The Basics of Dialogue Punctuation
|Image courtesy of Gerd Altmann at Pixabay.com|
Before I posted that message, I looked back through my dialogue-related posts and discovered I have never written a post about basic dialogue punctuation.
So, that's what I'm serving up for your enjoyment today. Over the years, I've been surprised to discover that:
- A lot of people get this right.
- A lot of people get this wrong.
A Quick Dialogue Punctuation Test
Which of the following quotations are correct?
1. “Stop” she said, “and look to your left”
2. “Stop,” she said, “and look to your left.”
3. “Stop and look to your left,” she said.
4. “Stop and look to your left.” She said.
5. She said “Stop and look to your left.”
6. She said, “Stop and look to your left.”
7. She said, “Stop and look to your left”.
8. She screeched, “Stop and look to your left.”
9. “Stop and look to your left.” Jan threw her arm in front of the child before he stepped into the street.
Go on and study them. I'll wait.
How many did you get right?
- # 1 is incorrect because it needs a comma after the word Stop and a period after the word left, before the last quotation mark.
- # 2 is the corrected version of # 1.
- # 3 is correct.
- # 4 is incorrect because She said is part of the sentence. There should be a comma between the word left and the closing quotation mark. Also, She should not be capitalized.
- # 5 is incorrect because it needs a comma after the word said.
- # 6 is correct.
- # 7 is incorrect because the period should be before the ending quotation mark.
- # 8 is punctuated correctly, but it's considered poor writing to use a verb (screeched) in place of said in order to convey the sound of the person's voice.
- # 9 is correct. It uses a beat to describe the speaker's actions instead of a tag. Notice the beat--the sentence of action--does not use the word said, and it's a separate sentence from the quotation. The beat appears in the same paragraph as the speaker.
Dialogue Punctuation Broken Down
Just to clarify, dialogue punctuation works like this:
- Quotation mark + Sentence with first letter of the first word capitalized + Comma + Quotation mark + Space + Speaking tag (he said, she said etc., but NOT capitalized) + Period
- “Stop and look to your left,” she said.
- Speaking tag with the first letter of the first word capitalized + Comma + Space + Quotation mark + First letter of the first word of quotation capitalized + Rest of the quotation + Period + Quotation mark.
- She said, “Stop and look to your left.”
Note: I inserted the direction for space when an actual space should occur between items.
Questions? Leave a comment below about dialogue punctuation.