7

I'm sure we have all heard people say questions without putting the tone inflection on the end. I am writing a novel and I have a piece of dialogue where a character says:

“Why are you here.”

because he's exasperated with the person he is talking to.

Is it acceptable to leave off the question mark at the end of a dialogue tag in order to indicate lack of tone change?

  • 1
    Instead of asking a question, make it a command - "Tell me why you are here!". – sambler Dec 24 '19 at 2:28
  • 1
    This is one of those cases where people may read it wrong either way. Which do you prefer? Them missing it's a question or them missing the tone in which the question is asked? – Mast Dec 24 '19 at 9:32
  • Wh-questions usually don't have a tone inflection at the end anyways. – eyeballfrog Dec 25 '19 at 6:05
5

That might get corrected to a question mark by a copy editor, thinking it is a typo. Readers might not realize it is intentional, either, and just think it is a typo. It isn't the most effective way of conveying what you wish to convey.

I would reword the question so it is definitely a statement.

  1. I hope you have a damn good reason for being here.

  2. You keep coming here, my answer is no, it will always be no.

  3. I don't want you here.

Or anything along those lines. The lack of a question will also make things a little more awkward for the character being addressed, there is no convenient request to respond to.(Although my #1 suggestion above can relieve that if you want).

8

For me the answer is no. You're asking a question mark to perform a task for which it was not designed.

The context of the dialogue should provide the inflection.

Levininja sighed. "Why are you here?"

Here's an exercise for you, to show why you can't do what you propose. Write a transcript of this exchange.

"Who's on first. What's on second."

Note the absence of question marks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sShMA85pv8M

5

I am not a writer, but an avid reader.
Contrary to the other answers, I find it quite ok, and it would come over right as you wanted for me. I'm also sure I have seen it being used that way in many books.

4

Of course you can. Orthography serves you as the author in your efforts to accurately convey the narrative. A question mark there would convey the wrong thing.

Not all sentences that start with question-words are questions, anyway. Particularly when the dialogue should not be inflected as a question would, it’s doubly useful to avoid cuing the reader to read it wrong.

You’ll find such things in novels, often with additional narration to affirm what the punctuation is suggesting. Things like:

“Why are you here.” Every line in his body echoed his dead tone. It wasn’t a question, she knew. It was a warning.

(Note that I’m currently writing a novel in a close third POV, so my example is too. Use less reported thought for other POVs.)

  • 4
    In your specific case, that might work. But from what I read in the original question, is that it's still very much a question. Not necessarily identifiable as a question by how it's asked, but a question. And questions get question marks. – Mast Dec 24 '19 at 9:31
  • @Mast Pragmatically, the other characters will respond as necessary. The mark isn’t there to satisfy a hypothetical grammarian, and this isn’t Spanish, where it alters the semantics entirely. The words are grammatically fine, and merely orthographic rules are least rigid in dialogue. There are well-know experiments that should be avoided because they simply don’t work (e.g., excessive vocalizations in reported speech; multiple exclamation marks), but that’s because they aren’t fit for purpose, not because they break rules. In the question’s case too, a question mark isn’t fit for purpose. – Robin Dec 24 '19 at 16:27
  • @Robin Questions (rhetorical or otherwise) require question marks. Your example where you 'tell' the reader what the character is thinking and feeling is the epitome of bad writing in the modern era. – Surtsey Dec 24 '19 at 23:17
  • @Surtsey Bad writing or bad literature? The feedback is appreciated, but if we’re doing it right we write for our audience. I don’t want to optimize my writing for the wrong audience, so a critique needs context. – Robin Dec 26 '19 at 16:48
1

I've encountered the same issue myself while writing and here's how I've tried to deal with it (options):
1. Quickly establish the mood beforehand: Kyra's tone was flat. "God, why are you here?"
2. Describe the question's tone immediately after before continuing with dialogue: "Why are you here?" she asked flatly. "This is a bad time." (I guess this one is kind of obvious).
3. If you play your cards right, italics might also help show your character's tone, too.
Side Idea: In an attempt to make character voice more unique, I have referred to flat questions like the one you are describing like this: “Why couldn’t you sleep?” she inquires. It’s a question-statement hybrid. Her voice doesn’t go up at the end. Then I could just use that term from then on forward and it would quickly communicate to the reader that the question isn't quite a question without stunting the flow of a scene: “It’s remarkable you haven’t caught this sickness yet. You’re perfectly healthy, aren’t you?” Question-statement hybrid.
Overall, it works for me either way, but the oddity of seeing a question without a question mark on the end can give me pause and potentially put a kink in the flow of a scene.

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