Beginner Writing Tips #1 | Dialogue Punctuation

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I don’t know about you, but I love to write. I mostly write fanfiction, but the goal is to someday write something that I can have published.

I’ve been writing stories since I was a wee child and then I began to write fanfiction at 15. Back then my English was really really bad and I didn’t actually know much about the technicalities of writing (things like dialogue punctuation etc.). Needless to say my old fics on should never be read by anyone ever. Kill it with fire. 

In this “series” I’ll share some of my writing tips that will help your overall presentation. I also have these on my tumblr blog so if you should have stumbled upon this exact thing before rest assured it’s still me. This series will be quite basic and suitable for beginners, short and to the point. In other words, these are the things I wish I’d googled before I started to post my writing online.

Disclaimer: I am in no shape or form an expert. I’m doing this mostly because I love sharing tips. 

Sometimes these tips will be specifically aimed towards fanfiction writers.

 photo dialogue punctuation_zpsjwmg8a5t.pngThis is something a lot of people don’t think about, I definitely didn’t when I first started writing. But there are rules (these may vary depending on what language you’re writing in) and these rules are important to follow as it makes sure your writing flows and looks professional. 

Let’s first look at some incorrect ways of punctuating a piece of dialogue, and then the correct ways. 

a) “Nice to meet you”
b) “Nice to meet you” Jenny said.
c) “Nice to meet you.” Jenny said.
d) “Nice to meet you,” Jenny shook Bernard’s hand.
e) “Nice to meet you.” She said.
f) “Nice to meet you,” She said.
g) “Nice to meet you.” she said.

a) “Nice to meet you.”
b) “Nice to meet you,” Jenny said.
c) “Nice to meet you.” Jenny shook Bernard’s hand.
d) “Nice to meet you,” she said.
e) “Nice to meet you!” she said.
f) “How are you?” she asked.

There is a pattern here. Whenever you’re planning on using a dialogue tag (words like said, whispered, yelled, muttered, etc), there is a comma and the next word should not be capitalized. It’s one sentence. Even if the punctuation you use is a question mark or an exclamation point, it should be written using a comma if it’s followed by a dialogue tag (see 2 E and F). After a full stop you always capitalize the next word (2 A and C)

If a piece of dialogue ends with an ellipsis, don’t think of it like a full stop because it’s not. Write like this: “I don’t know…” she said. Note that there are three of them. Not two, not four, but three. 

If you want to mix it up a little, you can. The same format can get repetitive after a while, but remember not to overdo it either. Change it up when it feels natural to do so. 

Jenny said, “Nice to meet you.” Note the capitalized first word within the quotations when you do it like this.
“I’m not,” Bernard said, “a complete idiot.” This would indicate a short pause.
“I’m not an idiot,” he said. “I actually aced all my tests.” These are two separate sentences, and are thus treated as such, with a full stop instead of a comma unlike the example above.

Lastly, don’t be afraid of the word ‘said’! Don’t listen to your old English teachers with their long lists of alternatives for you to use instead. The more you avoid ‘said’ and use uttered, commented, murmured, exclaimed, questioned, encouraged (ETC ETC ETC) instead, the more distracting it becomes. All of these alternatives definitely have their place, but they should serve a function. Don’t just use them because you think you can’t use ‘said’. The dialogue should speak for itself. It can be redundant to write the following: “I don’t think so,” she disagreed. We already know from what she said that she disagrees.

I hope this was useful to some of you! I have a lot of fun writing these kinds of teaching snippets. Don’t be afraid to ask me questions in the comments 🙂

Have a nice day, everyone!


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