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Dialogue Punctuation

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Fri Jan 09, 2009 10:43 pm
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JFW1415 says...

If you read ten of my critiques, I'll bet you anything that at least seven of them have comments of dialogue punctuation. It seems like an easy enough thing to learn – we see it all the time in novels. Yet many writers can't seem to grasp these rules. So here's a nice little guide. :)

Also, I know Snoink has one of these up, but this is kind of explaining her examples.

Example One


Probably the most basic there is – simply the dialogue. You use quotation marks (the ones with two lines.) The punctuation (whether it be an exclamation point, question mark, or period) goes before the closing quote.

Notice how the dialogue in between the quotes is like a normal sentence. No lower case beginnings, no leaving out a period – a normal sentence.

Example Two

"Hello," she said.

'Said' is describing how 'hello' is said. Therefore, a comma follows 'hello,' and 'she' is lower case.

Example Three

"Hello!" she yelled.

'Yelled also describes how 'hello' is said. However, she is shouting, so we want an exclamation point. Simply place the exclamation point before the closing quote, and keep 'she' lowercase.

Example Four

"Hello." She stood and walked over to me.

Her standing isn't describing how she says 'hello.' You put a period (or ending punctuation of your choice) before the closing quote, and 'she' becomes capitalized.

This also helps the reader figure out who is speaking. If you write something similar to the example, the reader will assume that the person who said 'hello' is 'she.' If that is not the case, consider giving the action a new line, adding a dialogue tag (he said, she yelled, etc.), or just making it blatantly obvious.

Example Five

"Hello." She spoke with an unwavering voice.

'Spoke' is one of those stupid words that makes English so annoying. Yes, you are describing the dialogue, but it becomes a new sentence. Just remember – you only begin with a lower case letter if it says '[someone] [description of how they spoke, like said, whispered, yelled, etc.]'

Example Six

She stood and walked over to me. "Hello."

Pretty self-explanatory – just the opposite of example four.

Example Seven

"Hello," she said. "My name is Marie Antoinette."

The first bit you already learned. Seeing that the second part can be its own sentence, it is capitalized. This is also more commonly done, and looks a bit better.

Example Eight

"Hello, my name," she said, "is Marie Antoinette."

These sentences obviously have to go together, so there is a comma after 'said' and 'is' is lower case.

Splitting up a sentence like this is rarely done well, which is why you'll tend to see example seven more often. Typically we see the split where we would take a breath, so we can use a period.

Final Rules

- Make sure we know who is speaking.

- Don't use a thousand 'she said's. We can figure it out. Also, example four it a good way to avoid this.

- If someone new speaks, start a new paragraph, no matter how short the previous one is.

- If two characters are volleying (example below) just let them. Try not to disrupt the flow. (Meaning – follow example one, but not for the entire thing.)

"You're stupid."

"I know."

"I can't stand you."

"I know."

"You're a stupid-know-it-all-loser."

"I know."

"I love you."

"I know."

- If I said use a lower case letter (like 'he says') but you're using a proper noun (like 'Jake says,') then capitalize it.

- If I said use a lower case letter (like 'he says') but you're using a proper noun (like 'Jake says,') then capitalize it.

- Non-punctuation rule – read it out loud. I'm begging you here.


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Sat May 22, 2010 5:50 pm
LadyPurple says...

I never understood the whole thing where a writer would put:
"Hello," he said.
But now i do.
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Fri Feb 01, 2013 9:12 am
GlitterGabbi says...

That's easy! Knew this all in Grade 5. XD
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Fri Feb 01, 2013 1:21 pm
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crossroads says...

Not everyone is learning about English dialogue rules in schools.
Where I come from, the punctuation in the dialogues is somewhat different - therefore, as I pretty recently started reading and writing my novels in English, it takes me time to adapt to it. People who point out those mistakes to me.. Well, I'm happy to see that they took the time.
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