by Raelene Gorlinsky
Okay, to wrap up our series of articles on dialogue, let's talk about proper punctuation of dialogue tags. It is amazing how many writers can't keep this straight. We see some practically unreadable dialogue in submissions. If the editor has to struggle through it, it definitely lessens their enthusiasm for possibly contracting this book -- which they'd then have to edit to fix.
The dialogue tag is a continuation of the sentence and is separated from the dialogue by a comma, exclamation point or question mark, but not by a period. Unless the word following the punctuation is a proper name, the word is lower case. Here are examples of dialogue tag punctuation:
Wrong: "Nancy, you are so naughty." Her friend said.
Correct: "Nancy, you are so naughty," her friend said.
Correct: "Why are you so naughty, Nancy?" her friend asked.
Correct: "Nancy," Irma said, "you are so naughty."
Wrong: "I'm looking for the sex toys!" Said Anastasia.
Correct: "I’m looking for the sex toys!" Anastasia said.
Correct: "I’m looking for the sex toys!" said Anastasia.
The punctuation mark ending the dialogue part is placed within the quote marks.
If a character’s dialogue continues for multiple paragraphs, each paragraph starts with opening quotes, but there are no close quotes until the end of the character’s speech.
Do not use two dialogue tags for one continuous piece of dialogue. Either remove one dialogue tag or split the dialogue into two parts.
Wrong: With a heavy heart, he said, “Had I known, I would never have eaten that last cookie. I didn’t know your blood sugar would drop and you would need a snack,” he whispered sheepishly.
Correct: With a heavy heart, he said, “Had I known, I would never have eaten that last cookie.” He whispered sheepishly, “I didn’t know your blood sugar would drop and you would need a snack.”
So challenge us - hit us with your best shot. Give us your dialogue tag problems or questions, and we'll have a half-dozen editors hash it out and post an answer for you. "That is, if we can come to agreement among ourselves," she said.