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Punctuating Quotations and Dialogue

I just happened to be looking through my writing and saw how far I’d come and how much stuff I had to learn on my own and by reading well written books and saw that my biggest problem in my beginnings was the use of quotations and punctuation dialogue. So to stop any other writer from falling into this pitfall, I’ve decided to give a less on quotations. Let’s start with the basics.

1) “It’s time for a lesson on punctuating quotations,” said Lady Dae.
    Lady Dae said, “It’s time for a lesson on punctuating quotations.”

This is the basic structure when it comes to quotation; the quotation mark, followed by the quote or dialogue, a comma, the end quote, a space, plus the word said (or however they said it, scream), and the person who said it and a period.  And for the second example, there’s the tag description (Lady Dae said) followed by a comma a space, the quote mark, dialogue, punctuation (see further down) and the end quote. A variation of this type is this:

“Ugh! Sometimes I really hate this novel!” said Lady Dae.
“Am I the only one that hates my novel sometimes?” asked Lady Dae.

As you can see here the stronger punctuation took the place of the comma. When you have a strong punctuation (feeling or a question) use them, followed by your tag phrase and a period. If it’s just a sentence or phrase with not specific punctuations like a question mark or exclamations point, use a comma, the tag phrase, followed by a period.

2) Incorrect: Lady Dae shrugged, “I don’t care about that character’s name.”
   Correction: Lady Dae shrugged. “I don’t care about that character’s name.”
   Incorrect: “You’re so serious,” Lady Dae grinned.
   Correction: “You’re so serious.” Lady Dae grinned.

I had problems with this too. While it’s fine to tag actions along with dialogue, certain actions can’t describe dialogue and need their own separate sentence. Grinning is not a way of talking or a type of communication. Therefore, if Lady Dae grins, she either grinned before she said it, said it with a grin, or grinned after she said it. Likewise the same is with shrugged. She either did it before, during, or after. So that means that you write the quote mark, dialogue, close it with a period, question mark, or exclamation point, and close it with the end quote. The sentence could have easily been written:
“You so serious,” Lady Dae said with a grin.

Or if the writer wants to describe the way Lady Dae is saying it we can use:

“You’re so serious,” Lady Dae teased.

Teasing is a way of communication through talking; therefore, “teased” can be used in place of “said” when appropriate as can any other word that describes a way of talking.

3) Incorrect: “I’m not sure,” Lady Dae paused, “I think I have a title in mind.”
   Correction: “I’m not sure.” Lady Dae paused. “I think I have a titled in mind.”
   Incorrect: “I’m almost done,” Lady Dae clapped her hands, “Only two more chapters to go.”
   Correction: “I’m almost done.” Lady Dae clapped her hands. “Only two more chapters to go.”

This ties in with the last examples. You can’t describe dialogue with an action. Dialogue tags are really adverb or adjectives describing how something was said. But clapping isn’t a way of speaking. Likewise, a person can’t paused talking while talking. So each part is treated as its own sentence. In fact, all interjections in dialogue are treated like this. If it doesn’t describe the way it was spoken (said, asked, exclaimed, etc.) then close the quote with a period and start a new sentence before closing that off with a  period and picking back up the dialogue again. Also, because no one speaks in complete sentences all the time, it’s alright to use a fragment or two. In fact, in creative writing, fragments are allowed!

4) Incorrect: “Where is my flash drive”?
   Correction: “Where is my flash drive?”
   Incorrect: “I didn’t know my flash drive drained my laptop battery that much”.
   Correction: “I didn’t know my flash drive drained my laptop batter that much.”
   Incorrect: “Oh man”!
   Correction: “Oh man!”

Sometimes a tag isn’t needed and all that is needed is the quote marks to indicate that someone is talking. Punctuation always goes inside the quotes, never outside them when there are no tags behind them.

5) This next one is one that I wasn’t quite aware of until I read a story in my literature book, but thankfully don’t have the need to use often. I’ll just quote one of my long rants here to illustrate.

   “A character's voice should be so distinct that you know he/she said it before you read who it was. It should be so that in a context of a reading, you know who spoke based on the way the response or reply came back. It's like a good actor. The screenwriter writes the script and gives it to the actor. But the actor brings the lines to life and if he/she thinks the character wouldn't say that they tweak it. Same thing with writing. The characters start to get a mind of their own and start to write their own line and stories. Is it easy?

    “Not at all, especially because everyone except other writers are going to think you have a split personality when you try to explain this. But once I managed to find her dominate trait, it shaped up my MC's voice."

See how there is no end quote after the first paragraph because Lady Dae continues talking? Anytime a character goes on a long rant and their dialogue has to be broken up into paragraphs, only use the end quote when the character is completely finished talking and it moves on to someone else or some type of description. I just learned this one, but it’s good to keep in mind if you have a character that tends to rant (Hermione Granger from Harry Potter comes to mind here). And now lastly…

6) “Outrageous!” Lady Dae exclaimed.
   “Yeap,” Mrald agreed.
   “I can’t believe it. Are you sure?” inquired Lady Dae.
   “Positive,” Mrald replied.
   “Still,” Lady Dae responded.
   “It’s not that hard to believe,” Mrald retorted.
“It is,” Lady Dae ejaculated.

First of all, I’m pretty sure I used ejaculated wrong right there and it makes me think of something else (namely something to do with the birds and the bees), but most importantly, while there’s nothing technically wrong here, I could have just used the word said or asked. A writer shouldn’t try to show how original or clever they are by finding every synonym for the word “said.” It just looks like the writer is trying to proof how smart they are or trying and failing to write a seventeenth century novel about some proper aristocracy. While it’s fine to sue those words, they should only be use like salt and pepper is used in food. Too many of those ‘said’ synonyms make stories read like purple prose. The writer can use them every now and then, but readers will get used to ‘said’ or ‘asked’ they won’t notice it’s there.

So that’s it. These are actually some of the things that are part of my ‘Things I Wish Someone Told Me’ series, but I thought the quotation mark needed its own post. If there’s anything I missed, let me know and I’ll add it.

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