Writing Life: Bonus Post – A Problematic Sentence
Small silver packets held their meals (“It’s mostly garlic and potato,” the artificer admitted; “I tried to make it with more traditional fairy-food, but you don’t have anything left once you’re done dehydrating a dewdrop.”).
There’s two things going on that I’m not sure about — the first, which I’ve definitely brought up on this blog before, is the issue with the punctuation at the end. At the point where I have four punctuation marks in a row, I feel like I’m starting to create a new sentence entirely out of non-alphabetic characters. But it feels like they all need to be there — the first period ends the artificer’s sentence, the double-quote closes off his speech, the parentheses closes the parenthetical, and the second period concludes the sentence that started with “Small silver packets.”
The other issue is the oddity of breaking a character’s speech and then resuming it, which I do more than I think most people do; in this case you can see it in the parenthetical. Ignoring the first part of the sentence and taking out the parentheses, it would read:
“It’s mostly garlic and potato,” the artificer admitted; “I tried to make it with more traditional fairy-food, but you don’t have anything left once you’re done dehydrating a dewdrop.”
There’s got to be a semicolon in there somewhere, since the artificer is saying one sentence with two independent clauses: “It’s mostly garlic and potato; I tried to make it with more traditional fairy-food, but you don’t have anything left once you’re done dehydrating a dewdrop.” But the dialogue attribution in the middle bollixes up where it’s supposed to go until I’m not quite sure I’ve got it right, and in this particular paragraph (and a few others I’ve written) I don’t really have the option of dropping the attribution. Moving it to the end just looks ungainly.
So for the time being, I’m probably leaving it be, and the four-punctuation-marks-in-a-row as well. I’m not worried that I’m making a glaringly obvious error that will make a potential publisher say “Jeez, this guy was too lazy to even proofread his own work” and put the manuscript down unread — I like to think that these don’t fall under the general heading of Things No One Should Ever Get Wrong. But it bugs me every time something like this crops up.
If I were David Foster Wallace, I would just footnote it.