The use of indirect dialogue at the end shows us this is a well-trodden path for Wallace: he has had this same conversation several times, and can pre-empt the exact outcome.

This scene is also a great example of the dramatic significance of people choosing not to speak. The exchange happens in front of a big group, but — despite their apparent discomfort —  nobody speaks up to defend Wallace, or to criticize Ramon’s patronizing microaggressions. Their silence is deafening, and we get a glimpse of Ramon’s isolation due to the complacency of others, all due to what is not said in this dialogue example.

9. Ernest Hemingway, Hills Like White Elephants

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

In this short story, an unnamed man and a young woman discuss whether or not they should terminate a pregnancy while sitting on a train platform.

     “Well,” the man said, “if you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.”      “And you really want to?”      “I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you really don’t want to.”      “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?”      “I love you now. You know I love you.”      “I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?”      “I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.”      “If I do it you won’t ever worry?”      “I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.”

This example of dialogue from Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants moves at quite a clip. The conversation quickly bounces back and forth between the speakers, and the call-and-response format of the woman asking and the man answering is effective because it establishes a clear dynamic between the two speakers: the woman is the one seeking reassurance and trying to understand the man’s feelings, while he is the one who is ultimately in control of the situation.

Note the sparing use of dialogue markers: this minimalist approach keeps the dialogue brisk, and we can still easily understand who is who due to the use of a new paragraph when the speaker changes .

Like this classic author’s style? Head over to our selection of the 11 best Ernest Hemingway books .

10. Madeline Miller, Circe

In Madeline Miller’s retelling of Greek myth, we witness a conversation between the mythical enchantress Circe and Telemachus (son of Odysseus).

     “You do not grieve for your father?”        “I do. I grieve that I never met the father everyone told me I had.”           I narrowed my eyes. “Explain.”      “I am no storyteller.”      “I am not asking for a story. You have come to my island. You owe me truth.”       A moment passed, and then he nodded. “You will have it.” 

This short and punchy exchange hits on a lot of the stylistic points we’ve covered so far. The conversation is a taut tennis match between the two speakers as they volley back and forth with short but impactful sentences, and unnecessary dialogue tags have been shaved off . It also highlights Circe’s imperious attitude, a result of her divine status. Her use of short, snappy declaratives and imperatives demonstrates that she’s used to getting her own way and feels no need to mince her words.

11. Andre Aciman, Call Me By Your Name

This is an early conversation between seventeen-year-old Elio and his family’s handsome new student lodger, Oliver.

     What did one do around here? Nothing. Wait for summer to end. What did one do in the winter, then?      I smiled at the answer I was about to give. He got the gist and said, “Don’t tell me: wait for summer to come, right?”      I liked having my mind read. He’d pick up on dinner drudgery sooner than those before him.      “Actually, in the winter the place gets very gray and dark. We come for Christmas. Otherwise it’s a ghost town.”      “And what else do you do here at Christmas besides roast chestnuts and drink eggnog?”      He was teasing. I offered the same smile as before. He understood, said nothing, we laughed.      He asked what I did. I played tennis. Swam. Went out at night. Jogged. Transcribed music. Read.      He said he jogged too. Early in the morning. Where did one jog around here? Along the promenade, mostly. I could show him if he wanted.      It hit me in the face just when I was starting to like him again: “Later, maybe.”

Dialogue is one of the most crucial aspects of writing romance — what’s a literary relationship without some flirty lines? Here, however, Aciman gives us a great example of efficient dialogue. By removing unnecessary dialogue and instead summarizing with narration, he’s able to confer the gist of the conversation without slowing down the pace unnecessarily. Instead, the emphasis is left on what’s unsaid, the developing romantic subtext. 

Dialogue examples - Elio and Oliver from Call Me By Your Name

Furthermore, the fact that we receive this scene in half-reported snippets rather than as an uninterrupted transcript emphasizes the fact that this is Elio’s own recollection of the story, as the manipulation of the dialogue in this way serves to mimic the nostalgic haziness of memory.

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12. George Eliot, Middlemarch

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of Middlemarch by George Eliot

Two of Eliot’s characters, Mary and Rosamond, are out shopping,

     When she and Rosamond happened both to be reflected in the glass, she said laughingly —      “What a brown patch I am by the side of you, Rosy! You are the most unbecoming companion.”      “Oh no! No one thinks of your appearance, you are so sensible and useful, Mary. Beauty is of very little consequence in reality,” said Rosamond, turning her head towards Mary, but with eyes swerving towards the new view of her neck in the glass.      “You mean my beauty,” said Mary, rather sardonically.       Rosamond thought, “Poor Mary, she takes the kindest things ill.” Aloud she said, “What have you been doing lately?”      “I? Oh, minding the house — pouring out syrup — pretending to be amiable and contented — learning to have a bad opinion of everybody.”

This excerpt, a conversation between the level-headed Mary and vain Rosamond, is an example of dialogue that develops character relationships naturally. Action descriptors allow us to understand what is really happening in the conversation. 

Whilst the speech alone might lead us to believe Rosamond is honestly (if clumsily) engaging with her friend, the description of her simultaneously gazing at herself in a mirror gives us insight not only into her vanity, but also into the fact that she is not really engaged in her conversation with Mary at all.

The use of internal dialogue cut into the conversation (here formatted with quotation marks rather than the usual italics ) lets us know what Rosamond is actually thinking, and the contrast between this and what she says aloud is telling. The fact that we know she privately realizes she has offended Mary, but quickly continues the conversation rather than apologizing, is emphatic of her character. We get to know Rosamond very well within this short passage, which is a hallmark of effective character-driven dialogue.

13. John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent

Here, Mary (speaking first) reacts to her husband Ethan’s attempts to discuss his previous experiences as a disciplined soldier, his struggles in subsequent life, and his feeling of impending change.

     “You’re trying to tell me something.”      “Sadly enough, I am. And it sounds in my ears like an apology. I hope it is not.”      “I’m going to set out lunch.”

Steinbeck’s Winter of our Discontent is an acute study of alienation and miscommunication, and this exchange exemplifies the ways in which characters can fail to communicate, even when they’re speaking. The pair speaking here are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage which leaves Ethan feeling isolated, and part of his loneliness comes from the accumulation of exchanges such as this one. Whenever he tries to communicate meaningfully with his wife, she shuts the conversation down with a complete non sequitur. 

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We expect Mary’s “you’re trying to tell me something” to be followed by a revelation, but Ethan is not forthcoming in his response, and Mary then exits the conversation entirely. Nothing is communicated, and the jarring and frustrating effect of having our expectations subverted goes a long way in mirroring Ethan’s own frustration.

Just like Ethan and Mary, we receive no emotional pay-off, and this passage of characters talking past one another doesn’t further the plot as we hope it might, but instead gives us insight into the extent of these characters’ estrangement.

14. Bret Easton Ellis , Less Than Zero

The disillusioned main character of Bret Easton Ellis’ debut novel, Clay, here catches up with a college friend, Daniel, whom he hasn’t seen in a while. 

     He keeps rubbing his mouth and when I realize that he’s not going to answer me, I ask him what he’s been doing.      “Been doing?”      “Yeah.”      “Hanging out.”      “Hanging out where?”      “Where? Around.”

Less Than Zero is an elegy to conversation, and this dialogue is an example of the many vacuous exchanges the protagonist engages in, seemingly just to fill time. The whole book is deliberately unpoetic and flat, and depicts the lives of disaffected youths in 1980s LA. Their misguided attempts to fill the emptiness within them with drink and drugs are ultimately fruitless, and it shows in their conversations: in truth, they have nothing to say to one another at all.

This utterly meaningless exchange would elsewhere be considered dead weight to a story. Here, rather than being fat in need of trimming, the empty conversation is instead thematically resonant.

15. Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

Dialogue examples - annotated passage of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The young narrator of du Maurier’s classic gothic novel here has a strained conversation with Robert, one of the young staff members at her new husband’s home, the unwelcoming Manderley.

     “Has Mr. de Winter been in?” I said.      “Yes, Madam,” said Robert; “he came in just after two, and had a quick lunch, and then went out again. He asked for you and Frith said he thought you must have gone down to see the ship.”      “Did he say when he would be back again?” I asked.      “No, Madam.”      “Perhaps he went to the beach another way,” I said; “I may have missed him.”      “Yes, Madam,” said Robert.      I looked at the cold meat and the salad. I felt empty but not hungry. I did not want cold meat now. “Will you be taking lunch?” said Robert.      “No,” I said, “No, you might bring me some tea, Robert, in the library. Nothing like cakes or scones. Just tea and bread and butter.”      “Yes, Madam.”

We’re including this one in our dialogue examples list to show you the power of everything Du Maurier doesn’t do: rather than cycling through a ton of fancy synonyms for “said”, she opts for spare dialogue and tags. 

This interaction's cold, sparse tone complements the lack of warmth the protagonist feels in the moment depicted here. By keeping the dialogue tags simple , the author ratchets up the tension —  without any distracting flourishes taking the reader out of the scene. The subtext of the conversation is able to simmer under the surface, and we aren’t beaten over the head with any stage direction extras.

The inclusion of three sentences of internal dialogue in the middle of the dialogue (“I looked at the cold meat and the salad. I felt empty but not hungry. I did not want cold meat now.”) is also a masterful touch. What could have been a single sentence is stretched into three, creating a massive pregnant pause before Robert continues speaking, without having to explicitly signpost one. Manipulating the pace of dialogue in this way and manufacturing meaningful silence is a great way of adding depth to a scene.

Phew! We've been through a lot of dialogue, from first meetings to idle chit-chat to confrontations, and we hope these dialogue examples have been helpful in illustrating some of the most common techniques.

If you’re looking for more pointers on creating believable and effective dialogue, be sure to check out our course on writing dialogue. Or, if you find you learn better through examples, you can look at our list of 100 books to read before you die — it’s packed full of expert storytellers who’ve honed the art of dialogue.

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Grammarhow

Do You Use Quotation Marks for Thoughts? (Helpful Examples)

Thoughts can be difficult to express appropriately in writing. You won’t always be able to do it, but when you can, it’s important to know how to punctuate them. This article will explain all you need to know about punctuating thoughts in your writing.

Do You Use Quotation Marks for Thoughts?

You can use quotation marks for thoughts in creative writing. It’s common for people to use these to help separate their thoughts from the rest of the writing. It’s similar to how you would include conversations and dialogue with quotation marks.

do you use quotation marks for thoughts

Quotation marks work best when someone is saying something. However, there’s no reason why you can’t use it to talk about how someone is thinking or feeling.

As long as you specify that you’re talking about thoughts by using something like “I thought” or “he thought” around it, quotation marks work well.

Are Thoughts Italicized or Quoted?

You can quote thoughts in your writing, but you can also italicize them. A lot of people prefer the more concise approach of keeping thoughts in italics because it helps to separate them further from the original writing. Also, italics stand out from other dialogue.

The problem with using speech marks for thoughts is that people don’t think out loud. It’s expected that when quotation marks surround something, that person should be saying something aloud (or should have done so in the past).

With italics, this problem is avoided. Instead of worrying about whether someone said something, you can instead make it clear that something is thinking about things.

How to Properly Quote Thoughts in a Sentence

Now is the time to see how to quote your thoughts properly. For the most part, you’ll be writing thoughts in third person when quoting like this. It’s most common to see thoughts in creative writing (often from the perspective of a third-person view).

Quotation Marks

  • He thought for a moment, “there were a few ways to get out of this mess, but I haven’t managed to capitalize on any of them.”
  • “I knew there was something else going on here,” thought Craig as he watched the others try to get away.
  • “The moment has already passed,” Angelica thought to herself. It was about time that she acted on it.
  • She thought for a second, “what happened to those poor people I passed not too long ago.”
  • There was a brief moment when she paused to think, “perhaps there are a few things I could do differently.”

Quotation marks are fairly common in this way when writing creatively. Many novels will include quotation marks around thoughts to help separate them from the rest of their prose.

  • Darren thought, there wasn’t much more to do here, so maybe he should just go.
  • I knew I had to do something. I thought there were some people back there that might have needed my help.
  • The thought “ that the team left him alone” crossed his mind more than once on his way back.
  • There was only one other thing he could do, thought Samuel.
  • Some of the others are still trapped in there, and I have to do something. That was the only thought that crossed her mind.

It’s possible sometimes to use quotation marks and italics at the same time. It mainly depends on stylistic choices and whether you like the look of how it’s separated from the rest of the sentence.

Is It OK To Quote Thoughts in a Sentence?

It is okay to quote thoughts in a sentence in creative writing. It’s very common to do so when it helps to further the development of certain characters. You won’t often see it in formal writing because there is never a reason to include thoughts.

Including your thoughts in formal writing would take away from the integrity of whatever you’re writing about. It’s best to keep them in more creative or informal passages to make sure you’re using thoughts correctly.

Final Thoughts

You can include thoughts in creative writing with quotation marks or italics. It’s more common to see thoughts italicized in creative writing because it helps to separate the thoughts from other dialogue (which typically uses quotation marks to show that someone is talking).

You may also like: Do You Use Quotation Marks Around Nicknames? (Examples) Do I Need Quotation Marks When I Quote Myself?

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Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here .

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