Last week I wrote about dialogue tags. They’re a pretty simple device used to keep straight who’s saying what.
But what about punctuation? Is there a comma? No comma? Where does the comma go?
Punctuation can be a sticking point for many writers because it feels too technical, like science to an artistic mind. So, here are a few simple guidelines for punctuating your dialogue tags.
Comma Between the Dialogue and the Tag
If there’s no other punctuation between the material inside the quotation marks and the dialogue tag, you’ll need to insert a comma, whether the tag comes before or after the dialogue.
“I’ll be home by five,” he said.
He said, “I’ll be home by five.”
Replacing Other Punctuation
You’ll notice in the first example above, if the dialogue tag weren’t there, that comma would actually be a period.
“I’ll be home by five.”
Another point to note is that the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
When ending the bit of dialogue with a stronger piece of punctuation, like a question mark or an exclamation point, you would keep the original punctuation and omit the comma. The other punctuation clearly marks the separation and adding a comma on top of that would make it look cluttered.
Question marks and exclamation points convey specific meaning that would be lost if replaced with a comma, while periods only signal a separation between parts of speech.
“Look out!” she cried.
“Where did you go?” he said.
However, if the dialogue tag comes first, you’ll still need a comma after the tag.
She cried, “Look out!”
He said, “Where did you go?”
Rebecca has a passion for helping you fill the world with great literature and making sure said literature doesn't get passed over for the lack of a little editing.