Punctuating Your Dialogue (Jo A. Wilkins)

Since you want your reader to get concise information from the way you present your story, you must write pithy dialogue. And, the best way to have dialogue read as you intend the reader to see it, it is important to punctuate it correctly.

  1. What is the usual way to identify the beginning and end of a dialogue line?
    1. Quotation marks ( “ ” ) are the identifiers that most authors use at the beginning and end of a character’s dialogue.
      1.       “I would rather not go there.”
    2. Although, in Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, he used no quotation marks. His dialogue lines began with an em-dash. He used it consistently so it worked for him and his publisher.
      1.       ― Why would I want to do that, he said.
  2. How could an author create an interruption in a line of dialogue without telling the reader he was interrupted?
    1. To let the reader experience an interruption naturally, use an em-dash at the abrupt end of an incomplete word to show that there was an incomplete line of dialogue. Let the next paragraph start with the dialogue that carries on.
      1.       “Why woul―” (next paragraph) “Because I told you too.”
  3. How can an author punctuate around dialogue when action identifies the speaker?
    1. When using ordinary dialogue tags, use a comma between the tag and the dialogue delivered then either open or close the quotes. Or you can split the sentence and place the tag inside the dialogue as shown below.
      1. “I said I wasn’t going to do that,” she said, a tear falling from her eye.
      2. “I…” she said, a tear falling from her eye, “…I,― I  wasn’t going to do that.”
        1. Note the ellipses and the action portion of the tag. They show the reader that there is a hesitation and/or the emotions in the delivery of the dialogue.
  4. Action tags (or gestures)
    1. To eliminate the overuse of dialogue tags, and still show the emotions or intentions of the character, you can use an action tag or gesture that also identifies the speaker. When using an action tag you end the tag with a period (.). These can be placed either before or after the line of dialogue.
      1. Jerry slammed his fist on the table. “I don’t want you to go.”
      2. “I don’t want you to go.” Jerry slumped onto his chair.

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