Dialogue and Punctuation

9 Sep
I wrote this originally for a different blog that’s ended, but it got so many hits and thank you emails as well as several schools linking to it, that I thought I’d repost it.
For me, dialogue is my default setting as a writer. My Fast Draft has tons of unpunctuated dialogue scenes that read almost like a blind script and need all the details put in later. But still, if you don’t know the mechanics, you should. With how hard writing can be, it’s the simple stuff you should have down cold.
And so, here it is, Dialogue and Punctuation – otherwise known at college as the blah blah blah post:

 

I have to tell you the dialogue pet peeves are stacking up.

I’m CPing for someone who cannot grasp the punctuation of dialogue, so I thought I would make the world a better place and run through the basics here.

Making a statement:

If the tag is first, a comma should be placed after the tag, before the quotation mark,  and the period inside the quote. If the tag appears after the statement, there is a comma before the second quotation mark.

 

She said, “blah blah blah.”

“Blah blah blah,” she said.

 
Middle of the statement tags:

If your tag is in the middle of the sentence, same rules basically apply.

 

“Blah blah,” she said, “blah blah blah.”

OR

“Blah blah,” she said. “Blah blah blah.”

 
Asking a question or exclaiming:

When you ask a question or exclaim with tags/beats, the entire thing is written as one sentence. The question mark stays within the quotations and the tag is still part of the sentence just like with a statement:

 

“Blah blah blah?” she asked.    OR   “Blah!” she shouted.

She asked, “Blah blah blah?”    OR   She shouted, “Blah!”

 

These are the basics of MECHANICS. If anything here surprised you or you want some more in-depth examples, check out The Writer’s Writing Guide. Rachel Simon has a great page on punctuating dialogue. Also, if you EVER have a chance to attend one of Julia Quinn’s talks on dialogue, RUN, don’t walk, and get in line – it’s fabu!

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2 Responses to “Dialogue and Punctuation”

  1. Unhinged September 9, 2008 at 3:19 pm #

    Dang, I created a disturbance at work laughing over this one.

    “Blah, blah, dee blah, blah, blah,” she said. Then she giggled, but it came out sounding like a *blah* instead.

  2. briaq September 9, 2008 at 3:21 pm #

    That’s actually a direct quote from my ms — ok, i hope not!

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