There’s a lot of nuances about dialogue that make it really difficult to master: where to put the quotation marks, when to indent and when to not, how to indicate who’s talking, etc. Hopefully these tips will help you out.
Use quotation marks around the entire dialogue to indicate what the character is saying. Make sure all punctuation is inside the quotation marks.
“I want to buy a puppy.”
To indicate who’s speaking, replace the period with a comma and put a dialogue tag outside of the quotation marks. Unless the dialogue tag begins with a proper noun, it’s not capitalized.
“I want to buy a puppy,” she said.
A dialogue tag can come in the beginning, middle, or end of the sentence.
Dialogue Tags at the End of a Sentence
Keep the comma within the quotation marks and end the dialogue tag with a period, as you would any sentence.
“I want to buy a puppy,” Sally said.
“I want to buy a puppy,” said Sally.
Dialogue Tags at the Beginning of a Sentence
Attach the comma to the end of the dialogue tag and put the ending punctuation within the quotation marks.
Sally said, “I want to buy a puppy.”
Dialogue Tags in the Middle of a Sentence
Use this technique to add suspense or importance to certain parts of the sentence. By putting a dialogue tag in the middle, you break up the dialogue into two phrases. In the first, put the comma inside the quotation marks, then use one again after the dialogue tag outside the quotation marks to reintroduce the dialogue. The ending punctuation mark, again, stays within the quotation marks.
“What I want,” she started, “is for you to talk to me.”
Be careful when employing this, however, because you can’t place a dialogue tag anywhere in the middle of a sentence. Only place it where a natural pause could occur in a person’s regular speech. This, for example, doesn’t flow well:
“What I want is,” she started, “for you to talk to me.”
Dialogue Tags in Between Two Sentences by the Same Speaker
The only difference between this and injecting a dialogue tag in the middle of a single sentence is that you A) use a period at the end of the dialogue tag and B) capitalize the first word of the second sentence.
“I don’t know,” he said. “He didn’t tell me anything.”
When someone is asking a question, keep the question mark inside the quotations, but end the dialogue tag with a period.
“Do you me to go to the store?” Josh asked.
“Do you want me to go to the store?” asked Josh.
Asking about Other People’s Quotes
If you’re asking a question about what someone else said, put the question mark outside of the quotations, because you yourself are asking a question, not quoting one. In this case, don’t put any punctuation within the quotations.
Did she say, “I want to go to the store”?
If you’re asking a question about someone else’s question, put the question mark inside the quotations. This will mark that both you and the speaker are asking a question. Do not use two question marks.
Did she ask, “How do I get to the store?”
Dialogue within Dialogue
Sometimes you’ll need to write dialogue for a character who is quoting another character. In that case, use double quotation marks as usual, then single quotation marks within. Put a comma after the statement that’s in single quotations.
Luke asked his teacher, “Was it Martin Luther King who said ‘I have a dream,’ or was is Martin Luther King Jr.?”
In general, always start a new paragraph when a new speaker begins to talk. This makes it more pleasing to the eye and easier for the reader to know which character is talking, even if you use dialogue tags.
“Where do you want to eat?” I asked.
“I don’t know, wherever you want,” she said.
However, if the same character talks twice in a row, don’t start a new paragraph.
“Even though we fight a lot, I still love you,” I told her. I waited for her to answer, but she was silent. “Don’t you still love me?”
“I don’t know.”
If the same character is saying a monologue, and their speech goes on for more than one paragraph, start each new paragraph with an open quotation mark, but only use a closed quotation mark when the speaker is completely done talking, not at the end of every paragraph.
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