Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 2)

Punctuating Children's Fiction Part 2 blog post

This Part 2 guide on punctuating children’s fiction follows on from Part 1. It is mainly for my clients who are independent (indie), self-publishing authors of children’s books because it answers the questions they ask about punctuation.

The rules, though, apply to any writer of fiction.

When I give feedback to indie authors who ask for help about how to punctuate, especially the dialogue in their book, this is my advice.

 

Covered in Part 1

  • capitalisation
  • dialogue (speech)
  • paragraph break
  • exclamation mark
  • question mark
  • comma
  • ellipsis
  • curly quote marks.

 

Punctuating further

Here in Part 2 are more advanced types of punctuation: colons, semicolons, hyphens and types of dashes (including the en dash and em dash), and brackets (parentheses).

These punctuation features are used in more complex stories and texts for older children and young adults. As children progress through upper primary school (Key stage 2), they learn how to read them, their function and effect, and how to apply them in their own writing.

  • colon
  • semicolon
  • brackets
  • hyphen/dash (-)
  • en dash (–)
  • em dash (—).

 

Colon (:)

A colon is used to introduce the information that follows it.

– Introducing a list: The colon is used before a list of items, examples, or explanations, eg There are three primary colours: red, blue and yellow.

– Introducing a quote or statement: When introducing a quote, a colon can be used, eg She had one motto: Never give up.

 

Semicolon (;)

A semicolon is used to connect two closely related but independent clauses, creating a stronger link than a full stop or comma. The main uses of semicolons are:

– Joining related independent clauses, eg She went to the party; he stayed at home.

– Separating items in a complex list. When a list already contains items with commas, semicolons can be used to separate the list items. For example, The colours available were red, blue, and green; other colours were unavailable.

 

I’ve seen much confusion in the use of colons and semicolons. Writers don’t remember the differences between them. If it looks wrong, if you’re in doubt, don’t use them. Or ask someone to check you’ve used them correctly.

 

Hyphen/dash (-)

The hyphen or dash is used to join words together to form compound words or to make nouns become adjectival phrases when they are used to describe a noun.

Do you prefer ‘well-being’ or ‘wellbeing’? NODWE (New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors) uses a hyphen; Collins Dictionary doesn’t. When you have decided on whether to hyphenate a word or not, keep the style for consistency.

Another common use is that adjectival words are hyphenated before a noun, eg well-known phrase, up-to-date regulations.

 

En dash (–)

When the dash gets longer, it becomes the en dash/en rule (–) and em dash/em rule (—). Until I did my proofreading training with the CIEP I had no idea there were differences. I hadn’t looked that closely …

The en dash is the length of an ‘n’ and is used in two ways:

1. To represent a range of values, such as numbers or dates, eg pages 10–15, 1980–1985.

2. Instead of commas to show a parenthetical phrase, eg Alfie had fair hair that was far too long – making him peer under his fringe – and pale blue eyes. En dashes are used in the same way as brackets. Used mainly in UK fiction and non-fiction.

Em dash (—)

The em dash is the length of an ‘m’. It is more likely to used for parentheses in fiction published in the US. Again, it indicates a break in thought or to separate parenthetical phrases in a sentence. It provides emphasis, eg The weather—hot and humid—was unbearable. It can also be used to show interrupted speech, eg I thought for a while, then—.

Don’t worry too much about en dashes and em dashes in your book. Children don’t learn about them in school. There is no need to use them in your books for children.

If you are an author and your editor spots that dashes have been used instead of en dashes or em dashes, they have an efficient way of changing them as part of their editing service. So no worries.

 

Brackets (parentheses)

Parentheses are used to enclose additional information or explanations within a sentence. They provide extra detail or clarification, eg The conference (where there were over 200 delegates) was very informative.

 

Ensuring readability and clarity

There we are. That concludes your author guide to punctuating children’s fiction, whether you’ve written a picture book, chapter book, or fiction for Middle Grade (MA) or Young Adult (YA) readers.

Remember to use punctuation marks thoughtfully and appropriately to improve the clarity and readability in your writing. Using a variety of punctuation will keep the reader interested.

But if there is a missing full stop, misplaced comma or quote mark, it will trip the reader up.

If you’re still unsure about how to use punctuation, go to a bookshop or library, pick up a book for the age and genre you are writing for, and look at how the punctuation is used.

 

Using my teaching experience

My experience of 30 years teaching in the primary classroom is valuable if you need advice on writing a children’s book.

Think of me as a fairy godmother placing that punctuation perfectly … Your book is in safe hands.

Fairy godmother sprinkling publishing confidence.
Annie signature

 

 

 

Email me

See my Contact me page to email me about my availability to proofread children’s books and educational books.

 

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Further reading

Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 1)

Some of my relevant blog posts:

Punctuating Children’s Fiction

Punctuating children's fiction blog post

This guide on punctuating children’s fiction is for those of my clients who are independent, self-publishing authors of children’s books. They ask me for guidance about how to use punctuation.

When I give feedback to indie authors about how to punctuate their book, especially the dialogue, this is how I answer their questions.

Punctuating children’s fiction

Punctuation in children’s fiction uses the same rules as punctuation in adult fiction, especially when writing dialogue (speech).

If you are an author of children’s books, here’s how you can make sure the punctuation in your story is used correctly.

  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Capitalisation
  • Punctuating dialogue (speech)
  • Paragraph
  • Exclamation mark
  • Question mark
  • Comma
  • Ellipsis
  • Curly quote marks.

Using age-appropriate language

Children’s fiction often targets specific age groups, so the language and punctuation should be suitable for the intended readers.

Younger children’s books will have simpler sentences and less complex punctuation. While books for older children will have a variety of sentence structures (long phrasing contrasted with a short, snappy sentence before or after) to create dramatic effect, tension or humour.

A gripping fiction story will have a selection of action, description and dialogue.

If any of the story is punctuated incorrectly, your reader will spot it and ‘trip up’ which will spoil their enjoyment of the story.

Capitalisation

Capitalise the first letter of a sentence, proper nouns, and the pronoun ‘I’. Avoid excessive capitalisation for emphasis, as it can be distracting and disrupt readability.

Punctuating dialogue (speech)

There are particular rules when punctuating dialogue/speech between characters. In the sentence “I love ice cream,” said Sarah, the dialogue is “I love ice cream”. The dialogue tag is ‘said Sarah’.

  • When punctuating dialogue, use quotation marks to enclose the spoken words. That is, all dialogue goes inside the speech/quotation marks.
  • There is always closing punctuation before the closing quote mark, eg a full stop, comma, question mark (?), or exclamation mark (!).
  • Place a comma before the closing quotation mark when a dialogue tag (eg said, asked) follows the dialogue. For example, “I love ice cream,” said Sarah; “Can we go to the park?” asked Tom.
  • There is always a comma before the opening quote mark if the character tag is first, eg John muttered, “I can’t believe you’re going to do that.”
  • Only the speech goes inside quote marks. The character speaking stays outside the marks.

Paragraph

Use paragraphs to indicate changes in speakers during dialogue or shifts in the action or setting. This helps young readers follow the story more easily and keeps the text visually appealing.

A simple way to remember how to set out dialogue: new speaker = new line.

Exclamation mark

Children’s fiction often includes enthusiastic and expressive language. Exclamation marks can be used to convey excitement, surprise or strong emotions. However, it’s important not to overuse them. Selectively include exclamation marks for impactful moments. And, I suggest, use only one at a time. Four is overkill …

Question mark

Use a question mark at the end of a question. Begin the next sentence with a capital letter, eg ‘How did he get there? He couldn’t have done it alone.’

A question generally starts with one of these five words – What? Where? When? How? Why?

Comma

Use commas to separate two or more items or adjectives in a list of description, eg She packed her favourite toys, books and snacks.

In longer children’s fiction, consider contrasting a long sentence (with commas placed for breathing pauses between clauses) after a short sentence, for dramatic impact.

A serial comma (Oxford comma) is used before ‘and’ in a list. For example, (from the sentence above) ‘She packed her favourite toys, books, and snacks’ I’ve added a serial comma here. Some would argue the serial comma is not needed as the meaning is clear. However, in other contexts, the comma would add clarity. Whichever style you choose, ensure consistency throughout your manuscript.

If a sentence contains two independent clauses, avoid using a comma to separate them.

❌ I loved walking, I tried to walk for an hour each day.

This is called a comma splice. It doesn’t work. Separate the two sentences with a full stop.

✔️ I loved walking. I tried to walk for an hour each day.

Ellipsis

An ellipsis (3 dots: …) can be used in dialogue to indicate a pause or speech stalling. It can help convey hesitation or suspense. For example, “I’m not sure … maybe we should wait.”

Make sure you use three dots, not two or four dots. Decide how you’re going to use space around the ellipsis: no spaces / no space before and one after / one space before and one after. Whatever spacing you use around your ellipses (plural), make it consistent throughout your manuscript.

Curly quotation marks

Quotation marks, also called inverted commas, are of two types, single (‘ ’) and double (“ ”), and can be curly, like these examples, or straight.

Straight quote marks are the easiest to type (just use the keyboard). However, curly quote marks are the convention in fiction publishing.

Double curly quote marks can be inserted using Alt codes. Ensure consistency of use, ie single or double quotes, not a mixture.

If you’re unsure, your editor/proofreader will change them to curly quotes as part of the editing process.

There are other types of punctuation that I will cover in another post, eg colons, semicolons, hyphens, and brackets (parentheses) which children learn to recognise and use in upper primary school.

Giving a smooth reading journey

It is vital you give your readers a smooth reading journey and that they enjoy your book without the distraction of punctuation errors.

Ensure punctuation is used correctly and consistently. List your style choices on a style sheet to help you remember what decisions you’ve made. Give this list to your editor/proofreader so they know the styles you prefer.

If you don’t have a style sheet, we will create one for you by listing what we find as we read, advising on the most consistently used styles in your writing.

Always consider the age group of your intended audience to ensure the punctuation enhances the readability and enjoyment of the story.

Using my teaching experience

My experience of 30 years teaching in the primary classroom is valuable if you need advice on writing a children’s book.

Children build on their writing skills through primary school, developing complexities in punctuation as they approach Year 6 (age 10/11).

So it is vital that punctuation is correct in children’s books. They learn from reading good examples. Then they can apply a range of punctuation in their own writing.

Learning from published children’s authors

Another tip. I advise new indie authors to go into the Children’s books section of a bookshop. Open a book for the age range you are writing for, one that tempts you by the cover, and study how the punctuation is used. In other words, learn from a variety of published children’s book authors.

Me? I research the releases of new books for children, keeping an eye out for authors/illustrators that have published stories that are recommended.

Personally, I adore the skill in well-illustrated picture books, especially for older children, that carry profound messages.

Finally, think of me as a fairy godmother sprinkling publishing confidence. Placing that punctuation perfectly …

Fairy godmother sprinkling publishing confidence.
signature

Email me

See my Contact me page to ask about my availability to proofread children’s books and educational books.

Subscribe

Subscribe to my blog to receive new posts directly to your email.

Further reading

Punctuating Children’s Fiction (Part 2)

Some of my blog posts which fit with this one:

Review of 2022

Review of 2022 blog post

This year I have been on a mission. A quest, if you like, to notch up as many proofreading hours as possible by gaining experience working freelance for publishers.

Tall Tartan Talks here … My quest? To cold email publishers every month since January 2022. I had been direct marketing to some extent since I started my freelance proofreading business in 2017. This year I have been dynamic in my mission.

The spreadsheet to record my cold emailing over the last 12 months has grown substantially. My strategy has worked. I’ve had more freelance work this year because I told publishers in my niche that I am available. Interested? Read further to explore my strategy.

To illustrate how my marketing year has been successful, I’ve chosen an acrostic using the letters of my name – ANNIE.

ANNIE

Adaptability

Networking

New opportunities

Inspiration

Endeavour

Adaptability

Being adaptable and completing work to fluctuating deadlines is essential to fit in with the requirements of any client, in this case, publishers.

Without a background in publishing, it was even more vital for me to ask questions if I was unsure of anything. If a contract wasn’t mentioned when I had expressed availability and interest in the project, I asked if one would be sent or if I should send my Terms & Conditions. It should be said here that an email agreement does constitute a contract, but I like to have one ready depending on the type of client. Half of the publishers who contacted me sent a contract for me to sign. Half asked me to send mine.

Another variation was the style sheets. It was interesting to see how they varied from publisher to publisher. Some were basic. Some were extensive. When there was a lot of information to absorb, it was more manageable to make a note of the exceptions to style guides such as New Hart’s Rules. (Relevant to my UK publishers.) This way it was easier to keep track, maintain consistencies, and to not get overwhelmed.

Networking

In January 2022 a small group of fellow networkers, part of the Drive the Partnership Network, began our Quest – weekly goals for January to April. Drive is a group of like-minded small business owners.

To facilitate accountability, we met once a week on Zoom for updates and motivation. We were also available via Slack messaging to share challenges and wins. It was a collaborative process: I asked for advice and offered my tips in return. It was what I needed to kick-start my mission. Thanks to Ann Hawkins and Thor Rain (First Aid for Feelings at The Helpful Clinic) for support. If you want to join the tribe at Drive get in touch with me or Ann to find out more.

New opportunities

Up until January this year I had done very little publishing work. The requests that had come through my website were mainly from self-publishing children’s authors. But, by contacting publishers in my specialist areas, eg education, English Language Teaching (ELT), and children’s books, I found that they valued the expertise evident on my website. This has led to exciting new opportunities.

One debate which occurs regularly in the editing world is whether to generalise or specialise. Personally, I have found that narrowing in by using my specialism has had huge benefits. If you are a career-changer with an expertise which makes you stand out from the editorial crowd, you are a useful person to know. Tell people!

This year, in my niche, I have carried out freelance proofreading for an ELT publisher, a publisher of history books, a packager, an educational publisher, and an NGO (charity) publishing a book for international primary schools. Interestingly these enquiries came through my website after I had done a batch of cold emailing, and not, at first, from the publishers I had contacted … Perhaps they had seen that I had shown availability on LinkedIn? I did always ask where they had found me if they didn’t mention it. Anyway, there was something in the air …

Inspiration

As well as being inspired by the members of Drive, I was pleased and proud when it transpired that some members of Drive had found my motivation to be an inspiration to them. I am a natural helper (former teacher!) and keen to help when I can. I have learnt much from others about owning and running a business, and I like giving back.

Endeavour (or 3Ps)

To me, the word endeavour encompasses the 3Ps: patience, persistence, and perseverance.

These are skills to practise in any sphere of life, but they are a lifebelt that I cling to in the running of my business. No-one said marketing would be easy.

Every quarter, when I did another batch of cold emailing, I would ensure I had added another training course to my CV. This year my Continuous Professional Development (CPD) with the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) has been the Editing Digital Content course, and How to Mark Up PDF Proofs with Denise Cowle Editorial (a discount is available to both CIEP members and those in the ELT Publishing Professionals directory.

Completing training courses to add to my range of skills has made me a more trusted professional, giving publishing confidence to new clients.

CPD and networking this year also included attending the hybrid CIEP annual conference in person in Milton Keynes, and the ELT Freelancers’ Awayday in Oxford. Both happening in September!

Marketing success

If you want success in your marketing, I recommend using my strategy for marketing directly with prospective clients. I wrote it for fellow business networkers in Drive. If you are an editor or proofreader, you might prefer the word ‘publishing’ to ‘business’.

Review of 2022 marketing strategy

If the above image doesn’t open a new page, use this link.

Children’s book authors

I have helped at least three self-publishing children’s authors publish their children’s books. Three other books have been proof-edited (proofreading with additional suggestions for improvements) and are at the pre-publishing stage.

Of the children’s book publishers I have worked with this year, Black Poppies by Stephen Bourne, published by The History Press about the story of Britain’s Black community in the First World War, is a recommended read for primary schools. It was a fascinating project.

To see the other projects I have worked on see the following pages on my website and my gallery:

book cover of black poppies

My previous yearly reviews

I think it’s interesting to look back and review achievements from previous years. Here are my last reviews – in 2020 and 2019.

Notes:

2019: The bank of proofreading exercises I reviewed is available as a blog post here (written in 2022).

2020: The proofreading mentoring scheme mentioned is not currently available.

Next year

So to 2023 … Direct marketing to publishers continues.

Whatever your circumstances, here’s to a peaceful future.

review of year chocolate log

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Email

Contact me to check my availability for proofreading non-fiction and children’s books.

Review of 2019

grateful proofreader

Life as a freelancer has its ups and downs. In this blog post I review how my business has fared in 2019, with both successes and lessons learnt.

A thick skin needs to be developed to cope with the downs. But the ups are ever so rewarding and uplifting. Many of my freelance colleagues will agree with those sentiments. I have certainly honed the ‘3Ps’ (patience, perseverance and persistence).

Slow burn

My year has been busy, particularly with primary tutoring, but I’m pleased to report that the proofreading side of the business perked up. Those who have been at it a lot longer say it can be a slow burn, taking up to three years to get established and known as a freelancer. I agree. My business has grown.

Winter review

A proofreading job in January with an unsatisfactory client did not start the year well. A lack of communication meant I was left feeling humiliated. Lessons were learnt on both sides, so best forgotten.

Spring review

For the first four months of 2019, the proofreading jobs were very few and far between, and a lot of freelancers shared their worries on social media about paying bills.

I have found it is good to have a wee part-time job to take away some of the stress of the unreliability of the freelance income. Fortunately, the tuition I offered increased to five afternoons a week. My Friday became a Saturday (day off) to fit in with my husband’s free day as he cycles at the weekend.

Marketing review

Being fully booked with primary tuition meant that my income wasn’t so much of an issue, but I was doing all I could to could to market myself as an available proofreader. Sending cold emails, writing blog posts, and sharing on social media continued though to Easter. I was even asked to do a proofreading test for an educational publisher! But no work has come of it yet – something to chase up in January 2020.

IM Available

By April, I had a proofreading request from the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (ciep.uk), formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. A director found me on their list of available Intermediate Members. If you are an Entry-Level Member it’s worth trying to gain points by training and experience to upgrade to IM. Then you qualify to appear in their internal list of IMs, appearing visible for work opportunities.

They wanted a proofreader to check some new proofreading exercises which will be part of a resource bank. I thought this was a brilliant opportunity! The role involved *test-driving* the exercises and feeding back on the time taken and their effectiveness. The job continued, interspersed with voluntary editing until the end of August.

Summer review

August used to be the month when I went on holiday. As an ex-teacher there are more months available now. So I made myself available for jobs in the summer.

review

 

In August, I got a surprise email from a local business. It appears that it is advantageous to have a ‘Google My Business’ profile. The client had googled ‘proofreaders in Essex’. My name popped up. I was away on a short break for my wedding anniversary. So, having a sneaky peek of my emails while he wasn’t looking, I offered to refer the prospective client to other IM proofreaders. No, he said, he could wait. There was no rush. Wow, I thought, this job sounds hopeful.

He explained that his company writes on-line courses for health and safety qualifications. They asked if they could email a course to be proofread as a trial. I established Terms and Conditions. We would see how we got on liaising. Then there might be future courses to proofread.

A flexible client

The trial job was proofreading a course on which consisted of 8 modules with roughly 20 PDF slides in each module. Some with few words, some heavily worded. I created a Style Sheet, then set up a Query Sheet for any questions I had.

The promised return in one week was achieved. I invoiced and asked for a feedback testimonial to put on my website. This job continued to be special as the invoice was paid the same day it was presented – plus their feedback was gracious! I am still basking in the afterglow of that positive working experience.

When I shared on Twitter that I had a queue of two clients – the first time I have had to timetable a schedule – another client appeared.

I shared that I had appreciated the fact that the August client had been prepared to wait until I had finished a regular monthly editing job I do. A children’s author saw my post and booked me in for a proofreading job in September. Getting yourself out there *does* put you into the eyeline of prospective clients –if you’re in the right place at the right time.

review

Networking and CPD in 2019

I got out and about to the following events:

  1. May: SfEP mini conference in Newcastle (see blog post here)
  2. September: SfEP Annual Conference in Birmingham (see blog post here)
  3. November: Cambridge Social Media Day (see my summary on my profile page on LinkedIn by searching #CSMDay2019). How to be more savvy with your content marketing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.
  4. Meetings of my local Herts & Essex SfEP group through the year have provided opportunities for mutual support and fruitful discussion. For me the meetings have been sacrosanct – timetabled in my work diary and essential for my well-being.

Sharing experience and wisdom

It appears that, by this stage in my freelancing career, I have become someone who is respected as established and supportive to newbie freelancers. Thank you to the folk, especially former teachers, who have shared their appreciation of my blog posts this year with positive responses.

New year plan

Going into 2020, I have successfully applied to be mentored through the SfEP proofreading mentoring scheme. I am really looking forward to working with my mentor through into next year.

Branding

Meanwhile, I want to update my branding, so have bought Louise Harnby‘s ‘Branding Lite’ course. I bought her ‘Blogging Lite’ course last spring to help me plan how I was going to write blog posts for the year ahead and beyond. Look at me now … happy blogging anniversary to me!

I have a winter of studying ahead. Can’t wait.

Finally, I wish you and yours blessings, peace and joy for the new year ahead.

 

signature

 

 

Kindly proofread by CIEP Professional Member Lisa de Caux.