Getting the Hang of Dialogue Punctuation – Part 1

Myriad authors can’t seem to get the hang of correct dialogue punctuation – including me when I first started writing. The goods news is that, once you ‘click’, it’ll become as easy as spelling the word ‘the’.

Here’s an extract from my Editors’ Bible that I hope will help some of you to understand the rules better:

If the narrative doesn’t pertain to the speech (said, shouted, whispered, muttered and murmured, etc.), a full stop is used. For example:

John said, “Good morning.”

John smiled. “Good morning.”

“I’ll get through as soon as I can,” she promised Eric.

“I’ll get through as soon as I can.” She stared at Eric.

Remove the quotation marks (“ ”) and insert a comma in place of the end punctuation. If this is grammatically correct, your dialogue should end in a comma. If it’s grammatically incorrect and would only be correct after inserting a full stop, the dialogue should end in a full stop (or other relevant punctuation, such as a question mark if a question is being asked). For example:

The detective sounded pleased. “By the way,” he said, “she had a fit when she heard her car had been stolen.”

The detective sounded pleased. “By the way…” He smiled. “She had a fit when she heard her car had been stolen.”

It should also be noted that only one dialogue tag is needed for each time a character speaks, unless an action is performed during or between that character’s speech, or unless the character’s tone changes or something else important occurs.

An example of an unnecessary double dialogue tag is as follows:

“Maybe John’s asleep,” she said. “I’ll try later,” she concluded.

In the above example, the reader already knows who is speaking, so it’s not necessary to state it again. It’s also obvious (by the fact that this character says nothing further) that she’s concluded her dialogue.

Next week, we’ll take a look at punctuating internal dialogue (thoughts).

I hope this helps some fellow authors!

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