Friday, April 17, 2015

Punctuating Dialog: Here's How It's Done

I’ve read quite a few manuscripts of late that had trouble punctuating their dialog correctly, so let’s go over that very quickly.

1. You should always have some sort of punctuation immediately before your closing quotation mark.

It can be a comma, a period, a semi-colon, question mark, exclamation point, em-dash, or ellipses; it can be almost any form of punctuation, but there must be punctuation of some sort. What you don’t want to do is this:

     “I haven’t seen Aziz since class yesterday” Nora said.

There should be some sort of punctuation between yesterday and the closing quotation mark (a comma, in this case), and in all similar scenarios. There is almost no situation in which you’d be justified leaving out that closing punctuation.

2. If the dialog is followed by a dialog tag, then you cannot close the dialog with a period.

The dialog tag is that short little bit that identifies who is speaking: some variation of she said, he asked, I shouted, etc. If there is a dialog tag after your dialog, you cannot end the dialog with a period:

     INCORRECT: “I haven’t seen Aziz since class yesterday.” Nora said.
     CORRECT: “I haven’t seen Aziz since class yesterday,” Nora said.

Note that this rule only applies to periods. Other ending punctuation such as question marks and exclamation points should not be affected by the dialog tag:

     “I think Aziz has been kidnapped!” she shouted.

     “What makes you think that?” he replied.

Note also that exclamation points and question marks in dialog do not end the sentence, so the dialog tag is not capitalized—as discussed in this post.

3. If dialog is interrupted, end it with an em dash. If it trails off, use ellipses.

     “We don’t have any reason to think—” he began.
     “I just know something is wrong!” she interrupted. “He could be hurt, or . . .”

Ellipses in dialog is a subject more thoroughly covered in this post.

4. If the dialog tag interrupts a sentence, then it should end with a comma. If it comes at the end of a sentence of dialog, it should end with a period, even if it is followed by more dialog.

     “Nora,” Aziz whispered, “please come after me.”

     “I’m calling the police,” Nora said. “I don’t care what you say.”

You’ll find more on this topic in this post.

If you're wondering, Aziz was totally kidnapped, but Nora saved him in time.