Sunday, November 25, 2007

Quotation Marks and Dialog

“Look, “ I said to myself. “Lord Matt has left me not one but two topics for exploration in response to yesterday's post. He is truly a gentleman and a scholar.

I hope other will follow his example. I shall thank him properly by addressing quotation marks and dialog posthaste!” And so I am. (I bet you didn't know that I could talk in hyperlinks.)

Quotation marks and dialog offer punctuation challenges because people don't speak like they write. They interrupt each other—and themselves—and they often commit grammatical errors. The basic rule is thus: start and end your speech with a double quotation mark, including the finishing punctuation inside the final mark. Use commas when inserting the “said” designation.

That sounds simple enough, but there is more to writing dialog. You don't want to begin or end every sentence with “Bob said” and “Fred replied”. Your dialog will be stilted if you create a beginning phrase for your character every time he or she speaks, so that the comma falls neatly into an opening for you. Long sentences without speech attribution may confuse your reader if they can't figure out which character is talking.

As with many writing style problems, variety will improve your piece. You can find opportunities to skip specifying the speaker altogether, when the story makes it clear without your help. Begin some sentences with a speech tag and find places to insert the tag mid-sentence in others. Put the tag at the end of short sentences, either in the middle of a speech or when the character only has something short to say.

If you find your character giving a speech, the quote may extend over two or ten paragraphs. When you start a new paragraph without ending a quote, leave the closing quotation mark off the last sentence of the paragraph. Begin the next paragraph with a quotation mark. Continue this method until your source or character has has their say, then close the quotation.

You can emphasize a particular part of the quote by placing the speech tag just after it. Should your character wish to declaim, “I know that the answer to your problem lies just over that hill,” and should you wish to emphasize how strongly he believes that he knows it, you could writing it as follows. “I know,” said Jack, “that the answer to your problem lies just over that hill.” Adding the pause cues your reader that Jack emphasized the separated portion.

Should your quotation trail off, an ellipsis suffices to finish the sentence before closing the quotes. If your rude characters interrupt each other or if the speaker has though better of saying something aloud, use a dash to indicate that the speech has been truncated. I've lost sight of the original question by now, so if I missed the mark here please let me know.




Good info. If you are so inclined check out my not for profit booklets at under the public service section. If you have the time and interest, please feel free to critque or edit. I give them away to any who ask and a professional look may make them better.

Lord Matt


That is a good round up. Refreshing some things I knew, clearing up points I had assumed but did not know and providing fresh knowledge too.

The emphasis by use of a pause is a good device. Looking back I think I do that without thinking about it but now I have it as knowledge rather than instinct I can use it more effectively. On that topic further question if I may - imagine the following speech:

"...blah blah blah and that's when Jessy said 'something cool' but we all _KNEW_ he was lying."

Aside from restructuring or cheating and have a second character interrupt how would one show the emphasis added to "knew"?

If you don't mind I might write up about dialog and rather than repeat what you say I'm just going to link to it.



I don't mind in the least. I've been considering your emphasis question for a couple of days. I lean toward italics for emphasis, myself. I find them to be effective without being intrusive, at least when used in moderation. I'll post if I find or think of a better method.