Archive for April 20th, 2011

Apr 20 2011

How to Punctuate Dialogue in Novels and Short Stories

Published by under Punctuation

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

1. A line of dialogue with a tag like “he said” or “Joan replied” should end with a comma rather than a period. If a line of dialogue ends without a tag, then it should not end with a comma.

WITH TAG: “If I wanted your opinion, I would give it to you,” said the drill instructor.

WITHOUT TAG: “If I wanted your opinion, I would give it to you.”


2.  Begin a new paragraph when you switch from one speaker to the next. It helps readers figure out who’s speaking.

Take my spare pistol,” Lex Luthor said.

“Not my style,” Batman said.

“Suit yourself.  I plan to live through this.”


3. Like the dialogue tags for sentences, dialogue tags for questions and exclamations should not be capitalized.

“Was this before or after you threatened to eat a district attorney?” the Senator asked.

“I plead not guilty by reason of my own badassery!” said Agent Orange.

“It is my professional duty to remind you to shut your damn trap,” Agent Orange’s long-suffering lawyer said.


4.  When a line of dialogue is addressed to a person or people, separate the addressed person/group from the rest of the sentence with commas.

“I can help you, Jim, but I’ll need a grenade launcher.”

“Right on, man,” said Jim.

“Ready, boys?” asked Monica.


5.  Quotation marks ending a sentence should come after any other punctuation.

Example: “Check out any of the above lines,” said B. Mac.

WRONG: “This shouldn’t look right”, said B. Mac.

WRONG: “Do you see what’s wrong with this question mark”? asked B. Mac.


6.  When a line of dialogue is interrupted by the dialogue tag, don’t capitalize the second clause like it’s a new sentence.

“You have upset Mr. Bigglesworth,” said Dr. Evil, “and when Mr. Bigglesworth gets upset, people die!”

6.1  The first word of a line of dialogue should be capitalized even if it isn’t the first word of the sentence.

The politician sang, “My name is Willie O’Dea.  They’re hanging me for perjury.”  Incidentally, those are perhaps the only two lines of the song that are safe for work.

7.  When a line of dialogue is interrupted by another line of dialogue, end the first line with an em-dash (–).

James Bond said, “I always thought M was a randomly assigned initial, I had no idea it stood for–”

“Utter one more syllable and I’ll have you killed,” said M.


For more tips, I’d recommend checking out How to Punctuate Dialogue at the Editor’s Blog and Dialog Tags.



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