Posted by: nancycurteman | October 28, 2015

6 Most Misused Punctuation Marks In Fiction Writing

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As an author I often run into punctuation questions that slow down my creative juices. I finally tired of reviewing rules in reference books and on the Internet. I solved my problem by creating a brief reminder list that I keep in the file with my novel in progress. These basic rules relate primarily to their use in writing fiction but most can be applied to any type of writing. Here is my quick reference list of the punctuation signs I use most often when writing my novels.

Italics are used to identify foreign words or phrases not yet absorbed into English.
Italicize: Il fait beau. Do not italicize: café

Ellipses are used to signal in dialogue or thought the act of trailing off, hesitation, halting speech, searching for the right word or a switch in subject matter.
“I…couldn’t do it,” he whispered.
Use ellipses when a character is supposed to be listening to a speaker, but keeps fading in and out and only catches snippets of what the person is saying.
“…were built by the Romans.”

Hyphens are used to join two or more words serving as an adjective before a noun (never after the noun): Well-known singer.
Use them with compound numbers: fifty-six
Use them with prefixes and suffixes such as ex-, self-, all-: ex-wife, all-included, anti-Catholic,
Use them to divide words at the end of lines: look-

Em Dashes are used in dialogue to show interruptions or breaks in thought.
“I’ve told you a hundred times not—oh forget it.”
“Please let me explain. I—” “It’s too late!”
Use the em dash to separate a series within a sentence.
She looked at the trees—pines, maples, oaks, elms—all mixed together.

Colons are used after a complete sentence to introduce a list or quotation:
He has three favorite ice creams: chocolate, strawberry and vanilla.

Quotation Marks are used to set off quoted or spoken text. Do not use quotation marks for internal dialogue:
“I’ll go,” she said.
I’ll go, she thought.

There are many more punctuation marks and rules related to them to be considered. If you have some you might add to this list I would appreciate expanding it.

More Tips:

Writing Craft Rules: Never Say Never
5 Elements of Writing Craft
7 Ways to Make Your Writing Clear and Concise


  1. …a personal style guide. Great idea. That will help speed publication when you’ve finished a book.


    • It also speeds writing the book because you don’t lose your train of thought by having to research the punctuation issue.


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