"Let's talk!" How to punctuate dialogue

We could write several articles on how to write good dialogue for a story, but first we need to know how to punctuate dialogue!

Here are five basic rules to get you started:

1) Use a comma between your dialogue and the tag line. What’s a tag line? The tag line is the words you use to identify the speaker.

“I don’t want summer to end,” sighed the boy.

Try to use he said/she said very sparingly. It gets boring. Things can be said in so many different ways…he sighed, she groaned, we shouted, they queried (instead of they asked!).

2) Periods and commas go inside quotation marks. Off-set the tag line with commas if it interrupts the sentence and do not capitalize the first letter of the first word in the second half of the sentence.

“I don’t think,” he muttered, “that we should have to go back to school yet.”

3) Sometimes the punctuation goes outside the quotation marks if it is not part of what’s being quoted.

What do you do when you hear, “I’m just not ready yet”?

Notice that we off-set with a comma before the actual quote, that we open and close the quote with quotation marks and, in this particular case, no other punctuation. The question mark after the end quote is all we need.

4) If you need to use a quote within a quote such as for titles of plays or books, use single quote marks for the inside quote.

“Mom told me to read ‘War and Peace’ on my summer break, can you believe that?” the boy asked incredulously.

For interior dialogue, you can use italics instead, but whatever you choose, choose to be consistent.

5) If you are directly quoting someone, but leave out part of the quote, use ellipses to indicate what’s being left out.

He said, in part, “I’d rather not go back to school this year….maybe I’ll travel the world instead.”

This should be enough to get you started with punctuating your dialogue correctly. We’ll be back soon with some ideas on how to write better dialogue.