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Tip Tuesday #85

Tip Tuesday is a recurring feature where blog readers send in tips for fellow writers. If you'd like to send one in, please do! E-mail me at agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com. Today I have another fantastic tip from Lisa Nowak. Please visit her blog, The Tao of Webfoot, where she's been doing the A-Z Blogging Challenge through her characters. It's super fun!

Punctuation in dialog

One issue writers often have with dialog is how to punctuated it. Here are examples of proper punctuation.

If a bit of dialog ends with a tag (he said, ect.) then the dialog itself should end with a comma (where there would normally be a period) and the tag should begin with a lowercase letter.

Example: “I’m going to the zoo,” said Tommy.

If the dialog forms a question it’s end with a question mark, but the tag begins with a lowercase letter:

Example: “Are we going to the zoo?” asked Tommy.

If it’s an exclamation, use an exclamation point and begin the tag with a lowercase letter:

Example: “We’re going to the zoo!” said Tommy.

The exception to using a lower case letter for the tag is when you start the tag with the character’s name, which must be capitalized:

Example: “I’m going to the zoo,” Tommy said.

If a bit of dialog is not followed with a “said/asked” tag, but rather with an action tag, then the dialog should end with a period, question mark, or exclamation point, and the action should begin with a capital letter.

Example: “I’m going to the zoo.” The boy snatched up his coat.

When the dialog is broken by action, end the action with a period if it’s a full sentence. Begin the second sentence of dialog with a capital letter.

Example: “I’m going to the zoo,” said Tommy, snatching up his coat. “Do you want to come along?”

When the dialog is broken by action, end the action with a comma if the dialog and action together form a fragment. Begin the second part of the dialog with a lowercase letter.

Example: “Today,” said Tommy, “I am going to the zoo.”

When in doubt, pick up your favorite novel and take a look how the professionals did it. By studying various examples you will soon be able to see the patterns.

- Lisa Nowak


Charmaine Clancy said...

It's wonderful that you post this information, many times new writers let their fear of punctuation stop them from beginning their stories.
Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

mooderino said...

Excellent advice.I find a lot of these basic mistakes when I'm critiquing, especially capiatalising the tag after a question mark or exclamation point. People who read a lot tend to make fewer mistakes, I find.

Moody Writing

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips to remember. I'm doing another revision of my manuscript and I'll check to be sure I got all the dialogue punctuation right.

Renae said...

Great tips to know especially when I'm in the middle of an edit.

Thanks Lisa!

Gabriella said...

Great advice. I will definitely keep in mind as I begin revising the first draft of my young adult novel. Dialog punctuation is tricky -- so many rules to follow. Thanks for your Tip Tuesday.

Jonathon Arntson said...

I soooooo needed this post. Seriously. You have no idea how hindered my writing is by my inability to properly punctuate dialogue. Bookmarking now.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Where was this advise two years ago.... I wrote a heavily dialogued novel. I could of used this post then.

Great for the newbies...

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

Great examples! These are how I do it. I was trained on the Chicago manual in college. I know British rules also differ a little, but for the most part, I think the Chicago Manual is a great go-to book.

maiyata said...

Thank you...with English as a third language tips like this help alot.

Anonymous said...

Great post! Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss is a great book for punctuation. This is a good reminder for me to read it again, just in case!

Lisa Nowak said...

Casey, thanks for publishing my tip. I'm glad it was helpful to so many people.