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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday Writing Tips: Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags identify who is saying what in a conversation between characters and keep the reader from getting lost or confused. But some writers generate confusion by using incorrect punctuation or capitalization with their dialogue tags. Here are three dialogue issues to check for in your manuscript.

(1)  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, it is lowercase. Here are examples of dialogue tag punctuation:

Incorrect: “Nancy, you are so naughty.” Her friend said. [One of the most common dialogue format errors editors see.]
Correct: “Nancy, you are so naughty,” her friend said.
Correct: “Why are you so naughty, Nancy?” her friend asked.
Correct: “Nancy,” her friend said, “you are so naughty.”

(2)  If a character talks for more than one paragraph (without interruption of dialogue tags), each paragraph of his or her speech starts with opening quotes, but there are no close quotes until the character is finished speaking.

(3)  Do not use two dialogue tags for one continuous piece of dialogue. Either remove one dialogue tag or split the dialogue into two parts.

Incorrect:  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.”
or
Correct: With a heavy heart, he whispered sheepishly, "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."

 

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