A Deep Look at Dialogue Punctuation

Image courtesy of Gerd Altmann at pixabay.com

While editing and critiquing others' writing, I've noticed several writers making a specific error while  punctuating dialogue. The error crops up when the writer uses speaking tags with more than one sentence of dialogue.

The most common error I see in punctuation appears like this:

“Maligon, you betrayed me. And so you betrayed us all,” Queen Chiora said.

You can't have more than one sentence between the quotation marks if you're going to use a speaking tag. The tag--Queen Chiora said--falls before the period, so it is part of the sentence of dialogue. It can follow or precede one sentence or part of a sentence, not two. Like this:

"Maligon, you betrayed me," Queen Chiora said.

Queen Chiora said, "Maligon, you betrayed me."

Tags With Multiple Sentences of Dialogue

Not every line of dialogue needs a tag, but sometimes it's the best method to help your reader keep up with who's speaking.

Keep in mind that every time someone different speaks, you start a new paragraph. So to correct the dialogue example from above:

You can attach the speaking tag to the first sentence of dialogue

To do this, we create two sentences with two sets of quotation marks. 

"Maligon, you betrayed me," Queen Chiora said. "And so you betrayed us all."

The first sentence contains the tag. The second one is in quotes with a period inside the closing quote. It stands alone, but we know the queen said it because it's part of the same paragraph.

In the second set of quotation marks, you can have several sentences since we're not restricted by the speaking tag:

"Maligon, you betrayed me," Queen Chiora said. "And so you betrayed us all. Why? What purpose did it serve you?"

In this second example, there are three sentences inside the second set of quotation marks. This works because we don't have a speaking tag dangling from this passage.

You can revise it into one sentence

I pulled this passage from one of my manuscripts. It appears in a formal court-type situation, so two short sentences make the queen's point better than one. It's realistic for my story and character. In other cases, it will make more sense to combine the two sentences into one.

"Maligon, by betraying me, you betray us all," Queen Chiora said.

You have to ask yourself how the character in your story would say it.

What about beats?

In my manuscript, I used beats instead of a speaking tag. A beat provides a separate sentence of action within the paragraph that shows what's happening as the person speaks:

“Maligon.” Queen Chiora's voice resounded firm and strong throughout the hall. “You betrayed me. And so you betrayed us all.”

The second sentence above is a beat. It enriches the story with more description. In this case, it demonstrates how her voice sounds, but you can use a beat to show the speaker's actions. For example:

“Maligon.” Queen Chiora rose from her throne and stared down at the kneeling man. “You betrayed me. And so you betrayed us all.”

Also, by placing the beat where I did, it creates a natural pause for the reader, exactly what I wanted them to perceive.

Other Dialogue Information

I've written multiple posts on dialogue. Below are two that will help you get started on the right track when writing dialogue:

3 Fundamental Rules for Writing Correct Dialogue

4 Guidelines for Writing Realistic Dialogue

Questions on dialogue punctuation? Drop me a line in the comments.


Unknown said…
Good advice on dialogue punctuation AND use of tags.

Also like how, in your bio, you mashed together your 2 degrees and came up with, "In other words, communicates well with animals." Funny! :)

Thank you! i'm glad this post helped you.

LOL! Thanks for enjoying my quirky humor, too.!

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