Dialogue Punctuation Rules
Many authors have a hard time with dialogue punctuation, but the rules are simple once you understand them. I’ve had a devil of a time with them, and still do at times. Hopefully, this will help you.
When you are working with dialogue, the part that your character is speaking is the quotation. What identifies the speaker, or the action are called speech tags.
A quotation without a speech tag is opened and closed with quotation marks and the punctuation inside the statement.
“What time is it?”
Notice that there is no mention of who is doing the talking. This is used when it is obvious to the reader who is asking the question, or making the statement. Do not automatically assume the reader will be able to read your mind. Use this format sparingly.
There are times when you’ll have the speech tag before the quotation, and times when it will come after. Mix it up when writing dialogue, at times it will make it easier to ease in and out of the quotation.
Sarah asked, “What time is it?”
“I’m hungry,” remarked Harvey.
Notice where the commas are placed in the examples.
If your quote uses an exclamation point or a question mark and the speech tag follows the quote, you do not capitalize the first word of the speech tag except if it is a word that should always be capitalized, such as a name, and you do not use additional punctuation between the quotation marks and the speech tag.
“What time is it?” asked Sarah.
“I’m hungry!” remarked Harvey.
“Listen to me!” Barbara shouted.
When the speech tag is placed in the middle of a sentence, then use a comma to separate the speech tag from that part of the quote and do not capitalize the first word in the second part of the quote.
“I’m so hungry,” remarked Harvey, “so let’s get something to eat!”
When the speech tag comes in the middle of a quote that that has two or more sentences, treat each part like a quote with a speech tag and a quote without a speech tag.
“Mr. McMillan,” Barbara shouted. “do not speak down to me!”
“Mr. McMillan!” Barbara shouted, “I will not be spoken to like that!”
In dialogue, always begin a statement of each speaker in a new indented paragraph. If you have your page set up correctly in Word, the program will indent for you.
“I’m pleased to meet you,” remarked Stanley, smiling at Barbara and Harvey.
Barbara replied, “Nice to meet you.” She smiled back.
“Please excuse us,” Harvey said, “we’re late for dinner.” Taking Barbara’s arm, he led her away from the handsome stranger.
“He seemed nice,” Barbara remarked to Harvey.
“He seemed like a bum to me,” Harvey replied as they walked out of the room.
When the speech tag indicates a question, but the quotation isn’t a question, then the punctuation is placed outside of the final quotation marks.
Who said, “To be, or not to be”?
The Inkling Corner
The Inklings - an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England, for nearly 20 years in the early 30s and late 49. The founder - J.R.R. Tolkien. I have taken this name from it, because, they advocated and promoted the writing of fiction.