Of late, I’ve been receiving manuscripts for editing with the same issue: misplaced punctuation in dialogue. It’s like . . . uh, I’m not sure where to put it, so maybe I’ll just throw it there. Looks good. I’m good.
I like the exuberance I sense in people’s stories; it spills across the page/screen like an overflowing spring stream. I don’t so much like that little time has been applied to give their [good] stories the proper editing/proofreading they require. It seems that some just type, type, type and never return to reread what’s been written. It’d be great to see the aforementioned exuberance applied—just a wee bit—to the “final product”.
So, my dear friends and fellow writers, here’s some quick guidance on how to punctuate dialogue in North America. Notice the placement of commas, periods, and other punctuation marks.
♦ “Say, what’s happening over there?”
♦ “Please stop making all that noise,” she said with a roll of the eyes, “and get ready for dinner.”
♦ “Hold on!”
♦ “Hey, what’s up?” With a grin, Glenn raced over to the group.
Anything within quotation marks is separate from the rest of the sentence. Use capitals for full-sentence dialogue/quotes.
When closing a quotation, ensure the period or comma falls within the quotation, not outside.
Utilize commas to introduce text, except when using “that”.
♦ With a shake of her head, Reena said, “It’s not good, John. You’ll never get away with it.)
♦ Jake told us that “I’ve given up smoking once and for all, really and truly.”
When using a dialogue tag, you would use a comma before the closing quotation marks.
♦ “It’s gorgeous out today,” Jerry declared with a grin.
Dialogue tags, by the way, aren’t necessary if it’s obvious who is speaking. So, per a couple of previous posts, please don’t feel that you need to add “she said”, “he said”, “Margaret said”, “Wilber said” every time a character speaks; readers can figure it out. Really.
Don’t leave out punctuation that adds dimension to a sentence, like a question mark or exclamation point.
♦ “Don’t worry about it,” he said.
♦ “Don’t worry about it!” he said.
The second one conveys more emotion, don’t you think?
Often, question marks, exclamation points, and em dashes fall within closing quotation marks—often, but not always. It depends on the connotation.
♦ Here’s to Edgar, touted “the most likely to succeed”!
♦ Floyd declared, “I’ll win that award, no matter what”—and proceeded to immerse himself in the pursuit.
And single quotes? Employ them within double quotation marks to denote quoted text within dialogue.
♦ Roger scratched his head and asked, “Was it Shakespeare who said ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ or someone else?”
♦ “Barry said, ‘I’m a real winner’.”
Don’t forget that a new paragraph is required every time the character/speaker changes. This will help define who is speaking and what is transpiring. It also means dialogue tags can be kept to a minimum (and we like that).
One thing some writers seem to forget to do: search for rules. Don’t take a stab (guessing) at what punctuation should be added to dialogue—and where. Don’t place it wherever the mood (guess) strikes. Look . . . it . . . up. In other words, look . . . professional. Even if there’s an editor down the road, it never hurts to learn something new . . . does it? <wink>