I’m really excited this week about the new short story I’m drafting. Sometimes, I start writing and it feels like swimming through mud and at other times, like this week, to keep to a nautical metaphor, the wind’s in the sails and words and plot readily unfurl.
I’ve also just started reading a book by a young writer who’s got talent and an interesting plot, but the numerous punctuation errors got in the way of my enjoyment of the story. So, let’s go through the basic rules governing the punctuation of dialogue.
- Since a dialogue means there are at least two speakers, use a fresh line each time the speaker changes, otherwise readers will not realise that the speaker has changed.
“It’s time,” Urr said.
“I’ll miss you.”
If there are only two speakers, by using a fresh line we do not need to say that the second line was uttered by the second speaker because only s/he could have said it.
- If we use an action tag, we punctuate the sentences as separate sentences (i.e. we use a full stop).
Example: The beast lumbered closer to me. “I’m no monster, even if I have more heads than you.”
- Now for the tricky bit. Sometimes we split an utterance in two and have a dialogue tag in the middle. Since the utterance is one sentence (remove the dialogue tag and it reads as one complete sentence) then we use a comma before and a comma after the dialogue tag.
Example: “I’m no monster,” the beast said, “even if I have more heads than you.”
Punctuating dialogue can be tricky, so let’s start with a few basics.
- Punctuation marks like a comma, full stop or exclamation mark should come before you close the inverted commas.
“I’ll never forget you,” Jason said.
- If a dialogue tag follows the utterance, then the punctuation mark cannot be a full stop, but it can be a comma, exclamation mark or a question mark.
“I’ll miss you,” he said.
- If there is no dialogue tag after the utterance, then we use a full stop.
Jason caressed the dragon’s snout. “I’ll miss you.”
- When using a dialogue tag, use lower case after the utterance, unless you’re using a proper noun (a name).
“It’s time,” the dragon said.
“It’s time,” it said.
“It’s time,” Urkan said.
That’s it for today. One final note: Americans prefer to use double inverted commas and the British prefer using single.
Hi! How was your week? Hopefully, you’ve found the time to do some writing and maybe even tried experimenting with dialogue tags.
This week, I’m going to concentrate on one problem I face when writing dialogue: questions.
For example: “Hungry?” Jason asked.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m about to write ‘asked’ after a question mark I kind of think it’s silly. I mean, the question mark immediately tells the reader that the character asked a question, so, I prefer to avoid using ‘asked’. Instead, to show who is doing the asking, I mention an action the person did at the time.
“Hungry?” Jason dangled a piece of meat in front of the dragon.
You could also use this technique to avoid writing too many he/she said.
“It’s time,” the dragon said.
“I’ll never forget you.” Jason caressed the dragon’s snout.
That’s all for this week. Happy Writing! And if you have any questions or would like to leave a comment, I’ll be happy to hear from you.
What’s a story without dialogue, right? In most stories we have at least a couple of characters and at some point we need to write what they said, and show who is speaking.
The best way to do so is to add he / she said at the end of the utterance. I know it’s tempting to use variations of this, such as he exclaimed/ whispered / roared / shouted ….
“I’ll never forget you!” Jason exclaimed.
“I’ll never forget you,” Jason whispered.
But “I’ll never forget you,” Jason said is better because it’s invisible. We just notice who is speaking and continue reading.
Then, if you want to show how the character said the words, you could describe an action.
“I’ll never forget you,” Jason said, caressing the dragon’s snout.
I’m a teacher of English at a secondary school and I write YA fantasy in my free time. Over the years, I’ve met many young talented writers who have contributed short stories to the school magazine I edit. I’m constantly amazed by the creativity and talent shown in these pieces. I hope you’ll find this blog useful. I will be posting tips to help make your writing better and if anyone would like to send in 200 words of a story you are writing, I’d be happy to post it here with my comments.