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Up From Down Under

les.jpg

  
Editor
Les Stephenson

Up From Down Under

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Writing Dialogue – Part 2

 

 

Punctuation

 

Remember: A 'speech tag' is more correctly known as an 'attribution'. An 'attributive phrase' does just what it says - it attributes direct speech to a specific speaker (or, in rarer cases, speakers).

 

In PART 1, I used these examples to illustrate the variations of voice (pitch, pace and power) we can show in a speech tag:

 

"I can't do it," she whispered.

"I can't do it," she whimpered.

"I can't do it," she said.

"I can't do it," she groaned.

"I can't do it!" she insisted.

"I can't do it!" she yelled.

"Can I do it?" she asked.

 

Did you notice the effect of the different types of punctuation used to close the actual dialogue? In several cases it was a comma, which is the most frequent ending to a segment of speech. However, even the exclamation marks and question mark were followed by the lower case 'she' for the attribution. This is correct. Each instance is considered as one sentence, consisting of speech and speech tag, despite an exclamation mark or question mark.

 

Equally important when using speech tags, is not to end the speech with a period if you add an attributive phrase. For example:

 

DON'T WRITE -- "I won't run away." She said.

 

It should read: "I won't run away," she said.

 

Okay, what if the tag is at the beginning, not at the end of the dialogue?

 

The rule is the same. Consider:

 

DON'T WRITE -- She said. "I won't run away."

 

Correctly, it should read:  She said, "I won't run away."

 

For questions and exclamations an opening tag also is followed by a comma:

 

She asked, "May I do it?"

 

She screamed, "No!"

 

Interesting, isn't it? While the attribution starts with a small letter when it is placed after the question ("May I do it?" she asked.), the question starts with a capital even when it follows the attribution (She asked, "May I do it?"). The same applies to any segment of dialogue. Compare the sentences below with the ones at the beginning.

 

She whispered, "I can't do it."

She whimpered, "I can't do it."

She said, "I can't do it."

She groaned, "I can't do it."

She insisted, "I can't do it!"

She yelled, "I can't do it!"

She asked, "Can I do it?"

 

An ellipsis is also regarded as part of the sentence including the speech and tag (notice it does not require a comma after the ellipsis):

 

"I...don't know what...to say..." she muttered.

 

It is unlikely you will end a segment of dialogue with a semicolon or colon but if you ever do, the rule is they go outside the quotation marks.

 

References:

 

writers.com tips: Punctuation Pointers

 

Manser, Martin & Curtis, Stephen  2002:  The Penguin Writer's Manual. London. Penguin Books Ltd.

 

 

Les Stephenson

Up From Down Under  - October 2009

 
 Copyright 2006-2009 by The Muse Marquee. All rights reserved. All authors hold individual ownership & copyrights of any material contributed. No unauthorized usage of any published material within the Muse Marquee unless permission is first granted by copyright owner of said material. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Editing and Proofreading Part Three
OctoberIssue 2006
September Issue 2006