Hi writers, I know it’s been a while since my last editing/revision lesson but family matters have kept me busy as well as clients so let’s get things rolling again. One of the things that I notice quite often in editing is incorrect punctuation when it comes to dialogue. I understand it can be confusing at times but with practice, anyone can become so comfortable with the rules that it will come without thinking. Trust me.
Dialogue has its own set of rules for punctuation.
Commas always go in particular places, as do terminal marks such as periods, question marks, and exclamation points.
A simple rule to remember is that only what is said aloud is put within the quotation marks, and always within quotation marks—those are the double marks by the way. (“…”)
Any other parts of the same sentence such as dialogue tags (said, remarked, commanded, etc.) and any action or thought go outside the quotation marks.
Dialogue always begins with a capitalized word, no matter where in the sentence it begins. Only if the dialogue is interrupted and a tag continues it followed by a comma and not a period is not capped.
Example: “If I could have a moment of your time,” he said, grabbing her hand, “it’s important.”
Only direct dialogue, words spoken to someone or aloud requires quotation marks. Indirect dialogue is a report that someone spoke and what they said. The word that is implied in indirect dialogue.
Direct: “She was spoiled rotten,” he said.
Indirect: He said [that] she was spoiled rotten.
Now…as for punctuation in regards to dialogue, there are a few rules but the most basic ones are:
When using a single line of dialogue with no dialogue tag, the entire sentence, including the period or question mark or exclamation point is placed within the quotation marks.
Example: “I love you.”
“Will you marry me?”
“I’m so excited!”
When using a single line with dialogue tag (attribution) following the dialogue, the dialogue is enclosed in quotation marks with a comma following the dialogue and the comma is always placed before the closing quotation mark. A period ends the sentence after the dialogue tag. Punctuation in the form of the comma serves to separate the spoken words from other parts of the sentence. Since the sentence is not finished after the dialogue, the dialogue tag—he said, she demanded—is still part of the same sentence, and so it is not capitalized unless a proper name or title is being used.
Example: “I love you,” she said.
“I love you,” Annabelle said.
The same construction occurs with a question mark even though there is no comma but instead a question mark, the dialogue tag continues the sentence and so there is no capitalization of the first word following the quotation marks unless it is a proper name.
Example: “Will you marry me?” he asked.
“Will you marry me?” Damien asked.
When it comes to the use of exclamation points…if at all possible use a dialogue tag that expresses the raised voice or excitement in the voice of the speaker rather than an exclamation point or do not add a dialogue tag and use the exclamation point as too many exclamation points can slow the flow and distract the reader.
Example: “I’m so excited,” she exclaimed throwing her arms around his neck.
“I’m so excited!” She threw her arms around his neck.
Sometimes, the dialogue needs more definition and so you might wish to put the tag first before the line of dialogue. When using this method, the comma still separates the dialogue tag from the spoken words but now it is outside the quotation marks and the dialogue-ending period is inside the quotation marks.
Example: She said, “I love you.”
Annabelle said, “I love you.”
When using a single line of dialogue with dialogue tag as well as action, the dialogue is always enclosed in quotation marks no matter how much action is added to the sentence. A comma still follows the dialogue and is enclosed within the quotation marks. The dialogue tag follows immediately with no capitalization unless using a proper name then the action follows and a period ends the sentence.
Example: “I love you,” she said, hoping he loved her too.
“I love you,” Annabelle said, hoping he loved her too.
Just as with a single line of dialogue with a simple tag, the action and dialogue tag can also introduce the dialogue, only now you’ll follow the action with the tag but the same rules apply as before.
Example: Tipping her head to look at him, she said, “I love you.”
The most important thing to remember is make sure the reader knows who is speaking so as to avoid confusion. The dialogue is always key to fiction…let’s get it right. Next time, we’ll explore more complicated dialogue construction.
If you have any questions in particular that you’d like to see addressed, feel free to let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to include them in the next sessions of Revisions: Writing Dialogue. It’s all about helping you find the success you deserve.
Happy Writing Everyone!