Thursday, August 3, 2017

How to Correctly Punctuate Dialogue for Novels

Continue to read an excerpt or click here for the full article.
Writing dialogue is messy. Am I right? 
It has so many rules, it makes me wish I’d gone with my original plan in life. I’d intended to become an all-in-one supermodel-psychologist/part-time medical researcher. What? I thought I wanted to save people, discover things, and change the world wearing a tiara and killer heels. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I just wanted to sit on my couch drinking coffee and writing all day while wearing no pants. 
Plus, apparently my status as a supermodel got cut short (no pun intended) by my lack of height. And love of cake. Also, had I continued studying psychology, I’d have been forced to stop listening to the voices in my head . . . and that was SO not cool. The thing was . . . I didn’t know how to properly punctuate any of my internal convos. And that became a bigger problem when I decided to take all my imaginary dialogues and turn them into novels. You know what that made me look like? An amateur writer. Which I was, but that’s neither here nor there. 
Luckily, I like to research so I went after those punctuation rules like a beast. I remember reading one analogy saying that all those interesting symbols are like traffic signs in the writer’s world. And they truly are. They help make our writing clear by adding some much-needed structure. But which symbol goes where—and why? Well, I’m here to assist with that.
Here are some rules for punctuating dialogue:

Yep. Had to start with the obvious . . . because why not?
*Use quotation marks to begin and end direct quotation.
*If needed, use commas to separate a direct quotation from the dialogue tag.
*Like so:
        “Ray’s birthday cake was delicious,” I said.
        “Ray’s birthday cake was delicious.”
*When a character is directly quoting another person. Use regular quotation marks for the main character’s dialogue, but single quotes for the quote-within-a-quote.*Like so:
       “Then he told me, ‘You shouldn’t have more cake.’ I couldn’t believe it!” Kat said.
*If there’s an indirect dialogue, it won’t require any quotation marks.*Like so:
       Kat said she liked cake.
*Dialogue with tag and action. Follow the dialogue with a comma before the quotation mark, then the dialogue tag followed by another comma, and then the action after that.*Like so:
       “I hate diets,” she said, thinking of coffee and cake.
*Or add the action and the tag at the beginning of the dialogue sentence.*Like so:
       Thinking of coffee and cake, she said, “I hate diets.”
*BONUS: never use quotation marks for thoughts, even if it’s to indicate inner dialogue. My advice is to use italics instead. The reader will know our awesome character is talking to him/herself. 😉
*Always capitalize the first word of a dialogue.*Like so:
      “This diet is going to kill me,” Kat said.
       Kat said, “This diet is going to kill me.”
       Kat frowned. “This diet is going to kill me.”
*If you’re splitting the dialogue with a tag, the second half of . . . That's the simple stuff . . . 

For the rest of this post, which includes: dialogue capitalization, commas and periods, questions and exclamation marks, spacing, paragraphs and MORE . . . please click here.

*Originally posted on


  1. Know all that.
    Your reasoning for your choice of profession made me chuckle.

    1. I'm so not surprised you know these rules, you take pride in your work! It's why you're a bestseller! ;)

  2. Good post. I need to do more TIP TUESDAYS on punctuation. I had to give up my supermodel career because I fell off my high heels.


    1. LOL you always crack me up, Janie! And yes, more TIP TUESDAYS, please!!!! <3