Writing Dialogue – Part 2
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..."
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.
writers.com tips: Punctuation Pointers
Manser, Martin & Curtis,
Stephen 2002: The Penguin Writer's Manual. London.
Penguin Books Ltd.
From Down Under - October 2009