One of the most common mistakes I see in manuscripts submitted to us is errors in formatting of dialog. Where does punctuation go in dialog? What punctuation should I use when writing dialog? Should I use a comma or a period? And, the most common error, when do I capitalize words when I write dialog?
Following are 5 tips to help you avoid the red ink from your editor, when writing dialog.
Use a comma when you’re indicating who is saying dialog that follows directly after this sentence fragment. Examples:
Coco exclaimed, “I want more food!”
Although she had just been fed an hour ago, Coco said, “I want more food!”
Use a period, when there is a full sentence before the dialog, but it’s not a specific indicator of who’s talking. Example:
Coco ran quickly into the house. “All of this exercise is making me hungry. I want more food!”
Use double commas when the dialog sentence is broken up by the indicator of who is talking. Example:
“That tummy grumbling sound means,” Coco said looking pointedly at her master, “I want more food.”
Use double commas when the dialog is between the indicator of who is talking and the completion of the sentence. Example:
Coco said, “I want more food,” then looked at her owner expectantly.
Always capitalize the beginning of your dialog, unless it’s a continuation of a previous dialog snippet that has been broken up by an indication of who is speaking. Examples:
Kimberly shook her head at her dog and said, “You’re always hungry, Coco.”
“You, silly dog,” Kimberly laughed, “are going to eat me out of house and home!”
I know it can seem confusing, but use the examples above as a guideline. And, if you get stuck, feel free to post your dialog in the comments below, and we’ll be happy to help you sort it out!
Coco, the Always Hungry Dog