extribulum

The Punctuatin’ Monkey

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am

I spent a lot of time in January working on a “warm up” novel — whipping myself through a mediocre murder mystery I decided to write, in order to get back into practice after not working on original fiction for-ev-er. I posted about it in January, but I thought I’d share the post here, too, albeit a bit later.

Among the Google searches I performed for the work was a string of increasingly frustrated searches about the punctuation of text messages:

  • Grammar when narrating text conversations
  • Grammar when describing text messages
  • Grammar text message fiction
  • Chicago Manual of Style online

I am fortunate to have access to the Chicago Manual of Style through my work, but for the record, the Chicago Manual of Style does not define how to incorporate text messages into dialogue. My question was how to punctuate the following text message conversation:

Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was.

I don’t know, there’s a sexy note to tape and nudes.

LOL Not when it involves scalpels.

Should it be, in prose, punctuated thusly, the way dialogue would:

Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was, Anais answered.

I don’t know, there’s a sexy note to tape and nudes.

LOL. Not when it involves scalpels, she shot back.

Or should the punctuation on the text should be preserved, thus:

Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was. Anais answered.

I don’t know, there’s a sexy note to tape and nudes.

LOL Not when it involves scalpels. she shot back.

And if so, should that last “she” should be capitalized, given the text ended in a stop.

I thought I’d go for the nearest approximation once it became clear I wouldn’t find anything in the Chicago Manual about chats, SMS, text messages. The problem is, I found two: one digital and one old-school.

When quoting something containing an email address, “Readers of print sources should assume that any punctuation at the end of an e-mail address or URL belongs to the sentence” meaning that you should punctuate the same way the digital statement was punctuated; plus, when citing a digital source, the Chicago Manual says it’s permissible, though not necessary, to enclose the URL in brackets which will isolate it from surrounding punctuation (thus preventing a corruption of the URL). This does look rather stylish and somewhat futuristic:

[Cooking wheat paste. Been pulling tape off a nude all morning. That sounds a lot more fun than it was.] Anais answered.

On the other hand, the Manual suggests that “unpublished field notes (the author’s own or those of a colleague or assistant)” which is informal communication comparable to a text message, should be “edited for consistency — with other notes and with the surrounding text—in matters of spelling, capitalization, punctuation…” and so forth. Which would mean punctuating the text messages like a conversation, per the first example.

Oh, what a madcap world in which we live.

When I talked about this on my livejournal, early comments favored the brackets, mainly I think because brackets do look cool. The end majority, however, thought that — being a conversation — the text messages should be punctuated like one. On the other hand, if logic ruled grammar, our world would be very different, I feel…

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