Journey to a Bestseller: Quotes, Italics, Semicolons and Clauses (Series #43)

Good sunday everyone! To be honest, I didn’t have a subject for today’s post. I was trying to think of writing advice I could give you. So far I’ve talked about world-building, plot points, researching, high concept ideas, connecting with unlikeable characters, breaking up info dumps, writing for your market, writing that agents want, en and em dashes, comma usage, essential scenes in every story (six week series), word counts, padding the plot and punctuation, words to cut from your manuscript, story arcs, character “voice,” tropes to avoid in YA, concept, prologues, and writing battles with magic. (Feel free to visit any you’ve missed.)

So what am I forgetting? Yes, I’m asking YOU. What else do you need me to cover on writing (Or editing, publishing, and marketing, for that matter)?This blog is here as a journal of my writing journey, but it’s meant to help authors. So, authors, tell me what you want to know. I could talk about how to name characters and places, or grammar and spelling, or punctuation…

Let’s start there with punctuation. I do want to say on that front, punctuation goes inside the quotation marks, unless the punctuation is part of the word: Like thinkin’. In that case, the apostrophe is considered part of the word, taking the place of a “g.” So in a sentence it would say:

“That’s what I was thinkin’.” See how the period is outside the apostrophe, but still inside the quote marks?

” = double quotes

‘ = single quotes, or apostrophe

Always use “double quotes” when highlighting a phrase or using dialogue. If you need quotation inside quote marks, then you use single quotes. For example, “She said she ‘needed some time.'”

Did you notice that at the end of that sentence, the period is inside the single and then double quotes? Because that single quote is not part of the word, “time.”

Punctuation also goes inside single quotes as well. For example, “She said, ‘I can’t do it,’ but I think she can.” Notice the comma is inside the single quote marks.

One deviation from the rule of punctuation inside quotes, is if the speaker is asking a question, but the quoted material is not part of the question. I have seen many people include the question mark inside the quotes anyway, and it works all the time for self-publishing, but a Top 5 editor will catch it.

For example:

“Is the title of that new movie ‘Jumped’?”

Or, you could say, “Is the title of that new movie Jumped?”

I wouldn’t suggest it for general dialogue, but italics can be used instead of quote marks as in the case above. Or, for example:

“They said they didn’t need your help, but I told them to reconsider.”

When using italics, use it for words you stress, but also dreams, visions, internal dialogue, thoughts–basically anything that happens inside a character’s head, goes in italics.

For example:

That’s a great idea, I thought, for the big party tomorrow...

We’ve already covered in the post about dashes, that dashes have no spaces before or after them–in fact, if you are typing in Word, all you have to do is hit the regular dash key twice and keep going, and it will automatically turn into an em dash for you. But only use one dash in between compound words like “self-publish.”

However, ellipses (…) are a different story. In the middle of a sentence, an ellipsis will have a space on BOTH sides, but if the speaker is trailing off their sentence, there is no space, as in the example above.

What are some other things you have trouble with?

Ever wonder how to use a semicolon? Well we’re going to learn that right now and I’m going to make sure you understand all the definitions, because I hate not knowing all of it and guessing if I’m doing it right. And I assume you writers are tired of that, too. Let’s get the facts straight.

A semicolon is a strong comma. There are four main ways to use a semicolon:

1| Use in a list, if the list items include commas.

For Example:

At the store I got: that new cereal, the one with flakes and nuts; some baking flour, but not all-purpose; chocolate chips, 60% dark; a dozen eggs; diet chocolate milk, mixed with cocoa and sweetener; four sticks of butter, the same brand my mom uses; and a pound of coffee for grandma.

Notice that the items in my list contain commas, so it would make the separate clauses hard to define without the semicolons. What’s a clause? Hang on. We’ll get there.

2| Use a semicolon to link two (complete) clauses* whose ideas are closely related. This gives both clauses equal power in the sentence.

For example:

Some people like to swim; others enjoy jogging.

I learned that you also use it when you have a complete sentence, and then a fragment that goes with it, but can’t be a sentence on its own.

For example:

I went to the store and bought groceries today and the bill nearly killed me; forty-seven dollars for meat!

(You’ll notice later that this is an independent clause, connected with a dependent clause.)

3| Semicolons connect two clauses with conjunctive adverbs.*

For example:

I like tacos; however, they give me indigestion.

“I like tacos” is a clause (Subject = I Verb = like Object = tacos) + However (conjunctive adverb) + “they give me indigestion” is the second clause (Subject = they Verb = give).

*Conjunctive adverbs

Conjunctions - CoonWriting

4| Semicolons connect two lengthy clauses with a coordinating conjunction* and already have commas.

For example:

When the ladies took their trip to England–which they packed extensively for, though they only expected to stay a few weeks–they thought they were prepared; but they ended up staying nearly a month, and between them, bought fifteen new dresses with their savings accounts.

*Coordinating Conjunctions:

Conjunctions (examples, videos)


Now we’re going to talk about those “independent clauses” that we need to separate with the semicolons. How do we know what a clause is? Let alone what’s independent or not?

First, each clause has at least a subject and verb.

(If a sentence doesn’t have both, it’s a fragment.)

There are independent clauses and dependent clauses.

An independent clause is one that can stand alone and make a sentence.

Having only one clause in sentence is called a “simple sentence.” All other sentences are combinations of independent and dependent clauses, or more than one independent clause with a coordinating conjunction (above), and/or a dependent clause.

There are four types of clauses:

1| Main (or Independent) Clause

subject + verb = complete thought or idea


Bored kids whine

(Subjectbored kids Verbwhine)

I bought a purse

(SubjectI Verbbought)

These clauses alone can make up what’s called a simple sentence.

2| Subordinate (Dependent) Clause

Subordinate conjunction* + subject + verb = incomplete thought or idea


Whenever bored kids whine

Because I bought a purse

*Subordinate conjunctions:

Subordinating conjunctions

*A subordinate clause can never be a full sentence. To complete it, you have to attach a main clause.


Whenever bored kids whine, I buy them slushies.

Because I bought a purse, I have no more money.

3| Relative (Adjective) Clause

Relative pronoun* or relative adverb* + subject + verb = incomplete thought or idea


Relative pronoun as the subject + verb = incomplete thought


When I buy them slushies

When I have no money

*Relative pronouns

Who, whom, whose, which, that

*Relative adverbs

When, where, why

A relative clause cannot be a sentence, either. It also must be attached to a main clause.


The bored kids know when I buy them slushies, that I’ve hit my limit.

When I have no more money, I can’t buy any more purses.

Now, if the subject of the sentence is vague, there are no commas around the relative clause.

For example:

Women who buy too many purses have no money.

The vague subject is: Women and the relative clause is “who buy too many purses.” This is called an essential clause because the information is essential to the sentence. It describes the subject. We are talking about women who buy too many purses. It needs no commas to separate the clause. However, if we get more specific with describing our subject, the relative clause becomes non-essential.

For example:

My friend Sally, who buys too many purses, has no money.

In this case, my friend Sally is the subject, and you would separate the non-essential relative clause with commas, as above. Now, the relative phrase isn’t essential to describing Sally, it’s almost non-essential to the sentence. You could cut it out and just say that “My friend Sally has no money.”

4| Finally, a “Noun” clause is any clause that can be exchanged for a noun. It is another “dependent” clause that can’t make its own sentence. Noun clauses begin with words such as: how, that, what, whatever, when, where, whether, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, and why. Noun clauses can act as subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, predicate nominatives, or objects of a preposition.

For example:

Whoever made these cookies is a master chef!

In this sentence, “whoever made these cookies” is a noun clause because it’s a clause that explains the subject of the sentence. If I switched it to Bill making the cookies it would say:

“Bill, who made these cookies, is a master chef.”

(If you’ll notice from what we’ve just learned, this sentence has a relative clause separated by commas, and the subject is clearly Bill.) But when you take “Bill” out of the sentence and make it “whoever made these cookies” you can see that the clause is exchangeable.

What about this one, can you spot the noun clause?

Wherever you want to go is fine.

Right! “Wherever you want to go” is the noun phrase. If I’d said, “Red Lobster is fine,” the subject would be Red Lobster, but it is exchanged with “wherever you want to go.” Am I making sense? I hope so.

That’s it for today, I don’t want to overwhelm you. When you’re writing, the main reason you want to know about clauses is to know where to put a comma. That can be a little tricky, too, and I’m happy to go over commas again, if you need me to. Let me know if you learned anything, and what you’d still like some clarity on. Until next week… Keep writing!


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