Dialog punctuation – part 2

9/11/2007 12:09:38 AM

Having looked the previous entry over for a bit, I see where there’s a different dialog format that requires punctuation clarification. So here we go.


This time, the format for sentence punctuation goes like this:

She said,  “I want to be alone.”    
(the dialog tag) (the dialog)

 You still have to think of the dialog and the tag as one whole unit, one whole sentence. But, instead of the full stop coming at the end of the tag, it comes in the dialog itself.


Here are the four main rules of punctuating dialog in this format.


  1. The first word of the dialog tag is always uppercase.

  2. Put a comma after the dialog tag, outside the quotation marks.  

  3. The first word of the dialog is also always uppercase.  

  4. Put a period, exclamation point, or question mark at the end of the dialog, within the quotation marks.


Examples:


John asked, “Who’s coming to dinner with me?”

Mary stated, “I can’t come tonight.”

He whined, “But you never come!”


Here’s another little twist:


Said Herman, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Asked she, “Where’d you go?”


This is an older way of writing a sentence, but the same rules apply.

As I said before, this is very, very basic. Dialog punctuation has quite a few little quirks to be mastered.



One thought: It’s usually taught that with each new speaker there should be a new paragraph. To some, this means that the quotation marks must always begin the paragraph. This is fine, as long as you make sure that the speaker is clearly delineated. I’ve seen writers who have made the mistake of leaving anything that identifies a speaker in the previous paragraph, which can confuse the reader as to who exactly is speaking. Here’s an example:

Jeff tied the tarp down with the rope.

“I hope this will hold up during the storm that’s coming.” John smiled at his father and tied the knot tight.

“I’m sure it will. The storm doesn’t sound like it’ll be too bad.” Gordon scanned the horizon; he didn’t like the looks of the dark clouds there.

“This one will be worse than was forecast, I reckon. I can smell it in the air.” Jeff nodded as he checked his fastenings.

“Then let’s make sure we’ve battened down the hatches.”


The way it’s written, it sounds as if the first line of dialog is uttered by John. The second line sounds as if it’s coming from Gordon’s mouth, and the third is back to Jeff. You don’t really know who is saying the final line of dialog. The problem is that some of the dialog sounds like it should be coming from the person mentioned before it.

To me, it doesn’t matter where in the paragraph the dialog comes as long as there is one speaker per paragraph. So you can have a long descriptive paragraph that describes what the speaker is doing, then have him/her make a comment. See how this sounds.

Jeff tied the tarp down with the rope. “I hope this will hold up during the storm that’s coming.”

John smiled at his father and tied the knot tight. “I’m sure it will. The storm doesn’t sound like it’ll be too bad.”

Gordon scanned the horizon; he didn’t like the looks of the dark clouds there. “This one will be worse than was forecast, I reckon. I can smell it in the air.”

Jeff nodded as he checked his fastenings. “Then let’s make sure we’ve battened down the hatches.”

Here, it’s clear who is saying what, and the dialog fits the characters.

Any other questions or comments, leave them here, or drop me an email.