Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Writing Tip Wednesday--Punctuation for Dialogue

I admit it. I'm a bit of a grammar nerd.

As PRO Liaison and Push to PRO coordinator for my local RWA chapter, I try to educate members in how to create the best manuscripts they can for submission and publication. A large part of this tends to focus on writing craft. I participate in critique groups and offer new writers a first-chapter crit when I'm not hiding in the writing cave under deadline. My chapter sponsors a writing contest each summer, and I typically judge the maximum number of entries allowed. I've also judged the Golden Heart contest every year since joining RWA.

Punctuation for dialogue seems to be an area where many writers have problems, so here are the basics...

Dialogue tag--identifies the speaker; not required for every piece of dialogue.
Action tag--uses action to identify the speaker instead of using "said," "asked," etc. Also not required for every piece of dialogue.

Examples: Note where periods, commas, and other punctuation are placed in the sentences.

1) "I had a new book release this week," she said.
2) "I had a new book release this week!" she said.
3) "Did you have a new book release this week?" she asked.
4) "The dog ate my manuscript," Mellanie said.
**first word inside quotes is capitalized; comma/exclamation mark/question mark is inside closing quotes; use one space between closing quotes and beginning of dialogue tag, dialogue tag is in lower case unless a proper name is used; period is at end of dialogue tag**

5) She said, "I had a new book release this week."
6) Mellanie said, "I had a new book release this week!"
7) She asked, "Did you have a new book release this week?"
**comma follows the dialogue tag; use one space between comma and opening quotes; first word inside quotes is always capitalized; period/exclamation mark/question mark at the end of the dialogue is inside the closing quotes**

8) Jumping for joy, she said, "I got an offer of publication from my favorite publisher!"
9) "I got an offer of publication from my favorite publisher!" she said, jumping for joy.
**when adding action to a dialogue tag, use a comma between the tag and the action; use lower case for tag after a beginning action except when using a proper name**

10) She grinned. "I completed my first manuscript."
11) "I completed my first manuscript." She grinned at her critique partners.
**action tags are separate sentences with appropriate capitalization and punctuation; period/exclamation mark/question mark is inside the quotes**

Do you have a headache yet? Take a deep breath and get to work fixing those dialogue problems. Your writing career will thank you for it :)

Next week--Comma splices

Mellanie Szereto
Romance...With A Kick!


  1. Whew! Already know those rules and have them applied on my first manuscript. Thank goodness! That'd be a lot to correct. Looking forward to the comma splices.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Noelle! Glad to hear you won't have to make corrections. That can be tedious work. See you next week :)

  2. Thanks, Mellanie! Very useful information!

  3. Thanks for doing this, Mellanie. I always double check my tags! :D

    1. You're welcome, Tatum! I hope I'm helping writers who want to learn the craft :)

  4. Great stuff Mellanie. Before I met you, I had never even heard of the terms "action tag" and "dialogue tag" so thanks for that. Looking forward to the next installment!

    1. Thanks, Jim :) And you're welcome! Let me know if you have a topic you want discussed!

  5. Great post, Melanie! One can never have enough knowledge of craft. Thanks!

    1. Thanks, you're welcome, and absolutely, Traci! :)

  6. Good stuff! You know from judging contests that this can be a tough concept. :-)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Liz! Dialogue punctuation is often a problem in contest entries. Everybody needs at least one grammar reference book :) I :D