Jen’s Editing Tips – How To Punctuate Dialogue Tags

During the past month, I’ve critiqued over 80 short stories.

…Yeah, I’m a little tired.

But, I’m also excited to share some new editing tips based on common errors, bad habits, and other hiccups I stumbled upon while evaluating those 80-plus stories.Jen's Editing Tips

“So, which tip should I start with?” Jen asked her good friend, Ms. Red Pen.

Ms. Red Pen shrugged. “I don’t know. What was the biggest problem you noticed while critiquing all those stories?”

“Hands down, dialogue punctuation,” Jen said and shuddered at the memory. “I saw commas where there should’ve been periods, and periods where there should’ve been commas. Missing quotation marks. Uppercased words that should’ve been lowercased, and lowercased words that should’ve been uppercased. The list goes on and on.”

“Yikes!” Miss Red Pen exclaimed. “But, well,” she sighed, “it makes sense. Dialogue punctuation can be really tough.”

Jen nodded. “I know. But, once you get it, it’s easy.”

Dialogue Tags

As complicated and intimidating as dialogue punctuation can seem, it’s not. I promise. All you have to do is remember these basic rules of thumb:

If Dialogue Is Spoken

If a character says, asks, yells, whispers, or speaks in any way, then you should use a comma and lowercase your pronoun. Question marks and exclamation points are okay, too. For example:

Hey, I’m talking to you!” Bill said.

I know, I heard you,” Amy responded.

Then why won’t you look at me? Why?” he asked. 

Because I’m afraid if I do, I’ll hurt you,” she hissed. 

If Dialogue Is Followed By An Action

If a character smiles, scowls, walks, sprints, or acts  in any other way, then you should use a period and uppercase your pronoun. Obviously, question marks and exclamation points are okay, too. For example:

Hey, I’m talking to you!” Bill slammed his hand against the dining room table.

I know, I heard you.” Amy glared at the silverware next to her untouched plate of food.

Then why won’t you look at me? Why?” His voice crackled with fury.

Because, I’m afraid if I do, I’ll hurt you.” Her fingers curled around her knife.

If An Ongoing Sentence Is Interrupted By A Dialogue Tag

If you insert a tag within a sentence, then use a comma to pause the dialogue (inside the quotations marks), and then use another comma to resume the dialogue (outside the quotation marks). Also, be sure to lowercase the first word of the connecting sentence (unless it’s a proper noun, of course). For example:

Hey,” Bill slammed his hand down on the dining table, “I’m talking to you.”

I know,” Amy responded, “I heard you.”

Then,” his voice crackled with fury, “why won’t you look at me? Why?”

Because,” her fingers curled around her knife, “I’m afraid if I do, I’ll hurt you.”

If Two Sentences Are Separated By A Dialogue Tag

If you insert a tag between two separate sentences (spoken by the same character, obviously), then use periods instead of commas, and uppercase the first word of the second sentence. For example:

Hey!” Bill slammed his hand down on the dining table. “I’m talking to you.”

I know.” Amy glared at the silverware next to her untouched dinner. I heard you.”

Then why won’t you look at me?” he asked. “Why?”

Because.” She took a deep breath and curled her fingers around her knife. “I’m afraid if I do, I’ll hurt you.”

So, there you go. Those are the basics of dialogue punctuation. Yes, there are others I could go into (ellipses, em dashes, etc.), but to avoid overwhelming you, I’ll save those for a future post. If you are overwhelmed, it’s okay. Really! It took me ages to feel comfortable with dialogue punctuation.

One thing that always helps me simplify matters is to ask myself one question:

“Is my character speaking or acting their words?”

Once that’s determined, it’s easy to figure out which direction to take the dialogue punctuation:

Spoken = Comma, lowercased pronoun

Acted = Period, uppercased pronoun

If you’re still struggling, then I urge you to read. Read, read, read! And while you’re reading, study how authors punctuate their dialogue. That’s how I learned best when I didn’t know how to handle this annoying, but essential aspect of writing.

And, of course, write. Write, write, write. The more you write, the more you’ll grasp its technicalities and nuances.

Don’t forget, my editing website is up and running! If you’re looking for someone to help with your story, check out Jen’s Edits and Critiques.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: giphy

How To Write Good Dialogue: Ten Tips

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! So, one of my favorite things to write is dialogue. Simply put, it’s fun!

Plus, I find it easier to convey a story through a character’s words. For example, while writing my last story for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, I struggled getting the scenes in my head onto paper. About halfway through my first draft, I realized why: I only had one character. Therefore, I couldn’t rely on back and forth banter like I usually do. Instead, I had to–*gulp*–depend on longer, more detailed descriptives to convey what was happening.

Now, I’m fully aware many writers don’t share my love of dialogue. In fact, I know many struggle with it (just as I struggle with writing those darn descriptives). But fear not! While skimming Twitter this morning, I came upon this helpful article via K Grubb (@10minnovelist):

How To Write Good Dialogue: Ten Tips


5 – Read Out Loud
After writing a scene of dialogue, put it away for a while. Then go back and don’t just re-read it, read it out loud! That’s right: read it out at the speed and with the emotional tone you would as if you were the character speaking it. Reading your dialogue out loud helps you to hear if it works.

Whether you love writing dialogue or not, I recommend you check out the full list of tips here!

For more useful advice, follow K Grubb on Twitter!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: 


Confession: I’m a Method Writer. A Foolish One.

This weekend I was working on my manuscript when it suddenly occurred to me: I look like a complete moron when I write. I’m not talking about the way my lips move as I re-read my pages, or the way my eyes glaze over when I drift off into the Never Never Land of my imagination, or the awesome way my face screws up when I smash into a plot wall. No, no, no. Those are merely dull ticks and nuances, ones I’m sure most writers experience.

I’m actually talking about my “method writer” moments. You know, the times when I shed me and transform into a character to understand them better–portray them better–write them better. If there was a hidden camera in the room with me then…Oi vey! I’d be so mort-i-fied!!


Let me explain what I mean.

1. I like to act out my dialogue

I have to believe that all writers are actors on some level. After all, we are creating new worlds filled with new characters with varying personalities. We have to have the ability to open our minds and become someone else for a spell.

Personally, I like to take my manuscript and pretend it’s a script, especially when I’ve hit a rough patch and I’m not sure how a chunk of dialogue sounds. I sit up in my chair, give a firm throat clear, and reach for my inner Meryl Streep. Then I begin to recite my characters’ words. I dramatically raise my voice when someone SHOUTS! Or lower it to a faint hush when someone whispers. I growl, I sigh, I mumble, I curse…Whatever the “role” calls for, I play it accordingly. And I’m confident my renditions are always worthy of an Academy Award. 😉

Fear not, Meryl. Your job is safe.

2. I like to pretend I’m a martial arts whiz 

Haiyah! KaBlam! Splat!

Everyone loves a good fight scene. However, mapping out a confrontation on paper isn’t as easy as it seems. What makes sense in my head probably doesn’t make sense in reality. That’s why I like to stand up and physically plan it out–strike for strike, blow for blow, kick for kick. For example, in one of my manuscripts, I had a villain who was nifty with a knife. She was very graceful and very deadly. And her fight scenes were particularly challenging. To choreograph them I’d go into the kitchen, grab a butter knife, and spin around my living room, pretending pillows and chairs were targets.

I know, I know, it sounds brutal. But I assure you, if anyone happened to walk by and peer in my window during those “violent” moments, all they’d see was an idiot doing a jerky, awkward dance with a butter knife in her hand…or maybe a spatula or fly swatter. Whatever. It was pretend.

What can I say? The most “fighting” experience I have is a couple of Tae-Bo workouts and movies like 300 and Rocky.

 3. Stellllla! Emottttion!

Now, this is where I’d be truly horrified if I had a camera recording me while I wrote. I’m sure the look on my face when I’m typing out a death scene, or a confrontation between two friends, or a girl being dumped by her knight in shining armor is priceless.

universal_emotionCringing, wincing, frowning. Perhaps gasping for air or pretending to weep. Sometimes I’ll go over to a mirror and study my expression closely to make sure I’m portraying a certain emotion “correctly”. Crinkled brow, wide eyes, slightly parted lips, etc. Once I’m satisfied I’ve nailed the right look, I’ll run back to my computer and describe what I saw in finer detail.

Oh, just wait. It gets better.

A lot of my brainstorming and scene plotting occurs while I’m driving to and from work. As I hit the road, I pull up my “book” playlist on my iPod, sit back, and let my imagination open up. Eventually, a song comes on that strikes inspiration. I eagerly crank up the volume and start creating a scene in my head, or embellishing one I’ve already written. While the song plays, I add depth to the scene–add emotions. Anger, sadness, heartache, whatever. When the song ends, I punch the replay button and listen to it again, this time adding more depth, more emotions…And you know what’s happening the entire time I’m doing this?

You got it. I’m wincing and frowning and fake weeping in my car while the buddy parked next to me at the red light is wondering, “What the hell is wrong with that chick?”

drive-ryan-gosling-21I really should invest in tinted windows…

4. To be zee character, I must speak like zee character…zee charicktah? Zee kareektah? Ah, crikey.

not-sure-if-speech-impediment-or-foreign-accentAs you can see, I’m fairly fluent in Accent. Give me any dialect and I can speak and write in it. Aye, it’s bloody hale ehzay, mate!

Okay, okay, I suck at writing with an accent. In fact, my ridikulos dialect skills was the original inspiration for writing this confession. I was working on some dialogue for an Irish fella in a manuscript and started saying his lines out loud to help myself “hear” his accent better. I was enunciating every word, every syllable, every letter. About three lines in, I abruptly stopped, horrified and amused by my lame attempt to mimic an Irish brogue.

Honestly, if my computer could speak, it would politely ask me what planet I was from since it failed to detect any similar linguistics on earth. I swear, I’m like Joey on Friends when after 20 hours of dialect lessons, his southern accent still comes out Jamaican.

I suppose if I must act like a fool to create a good story, then I’ll suck it up and do it. I’ll just always pray there’s no hidden cameras on me :-). So, how about you? Do you have method writer moments, too? If so, how would you judge your performance? Two thumbs up? Or get-that-camera-off-of-menow!?

He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags and Saidisms

Welcome to Twitter Treasure Thursday! So, one of my favorite things to write (and read) is dialogue. I think it’s one of the best ways to show a story, rather than tell it. That’s why I decided to share today’s gem, courtesy of YA author, Natasha E. Neagle (@agirlnamednat). She offers great advice on how to properly use dialogue and make it as strong and engaging as possible.

RV-AB565_Wordcr_D_20110208184127He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags & Saidisms

When you write, nailing down your character’s dialogue is a major accomplishment. If you are writing a young adult novel, you want what the characters say to sound like that of a young adult and not like the forty-something you might be. Don’t mind me, I’ll be celebrating the anniversary of my twenty-fifth birthday FOREVER. If you want a novel that people are going to enjoy, you have to make sure the dialogue works. Not only does it have to be in the character’s voice, it has to be written properly.

To read the entire article, click here!

And for more useful advice, follow Natasha E. Neagle on Twitter!

Related Articles 

Les Edgerton Shows How to Write Amazing Dialogue–Part 1

10 Dialogue Tips To Make Your Novel Shine

What is “Voice” and How Do You Use it?

Photo credits: