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So I have a question concerning punctuation. Let's say that Character A is talking to Character B. Character A, like most people, doesn't always speak in complete sentences (think about when people interrupt themselves out of confusion, or a sudden realization, etc). A has a question for B, but A doesn't get all the words out. How does one write that down?

Examples (random context, don't worry about it because it doesn't matter) (look at the bold part):
B: "Dude, stop."
A: "What?"
B: "Don't ask me about that."
A: "What are you-"
OR
B: "Dude, stop."
A: "What?"
B: "Don't ask me about that."
A: "What are you-?"

You can see the only difference between these is the final question mark [?]. I know that the words are the same regardless if you place the mark there or not, but putting it there allows the to reader hear a different delivery of the phrase in their head. Humans have a different cadence of speech and pitch when they ask a question vs when they say a statement, and the distinction is important. Adding the question mark there is the only way to show that the phrase is, in fact, a question, and should be read as one. Is it correct to add the question mark at the end, or are you supposed to leave it off? Or do you as the author have the choice between the two?

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    In your example, it is clear that character A is starting to ask a question, since "what" is a question word. I think you could leave out the question mark at the end. But you do have a point with the intonation thing. My guess is it's up to you as the writer--a lot of things are like that. – Naomi May 18 at 17:16
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I haven't seen punction included and feels off. The reader should be able to understand the intention within the surrounding context. You can help, if needed, by using an interrogative pronoun like "What" to make it clearer - as you have in your example. Typically end off with double-dash: --

TASCH
Dude, stop.

DUDE
What?

TASCH
Don't ask me about that. 

DUDE
What are you--

TASCH
Please, you know exactly what I mean and I am sick of--

DUDE
Seriously...the punctuation thing?

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  • I forgot about the double dash. I'm going to wait and see if anybody has a different thought, but you were helpful. Thank you. – Tasch May 16 at 18:52
  • The double dash is pretty much the standard in scripts. – Samuel G May 16 at 23:30
  • The double dash is also called the "M-dash" (don't ask me why, but it is). I love to use them. – Naomi May 18 at 17:17
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Don't add the question mark. It looks better as the former and it doesn't really work when you a question mark to a sentence that someone was cutoff in.

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I used to include it. However, after reading 'Self-Editing for Fiction Writers' I now don't. The writers of that book are professional editors. I took their advice.

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  • Thank you dude. – Tasch May 16 at 20:14
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I use ellipses sometimes when the speaker is musing or gets lost in a monologue.

M-dash is an old printer's term. There

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