Archive for the 'Punctuation' Category

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.



37 responses so far

Mar 30 2011

How to Format a Novel Manuscript

William Shunn’s guide to manuscript formatting is the best reference I’ve seen on this subject.  If I could add some minor formatting points that should be obvious:

  1. Please do not ever use more than one exclamation mark at time.  It looks awful!!!
  2. Even if you’re writing a heated conversation, please don’t end a string of sentences with exclamation marks!  It will look really strange!  I wouldn’t recommend it! In a heated conversation, readers can infer that the characters are shouting at each other even if the sentence ends with a period.
  3. If you’re inclined to capitalize words for emphasis, 1) don’t and 2) if you do, please do so super-sparingly.  (No, really, just a FEW times in the manuscript, PLEASE.  It’s SO HARD to read when AUTHORS just seemingly use all-caps AT RANDOM).

34 responses so far

Jan 29 2010

How to Use Semicolons: A Comic!

Published by under Punctuation

I don’t know what is geekiest: that someone did a comic about how to use semicolons, that I linked to it, or that I have a punctuation category.

2 responses so far

May 31 2009

Common Writing Mistakes: Unstylish Punctuation

1.  Please don’t use multiple exclamation points or question marks. It’s far less likely to suggest that the character is really surprised than that the author is really inexperienced.  It’s cheesy.

  • REJECTION:  “I hate you, Martha!!!!”
  • REJECTION: “How could you do that to me??”

2. I recommend against giving the narrator exclamation points. “John turned around.  Then a ninja burst through the ceiling!”

3. Smiley faces are generally a poor choice in professional communication. If your novel manuscript, query or proposal use any kind of emoticon, I’m guessing (X_X).

4. Please use exclamation points sparingly. Strings of exclamations are generally disorientating and hard to process. “I’m surly! You’re not listening to me! That is unacceptable! I’m getting even surlier!”   If you use exclamations too often, they will become diluted and lose their zing.

5. Please be REALLY careful about capitalizing sentences for emphasis. “AND NOW YOU DIE, MR. BOND!”  I wouldn’t even consider doing it more than once or twice per novel.  And even that might be unnecessarily risky.

13 responses so far

Oct 23 2008

A few notes on punctuation use in novels

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3 responses so far