Talk It Out: How To Punctuate Dialogue In Your Prose

Punctuating Dialogue

Dialogue is one of my favorite things to write, and I wish that my job as a technical writer offered more (or any) opportunities for writing it. In prose, dialogue can be a great way to get inside your characters. However, some writers find punctuating dialogue confusing: How do I use quotation marks? What is a dialogue tag? Where do the commas go? How come I see writers who don't even use quotation marks? Wait, is that an em dash?!

This article will both cover the basic ways to punctuate dialoge in American English and explore some of the less traditional methods. We will also talk about each method affects tone in your story. We will focus on dialogue in prose writing that is being spoken by characters in the story.

Let’s Start with the Basics

Dialogue or direct discourse is usually enclosed in quotation marks, either single like these: ‘__’, or double, like these: “__”. In American English, you are most likely to see the double quotation marks used to indicate a character or person speaking who is not the narrator.

Dialogue usually uses dialogue tags such as “she said,” “he screamed,” “they murmured,” etc. Dialogue tags are a subject and a verb that indicate who is speaking and the method of the speech (spoken/yelled/whispered). In most cases (unless a dialogue tag that indicates thought is used), material inside the quotation marks is considered spoken material.

I think the best way to explain it is to start with some examples of the different ways dialogue tags can be used.

Here is how to punctuate a sentence that starts with the dialogue tag:

     Mary said, “Call me tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • Comma before the opening quotation mark.
  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence inside the opening quotation mark.
  • A period to end the quoted sentence.
  • Closing quotation mark.

What happens when the dialogue tag is placed at the end of the sentence?

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said.

Notes:  

  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence inside the opening quotation mark.
  • A comma to end the quoted sentence before the closing quotation mark that precedes the dialogue tag.
  • Dialogue tag at the end with a period to end the sentence.

Now see what happens when the dialogue tag is placed in the middle:

     “Call me,” Mary said, “tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence inside the opening quotation mark.
  • A comma to end the quoted sentence before the closing quotation mark that precedes the dialogue tag.
  • Comma before the second opening quotation mark.
  • Lower case letter to indicate the second piece of the quotation is still a part of the sentence that began in the first piece of the quotation.
  • A period to end the quoted sentence.
  • Closing quotation mark.

Now see what happens when the dialogue tag separates two sentences of quoted speech:

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said. “Have a nice evening.”

Notes:  

  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence inside the first opening quotation mark.
  • A comma to end the quoted sentence before the closing quotation mark that precedes the dialogue tag.
  • A period at the end of the sentence (and after the dialogue tag) to indicate that the sentence with the first piece of quoted material has ended.
  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence inside the second opening quotation mark.
  • The second piece of quoted material appearing on the same line as the first to indicate that the same person/speaker said both pieces of quoted material, even though the second piece of quoted material does not have a dialogue tag.
  • A period to end the quoted sentence.
  • Closing quotation mark.

This is what happens if there is more than one sentence inside the quotations:

     “Call me tomorrow. Have a nice evening,” Mary said.

Notes:  

  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of a sentence inside the opening quotation mark.
  • A period to end the first quoted sentence.
  • Capital letter to indicate the beginning of the second sentence inside the quotation marks.
  • A comma to end the second quoted sentence before the closing quotation mark and before the dialogue tag.
  • A period at the end of the sentence (and after the dialogue tag) to indicate that the sentence that contains both sentences of quoted material has ended.

And…all of the above remains true even if you reverse the order of the dialogue tag from Mary said  to said Mary.

     Said Mary, “Call me tomorrow.”

     “Call me tomorrow,” said Mary.

     “Call me,” said Mary, “tomorrow.”

     “Call me tomorrow,” said Mary. “Have a nice evening.”

     “Call me tomorrow. Have a nice evening,” said Mary.

Let’s see what happens when we have multiple speakers:

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said. “Have a nice evening.”

     “Okay,” said Frank. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • All the rules listed above are followed, plus
  • The quoted material of the second speaker starts on a new line as a new paragraph.

Next, let’s take away the dialogue tags:

     “Call me tomorrow. Have a nice evening.”

      “Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • All the material inside the quotations is punctuated and capitalized like a normal sentence, but
  • The opening quotations appear before the first sentence and closing quotations after the last sentence.
  • The quoted material of the second speaker still starts on a new line as a new paragraph.

 Also, new lines of dialogue are indented like any new paragraph. Let’s see how that looks by peppering in some longer lines of prose so that you can see the effect:

     Mary was on her way to the grocery store when she saw Frank out in the front yard mowing his overgrown grass. He waved for her to come over because they needed to talk about the upcoming block party, but she didn’t have time just now.

     “Call me tomorrow,” said Mary as she got into her car.

     “Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”            

Notes:  

  • All rules are followed as noted above,
  • And each piece of quoted material starts as a new paragraph, indented and on a new line.

However, you don’t have to  start Mary’s speech on a new line if you write her dialogue tag into a sentence in the first paragraph. Observe:

     Mary was on her way to the grocery store when she saw Frank out in the front yard mowing his overgrown grass. He waved for her to come over because they needed to talk about the upcoming block party, but she didn’t have time just now. As she got into her car, Mary said, “Call me tomorrow.”

     “Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • As Mary speaks first, her quoted material does not have to start in a new paragraph, especially because her speech is relevant to the topic of the paragraph. Her dialogue tag is written into the description of the scene, so it’s entirely appropriate to write her dialogue into the first paragraph.
  • Frank’s dialogue, however, must start on a new line, indented as a new paragraph. You can also continue the new paragraph with more description. For example:

     “Okay, I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” replied Frank as he bent to start the rusty mower.

Let’s Complicate Things

There are endless combinations that are now possible using the rules above. These combinations can change the tone and feel of the story. Once again, I turn to Noah Lukeman’s excellent book A Dash of Style for clues on how to manipulate quotations and other punctuation to elicit different moods when writing dialogue.

You can use dialogue to speed up the pace of your story:

     Mary was on her way to the grocery store when she saw Frank out in the front yard mowing his overgrown grass. He waved for her to come over because they needed to talk about the upcoming block party, but she didn’t have time just now. As she got into her car, Mary said, “Call me tomorrow.”

     “Wait!” Frank jogged over.

     “I have to get going, Frank. We can chat tomorrow.”

     “Well, I just wanted to ask you if we should get veggie burgers, too. I think we should have some options for the non-carnivores.” 

     “Of course. Sounds good. I have to run, but we can go over it all tomorrow on the phone.”            

     “Oh, and should we get gluten-free buns, too?”               

     “Uh, sure…Let’s talk tomorrow. Ok?”               

     “Ok. Later then.”               

     “Later.”             

Notes:  

  • With few dialogue tags, the back and forth clip of Frank and Mary’s conversation speeds up the text from the long descriptive section to a quick exchange between the two characters that does as much to show their personalities as long lines of descriptive prose would have.
  • Dialogue tags get the section started, but as the dialogue gets going, the tags are no longer needed as the words of the characters allow the reader to infer the characters tone and mood easily without the wordiness of Mary said/Frank said.
  • The fact that a new paragraph is used for each line of dialogue draws the reader down the page at a rapid pace thus propelling the reader forward through the story. One would not want to read an entire story like this, but it can be a tool for speeding up long sections of prose.

You can use manipulate the dialogue tags to indicate subtle passages of time:

     “Call me tomorrow,” said Mary.

Versus

     “Call me,” Mary said. “Tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • In the first example Mary clearly expresses when she would like to be called.
  • In the second example, putting the dialogue tag in the middle and punctuating each quoted piece as separate sentences indicates a slight pause between Mary’s directing Frank to call her and when she would actually like to be called. Mary says to call her, but then adds “Tomorrow” either as an afterthought or in order to emphasize that she does not want Frank to call her today.

You can use dialogue to add a sense of revelation or finality:

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said.

versus

      Mary said, “Call me tomorrow.”

versus

     Mary said: “Call me tomorrow.”

Notes:  

  • In the first example Mary clearly expresses when she would like to be called in a way that is clear but not climactic.
  • In the second example, putting the dialogue tag at the beginning places extra emphasis on the quoted material as sort of a final point.
  • In the third example, the colon adds an even stronger sense of finality or emphasis on the quoted material. The differences are subtle but palpable.

Now, Let’s Throw the Rules Out

Writers, as you likely know, love to ignore the rules of punctuation and grammar when it suits them. I have read many, MANY books in which dialogue is presented without quotation marks (double or single), properly placed commas, paragraph breaks, or even dialogue tags. And that’s really just fine. Other languages—French, Spanish, Italian, and even British English have different ways of punctuating dialogue that I think many writers using American English emulate to create different effects in the tone. Let’s look at a few other ways of doing it.

How ‘bout an em dash for style?

Italian, French, and Spanish all utilize em dashes in dialogue, though not all in the same way necessarily.

With the dialogue tag, you can start and end with the em dash, or just start with it.

     —Call me tomorrow,—Mary said.

     —Call me tomorrow, Mary said.

     Mary said,—Call me tomorrow.

     Mary said—Call me tomorrow.—

Without dialogue tags, you can start and end with the em dash or just start with it.

     —Call me tomorrow.—

     —Call me tomorrow.

For longer sections of dialogue, em dashes can look nice at the beginning of each piece of speech. Again, using a new indented paragraph at each change of speaker keeps this looking neat and clean. For example:

     Mary was on her way to the grocery store when she saw Frank out in the front yard mowing his overgrown grass. He waved for her to come over because they needed to talk about the upcoming block party, but she didn’t have time just now. As she got into her car, Mary said,—Call me tomorrow.

     —Wait!—Frank jogged over.

     —I have to get going, Frank. We can chat tomorrow.

     —Well, I just wanted to ask you if we should get veggie burgers, too. I think we should have some options for the non-carnivores.

     —Of course. Sounds good. I have to run, but we can go over it all tomorrow on the phone.

     —Oh, and should we get gluten-free buns, too?

     —Uh, sure…Let’s talk tomorrow. Ok?

     —Ok. Later then.

     —Later.

You can choose to indent each time the speaker changes, or not. In the example above, I only used a closing em dash if the quoted material was followed by a dialogue tag, otherwise, I only used em dashes at the beginning of the spoken sections. I think this method has a nice clean look to it, and when reading the dialogue, the em dash creates a smooth transition between the prose parts and the dialogue parts while still creating separation.

You can also try using italics to denote both speech and thoughts:

You can try using italics for all spoken dialogue. In my opinion, I typically use italics for material that is thought (but not spoken) by the character and regular quotations marks or em dashes for spoken dialogue. However, it’s barely a rule, and so long as you are consistent and your reader can easily discern whether something is being thought or spoken, then you can use italics and/or quotation marks for both or either all in the same piece. Just be sure to use dialogue tags if there is a possibility your reader might not be able to tell what is thought and what it spoken by the character. Note that the material that Mary thinks is set off with a comma each time to create visual separation. Here’s a few examples:

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said, Because I’m too tired to listen to you now.

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said and then thought, “Because I’m too tired to listen to you now.”

     Call me tomorrow, Mary said and then thought, Because I’m too tired to listen to you now.

And, you can write thoughts without either the italics or the quotation marks:

     “Call me tomorrow,” Mary said and then thought, because I’m too tired to listen to you now.

And, finally, if you wish to be a total rebel, you can use Free Indirect Discourse:

Our esteemed Jon Gingerich wrote a great piece on the merits of using Free Indirect Discourse in your prose, so I won’t attempt to enumerate all the ways that you can use it—just go read his excellent article. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, indirect discourse paraphrases direct discourse and does not need quotation marks, italics, em dashes or any other such punctuation.

     Mary told Frank to call her tomorrow.

     Okay, he replied. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Note that the quoted material is written more as someone relaying the conversation later to a third party. The effect is that the quoted material may or may not be the person’s exact words. The effect of indirect discourse is that of adding an extra layer of distance between what the person actually said and how it was heard and then later repeated.

Free Indirect Discourse smooshes together spoken dialogue, unvoiced thoughts, and descriptive prose all together so that the effect is something like the reader being both inside the mind of the character but still being able to be objective and see through the lens of the omniscient third person narrator. The speech of another character can appear in the same line as the speech of the primary character and vice versa. According to Jon, “Free Indirect Discourse takes advantage of the biggest asset a first-person P.O.V. has (access) and combines it with the single best benefit of a third-person narrative (reliability).”

Let’s take a look.

     Mary was on her way to the grocery store when she saw Frank out in the front yard mowing his overgrown grass. Oh no, she thought, I don’t have time right now for his ramblings. He waved for her to come over because they needed to talk about the upcoming block party. As she got into her car, Mary said, call me tomorrow.

     But before she could close the door, Frank called, Wait! and jogged over. I have to get going, Frank, she said. We can chat tomorrow. She again attempted to close the car door, but he asked if they should get veggie burgers. For the non-carnivores, he said.

Even though there is a third-person narrator, and Mary is not the speaker, the effect of the free indirect discourse is that we hear her thoughts, her voice, and the voice of Frank through the lens of Mary’s perception.

How do I choose?

With so many options for ways to write dialogue, it can be confusing for a writer to pick one. My advice would be to use the method that best fits the tone of your work. For almost all prose writing, the classic quotation mark methods are appropriate and safe. If you want the dialogue to be clear but not clutter up your page with quotation marks, you might opt for em dashes. And if you want the dialogue to just be a part of the character's experience, try your hand at the free indirect discourse method. If you are consistent and deliberate with your choices, your reader will defer naturally to your authority and just go with it.

Share below if you have other ways to write dialogue. I know there have to be other methods.

Taylor Houston

Column by Taylor Houston

Taylor Houston is a genuine Word Nerd living in Portland, OR where she works as a technical writer and volunteers on the marketing committee for Wordstock, a local organization dedicated to writing education. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Spanish from Hamilton College and attended Penn State's MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. She has taught writing at all levels from middle school to college to adult, and she is the creator of Writer’s Cramp, a class for adults who just want to write!

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Comments

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading A Clash of Kings April 10, 2013 - 1:43pm

Great article, Taylor! I have to disagree with one point, though: "Dialogue tags get the section started, but as the dialogue gets going, the tags are no longer needed as the words of the characters allow the reader to infer the characters tone and mood easily without the wordiness of Mary said/Frank said."   I'm a bit of a stickler for dialogue tags. They help listeners understand what's happening if the story is read out lout, and, if used cleverly, they can give indications of what people are doing while they talk. Maybe you can show the reader that one of the speakers is lying by the way they look or move or act. Or show that they are nervous or excited or happy or sad, etc.  I would never throw out tags just for a speedy conversation, because I find them too useful. 

But that's just me :)

Stratton's picture
Stratton from Phoenix April 10, 2013 - 1:53pm

What about long monologs spoken by the same character that span over more than one paragraph. I've seen it with no quotation marks to end a paragraph, but quotation marks to start the next paragraph. For example:

     Joe ranted, "Let me tell you about triangles. They have three points and think they are so special. Triangles. Triangles. Triangles. They are the absolute worst, but I'm running out of things to say about them because they are a horrible shape.

     "And don't get me started on squares. Squares make me start a new paragraph which is why I'm talking about them in the first place."

Is that right, or would it need quotation marks after shape

FupDuck's picture
FupDuck from Beavercreek, OH is reading American on Purpose April 10, 2013 - 2:00pm

How do you punctuate when the dialogue tag is placed at the end of a question spoken?

  1.  “Will you call me tomorrow?” Mary said.
  2.  “Will you call me tomorrow,” Mary asked.
  3.  “Will you call me tomorrow.” Mary said?

1,2,3 or other?  "Suggestions???", he asked?

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak April 10, 2013 - 4:19pm

Hi FupDuck:

Definitely 1. the appropriate punctuation for the sentence inside the quotes should appear inside the quotes with the exception that a period will be replaced with a comma if there is a dialogue tag after the quoted section:

"Will you call me tomorrow?” Mary said.

"You'd better call me tomorrow!" Mary said.

"Call me tomorrow. I have a lot to tell you, " Mary said.

Mary said, "Call me tomorrow."

Good question! Thanks for asking it.

Hi dufrescm,

You know, dialogue tags are a hot issue. When I was in school studying creative writing, the trend at the time was to eschew dialogue tags as much as possible and allow WHAT the characters said to show how the character was acting, feeling, etc.

There is another theory out that that dialogue tags should be simplistic and not include fancy verbs. Said, whispered, asked, etc are sufficient, and one should veer away from more specific dialogue tags such as quipped, tittered, inquired as they are over the top and unecessary if your prose is so excellent as to not need too much description.

And there is yet another opinion out there, similar to yours, that dialogue tags offer welcome description that enhace the story and give the reader all the necessary information to grasp fully what it happening on the page.

There are as many opinions on the subject as there are writers, to be sure, and as for my comment above: "Dialogue tags get the section started, but as the dialogue gets going, the tags are no longer needed as the words of the characters allow the reader to infer the characters tone and mood easily without the wordiness of Mary said/Frank said."

I meant it in the case of that particular piece of writing only, not for all pieces of writing ever. I think in that particular dialogue, it was clear who was speaking, and it was easy to infer their tones. I think all ways are valid so long as they fit the tone of the piece/style of the writer.

And Stratton: you are absolutely right. If you have a quoted section that is multiple paragraphs, there is an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph, and the closing quotation mark only appears at the very end of the quoted section. Your example was spot on. Well done!

 

Tom1960's picture
Tom1960 from Athens, Georgia is reading Angels by Denis Johnson April 11, 2013 - 8:29am

Hi Taylor,

This is one of the most useful articles I've read.  You have a wonderful talent for explaining things.

Tom

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks April 11, 2013 - 6:23pm

THANK YOU for writing this. I've always been a huge bitch about properly punctuating dialogue and I regularly link to this article, but this one is so much more friendly and accessible. I'll definitely be linking to this one from now on.

Char's picture
Char October 2, 2013 - 6:11pm

Recently, I've seen a writing style I absolutely love.

Example:  He walked over towards her and smiled gently as their eyes met.

Gary: "You are so beautiful."

Betty: "Why thank you Sir, or not too bad yourself."

Can anyone tell me what kind of style this is?

It makes it so easy to identify who's speaking, especially when there is more than two people in the conversation.

 

Punkpaya's picture
Punkpaya December 6, 2013 - 5:32pm

Taylor,
First, thanks so much, this helps a lot, but I wonder what you think about this. There are a lot of authors self publishing now and most of us have never written dialogue before. Now, there are books out there about how to write good dialogue but I have yet to find any book that explains how to punctuate dialogue properly for a novel. Do you know of any, and if not, will you write us one? About six hundred thousand new self publishers need you to do this!

xfilion's picture
xfilion from UK is reading Hearts in Atlantis March 9, 2014 - 9:35am

Hi Taylor

Great article and a great reference. 

I still have a problem though. 

I'll give you an example of a sentance I'm using below.

'Are you all right sir?' 

It took Aquino a few moments to make his mouth work. 'Cotrane, I think my wife's is up there.'

In Aquino's speech I've placed the action at the front of the dialogue, but I don't know if I should use a full stop or comma?

Likewise, when you end dialogue with an action - 'Okay I'll do that.' She turned and walked away.

Is that correctly puntuated.

Wonder if you can lift the veil of puntuation frustration.

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak March 10, 2014 - 5:12pm

Hi xfilion!

Looks to me like you are on the right track. Since niether are techinically dialogue tags, full stops are perfectly acceptable. I would have used periods as you have done in both of your examples.

If you had included diaglogue tags, you would want to use commas. For example:

It took Aquino a few moments to make his mouth work before he said, 'Cotrane, I think my wife's is up there.'

'Okay I'll do that, ' she sniped as she turned and walked away.

 

I hope that helps clear it up a bit.

sportsman's picture
sportsman March 19, 2014 - 1:29pm

Hey, I need help on putting correct diolauge on my writing paper. Any suggestions?

 

Today was already starting off horribly; I woke up late and spilt coffee on my pants. I missed the bus so I had to get a taxi. When I got to work the secretary gave me piles of papers to fill out and a list of clients to call about the new owner. The new owner was nice and i didn't mind him but he hired a new manager and he was a problem. He isn't nice at all and he is a very lazy man. I was talking to a client on the phone when I heard my name be called, ¨Hey Brian come here you gave to see this!¨ The person that was calling my name was my best friend  Dan Smith we have known each other since our freshman year in high school. When I got to where he was he was watching a video on Youtube. He said to me ¨ Dude check this out, Kyrie breaks Curry's ankles so hard!¨ So knowing me I had to watch. I told him to pause the video so I could tell him about the promotion that I was trying to get. I told him that there was a spot for a promotion. The promotion was for assistant manager. The only bad part about it was I would be working with my boss a lot more, and I cannot stand that guy! He never does any work and he never gives raises. “Well i'm gonna go talk to the boss about that promotion¨ Said Brian, ¨Later man.” 
I slowly entered the boss’s office, I walked around the corner to find him passed out with pizza and root beer on his desk and computer games still running on his laptop. All of the sudden his phone rings and he wakes up. He tells me to answer the phone but the caller hung up right as I was picking up the phone. I look through the window to see Dan giving me a thumbs and and holding his phone.
“Dan why were you in my office?”
“I knocked on the door but you didn”t answer so i came in to ask you about the promotion.
”You are not getting that promotion you stupid idiot! now get the hell of my office!” I don't even know why I tried; that guy is an dumbass! So I stormed out of his office and decided to take an extra long lunch break. Dan and I went to the food court at the mall and had Subway.
¨Dan, do you know why the new owner hired this guy?¨
¨ No, but I heard that they were working together in a different company a couple years back, I guess he sees potential in this guy.¨
¨Well than he must be blind, because all I see in that guy is a lazy chump!¨
After lunch I decided to call in sick for the rest of the day and go home and relax. The next morning I was getting ready for work and watching the news when I heard my bosses name on the t.v. I went and watched and these fourteen  words stood out,
¨ Manager of Jake and Lionel paper company died last night of a heart attack.¨
I turned the T.V off grabbed my stuff and headed to work. When I got there everyone was quite, a secretary came up to me and handed me an envelope. She said ¨ This is from the boss.¨ Inside the envelope was a handwriting paper saying
¨ To Brian,  You were always my favorite worker, I always joked around with you and you joked around with me. I know you wanted this promotion so im giving it to you. There is a office around the corner, it's not really big but I hope you like it. Sincerely, Ed¨
I was so shocked, I really didn't know what to say. I went and looked around my new office and set my things down.

A couple weeks later everyone was back to talking, smiling, and working. The business was booming now. Profit was doubled, my life was great but I will never forget my boss. I didn’t think he liked me but I guess you never know. Some people have a different way of expressing themselves.

jake_s's picture
jake_s March 31, 2014 - 11:27pm

Hi Taylor,

I'm hoping you can help me...

I have a scene in a story where two characters are reading from a script to each other. How would I punctuate this kind of dialogue? Should it be italicised? Or with a second level of quotation marks?

Thank you.

Jake

Carlos Esteban Rivera's picture
Carlos Esteban ... June 22, 2014 - 1:27pm

Hello. Thank you for this article. I do have another question (I'm not sure if it was answered in the comments, I didn't read them all). How do you punctuate a character saying thoughts within dialogue. For example:

  • "The moment I saw her," he said, "I thought, Damn, she looks stunning."
  • "The moment I saw her," he said, "I thought, 'Damn, she looks stunning.'"

Basically, I don't want to write: 

  • "The moment I saw her," he said, "I thought she looked stunning."

Even if it's the simplest way to write it.

Could you help me with this?

Thanks!

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak June 30, 2014 - 11:50am

Hi Carlos,

 

Your first version works perfectly:

"The moment I saw her," he said, "I thought, Damn, she looks stunning."

I think the single quotes inside double quotes (while grammaticall acceptable) is hard to see and follow. Italics work nicely for this use.

Hope that helps!

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak June 30, 2014 - 11:52am

Jake,

 

Sorry, I just saw your comment. See what Carlos did above? That would work perfectly for your script reading scene. Italics within quoted material should be perfect.

Rosie Perera's picture
Rosie Perera from Vancouver is reading My Secret Life in Hut Six October 6, 2014 - 3:45am

Hi Taylor,

I'm wondering something about paragraph breaks in dialogue which indicate the back-and-forth between speakers. Should you break to a new paragraph when one interlocutor's contribution to the dialogue is effectively a silent response?

For example, which of these would be more correct?

(A)

     Raquel glared at Jeremy. "What were you thinking?!" Jeremy shifted nervously in his chair. Raquel continued, "I thought we had agreed to not mention it to Dad."

(B)

     Raquel glared at Jeremy. "What were you thinking?!"

     Jeremy shifted nervously in his chair.

     Raquel continued, "I thought we had agreed to not mention it to Dad."

 

Thanks,

Rosie

Taylor's picture
Taylor from Portland, Oregon is reading 'The Book Thief' by Marcus Zusak October 20, 2014 - 12:07pm

Hi Rosie!

 

In truth, I have seen it  both ways--and I think either are valid. Technically speaking, if it's the same speaker, there's no need for a paragraph break. However, you can break it into paragraphs to emphasize the silence or lack or response from the other speaker. Add space to the page does slow the reader down and draw attention to the gap between the two bits of dialoge.

Both ways work fine, it would be up to the writer to decide what's the best fit for the context.

bluescribe's picture
bluescribe October 23, 2014 - 2:22pm

Question. How would you punctuate this sentence:

“If you witness, as I do, the great nightmare that these inks and pulps suffer to restrain,” His left eyelid twitched. “You would not persist.”

My main concern involves: His left eye twitched, as well as the comma before it.

I put a comma there because it is not a complete sentence, but at the same time it makes it sound like his left eye was twitching the phrase, which of course doesn't make sense. Should a period be put there even though the phrase is not a complete sentence? Or if I use a comma should the letter H be capitalized?

How would you handle the whole thing?