Dialog Punctuation and Capitalization

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FennelGiraffe

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Dialog with a tag

Tag following quoted dialog:
"That's fine. Whatever you decide," he said.
"That's fine. What does she think?" he said.

Tag preceding quoted dialog:
He said, "That's fine. Whatever you decide."
He said, "That's fine. What does she think?"

Tag between two separate dialog sentences
:
"That's fine," he said. "Whatever you decide."
"That's fine," he said. "What does she think?"
- or -
"That's fine." He said, "Whatever you decide."
"That's fine." He said, "What does she think?"

Tag interrupting a dialog sentence:
"That," he said, "is fine. Whatever you decide."
"That, "he said, "is fine. What does she think?"

Dialog without a tag, but with an associated narrative sentence

Narrative sentence following quoted dialog
:
"That's fine. Whatever you decide." He shrugged.
"That's fine. What does she think?" He shrugged.

Narrative sentence preceding quoted dialog:
He shrugged. "That's fine. Whatever you decide."
He shrugged. "That's fine. What does she think?"

Narrative sentence between two separate dialog sentences:
"That's fine." He shrugged. "Whatever you decide."
"That's fine." He shrugged. "What does she think?"

Narrative sentence interrupting a dialog sentence:
"That." He shrugged. "Is fine. Whatever you decide."
"That." He shrugged. "Is fine. What does she think?"

Dialog ending with an exclamation point, ellipsis, or emdash follows the same pattern as the question mark.
 

Mumut

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Thanks for that FG. Very well explained. Should go into a sticky because there's always soeone asking about it.
 

Chase

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More thanks for FennelGiraffe and another vote to make this a sticky.
 
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Matera the Mad

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Way nice :D
The last point, Narrative sentence interrupting a dialog sentence, is the most iffy, subject to contradictory opinions. The example is awkward, it disrupts the flow and cries for a rewrite. I think that this kind of interruption is best avoided anyway. I may have one or two; I will be looking for them.

Here is a page with a lot of examples, and a little test with the answers at the bottom.
 

Terie

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Quick question: what if a person is giving a long speech in more than one paragraph; would I have to tag every paragraph so you know the person is still talking?

No. You simply don't put an end-quote at the end of a paragraph, but you do put an open-quote at the beginning of the next one. Like this:

"This is the first paragraph in a speech," Mary said. "It goes on for awhile.

"This is the second paragraph in the speech. It goes on longer.

"This is the third paragraph in the speech. Are we getting bored yet?

"This is the last paragraph in the speech. You end it with an end-quote."
 

Layne

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What Terie said is spot-on. In one book I read, there was a character prone to telling stories. These would of course spread over more than one paragraph, and the punctuation was addressed as above.

Thanks FG for the great post. :)
 
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LynnKHollander

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Terie is right.
As a matter of personal choice, in online self-published stories I do not double space between paragraphs in this situation.
For a submitted MS, consistency is probably better.
 

FennelGiraffe

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Terie is indeed correct.

However, as a reader, I find it easy to miss noticing the absence of a closing quote. Then I stumble by assuming the next paragraph is a different speaker. For that reason I prefer to avoid letting my chars make lengthy speeches. If absolutely necessary, I add some other business to break up the paragraphs.
 

thothguard51

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What Fennel said.

I tend to break up a long speech by using a tag that shows some action at the end of the paragraph. After all, no one just stands still... they pause, they look around perhaps to see if others are listening, put a coffee cup down or adjust their standing or sitting position. In other words, they do something other than just ramble of for 3 or four paragraphs, or more.

My characters are not robots and I show them as living creatures by their actions as much as by what they say.

I HOPE...
 

Livasa

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I am hoping someone out there can explain the reason and origin to the following rule.

"She is there." he said.
"Is she there?" he said.

Why do the letters in bold need to be lower case not caps (assuming I've got that correct of course!)

Thanks in advance :)
 

FennelGiraffe

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I am hoping someone out there can explain the reason and origin to the following rule.

"She is there." he said.
"Is she there?" he said.

Why do the letters in bold need to be lower case not caps (assuming I've got that correct of course!)

Thanks in advance :)

The h is lower case because it's all one sentence. He said isn't a complete sentence by itself. It needs to include WHAT he said, as in He said something. Except the currently popular style is to turn it around to be Something he said. It doesn't matter if the words inside the quotes are a complete sentence themselves, not even if they are several complete sentences. It all still takes the place of Something.

That's only when there's a dialog tag, however. If it's untagged dialog followed by a separate action, such as He laughed, then there are two separate sentences.

The punctuation, on the other hand, has an illogical twist. Punctuate everything inside the quotes the same way you would if it stood alone, EXCEPT for the final period. When there is a dialog tag following the quoted speech, the period changes to a comma. I'm guessing the original reason was also that it's all one sentence, and having a period inside a sentence was thought to be wrong. But when the quoted speech has multiple sentences, all the other periods stay. So does other sentence-ending punctuation: question marks, exclamation points, ellipses, and em dashes. Only the final period gets changed. Shrug. That's just the way it is. Again, though, you handle it differently when there's not a tag following.

Dialog tag:
"She is there," he said.
"I see her. She is there," he said.
"Is she there?" he said.
No dialog tag:
"She is there." He laughed.
"I see her. She is there." He laughed.
"Is she there?" He laughed.

 

Emptyeye

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Just saying that this topic is wonderful. This is one of the things that confuses me, so I've printed it out to use as a reference. :)
 

rrhodes

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Thanks for this. I need to print that and keep it nearby. I had recently ran into that during a class I'm taking. My assignment was the following:


“Rowdy, what brought you back here after all those years?”
I took a big gulp of whiskey, “My daughter. I needed to keep her safe.”
“Safe? She wasn’t safe in Ohio?”
“She might’ve been, but Crawford knew where I lived, I couldn’t take any chances of losing someone else.”

“Crawford?”

“Yeah, Jack Crawford. He was the last case I worked for. A real Unabomber type personality. I caught him, but not after he blew my life and family to pieces.”
“So he was responsible for your late wife’s death?”
“Yeah. At least it was mostly him. But I’m sure I played my part as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. It’s not something I want to dwell on.” I took another large sip of whiskey.
I lit up a cigarette and asked her, “So you’ve never been married?”
“No, I’ve never found a man who could stand being around me for that long.”
“I could understand that.”
“Gee thanks.”
Her eyes looked watery, and seemed to reflect back a quiet loneliness. I instantly regretted that I’d said it that way.
“I didn’t mean it that way, I mean it as a joke. I know we don’t get along all that great, but outside the office, you aren’t half bad.”
“Just half.”
“Well, if you were all bad, you’d be my ex-wife!”
A smile crossed her lips, and seemed to light up the entire room. Perhaps I’d misjudged her harshly. I did have the tendency to do that at times.

“Your ex-wife couldn’t have been all that bad.”

“Most She-Devil’s aren’t, she broke the mold.”
I crushed out the remains of the cigarette. The band was playing a slow number.

“Nina, would you like to dance?”

“Mr. Royce, I’m surprised you know how!”
“There’s a lot about me that would surprise you”, I took her hand and led her to the dance floor.

The instructor said:

You might want to add some more tags just to clarify who is speaking. Also, you might want to brush up on how to punctuate dialogue.


I understand what she meant with the tags, but I couldn't see where I had the punctuation wrong in the dialogue.
 

FennelGiraffe

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Thanks for this. I need to print that and keep it nearby.
You're welcome.


The instructor said:

You might want to add some more tags just to clarify who is speaking. Also, you might want to brush up on how to punctuate dialogue.


I understand what she meant with the tags, but I couldn't see where I had the punctuation wrong in the dialogue.

At a quick glance, the dialog punctuation errors I see are:
I took a big gulp of whiskey, “My daughter. I needed to keep her safe.”
and
“There’s a lot about me that would surprise you”, I took her hand and led her to the dance floor.
But this would be a punctuation error even if it weren't dialog:
“She might’ve been, but Crawford knew where I lived, I couldn’t take any chances of losing someone else.”
 

Blue_Lotus

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OK this is stupid and I should kow this but...
When you start a sentance with a quote spoken by someone other than the speaker how do you hadel that.

here is what I am talking about

A conversation is taking place between two people, one is relating a story with direct quotes
"so, shall it be done' Remmy replied, but that was not the end of the matter, not by a long shot."
Is this corect??
 

LOG

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So is the narrative a "tag" when the dialog is an an incomplete thought without that accompanying narration?
Or just when I need to make it clear who's speaking?
Or something else?

(I feel like I used to know this . . .)
 
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