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Further Notes On Punctuating Dialogue

Dialogue can be tricky to write and, sometimes, tricky to punctuate. In a previous article, we talked about how to properly format dialogue in your fiction and nonfiction. Here are a few more pointers to demonstrate how to create paragraph breaks when switching from one speaker to another. Learn how to use quotation marks when changing characters, and how to properly use attributives.

I. It is standard form to give each character his or her own line of dialogue, beginning with an indent.

“Brad, I’d like you to meet my sister, Joanne,” Jill said as they walked into the room.

“It’s nice to meet you, Joanne. Or may I call you Jo?” Brad said.

“I go by Joanne, but you can call me anything you want,” Joanne answered with an impish grin.

Sometimes this rule can be broken.

“Quick, grab the rope,” he yelled, but when he turned around, his partner quietly said, “It’s too late.”

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II. Other times, a character’s dialogue continues for more than one paragraph. In this case, use an initial quotation mark for each paragraph, and insert a closing mark at the end of the final paragraph.

Doug said, “Dialogue paragraph one.

“Dialogue paragraph two.

“Dialogue paragraph three.”

Now the reader knows that Doug is finished speaking, even though he’s rambled on for three paragraphs…

III. Never use quotation marks in a screenplay, where every line is dialogue.

IV. And, finally, do not use laughed, smiled, or grinned as speech tags. These should be used as separate sentences, as it is impossible to grin or laugh a sentence.

“Oh, you think you’re so funny.” She grinned. “But you have mustard on your face.”

Got questions about how to write dialogue? Not sure you’re doing it right? The Writer’s Relief proofreaders can help!

REMEMBER TO CHECK OUT OUR LIST OF WRITING CONTESTS and ANTHOLOGIES! You won’t find a better list anywhere (AND IT’S FREE!) of upcoming anthologies, special-themed journals, and contests.

2 Responses to Further Notes On Punctuating Dialogue

  1. Hi Wendy, how about using em dashes for this purpose? For example, “I told you”—smack—“not to do that again.”

  2. Ok, you don’t use non-speaking verbs as speech tags, so you put them in their own sentences between sentences of dialogue when it’s going on pretty much simultaneously with the dialogue. But how do you punctuate it if the action is actually interrupting a sentence, or working as part of the sentence, without looking like you’re making it into a speech tag?

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