Plate boundaries in continental crust are generally less sharply defined than in the oceans, with seismicity spread over broad areas. Interplate displacements appear to be largely accommodated by networks of major fault zones. A simple 2-level model for these important structures accounts for the depth distribution of most continental earthquakes, and for the observed range of faulting styles and associated rock deformation textures. The model consists of a seismogenic frictional slip regime overlying quasi-plastic mylonite belts wherein shearing is largely accommodated aseismically, due mainly to the changing response of quartz to deformation with increasing temperature. Shear resistance increases with depth to a peak value in the vicinity of the frictiona1/quasi-plastic transition and then decreases rapidly. The depth to which microseismic activity extends appears inversely related to regional heat flow and can be satisfactorily modelled as the frictional/quasi-plastic transition for different geotherms using laboratory determined flow laws for quartz-bearing rocks. Larger earthquake ruptures (M > 5.5) tend to nucleate near the base of the seismogenic regime in the region inferred to have the highest shear resistance and concentration of distortional strain energy. Consideration is also given to the depression of isotherms and seismic activity in regions of thrusting, and to the question of the downward continuation of major fault zones through the lithosphere. Decoupling of the upper crust on flat-lying shear zones may accompany higher-level dip-slip (and perhaps in some circumstances, strike-slip) faulting, being favoured by above average continental heat flow and a high quartz content in the middle or deep crust. The average level of deviatoric stress within the seismogenic regime remains an outstanding problem.