There were several discussions on the proper use of dialog at the SFWC this year. Many new authors struggle with it. I will be sure to put this on my editing checklist! Good advice.

Ellen Brock

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The vast majority of writers make errors when punctuating the dialog in their novels.  Many writers who make these errors think they have a firm grasp on dialog punctuation.

Though it probably won’t get you rejected by an agent or editor, incorrect punctuation can put them in a very nasty mood (the last thing you want when they’re handling your precious novel).

Commas

Commas are always used with dialog tags, whether they come before or after the dialog.  For example:

“Look at the dog,” he said. [RIGHT]

He said, “Look at the dog.” [RIGHT]

“Look at the dog.” He said.  [WRONG]

He said. “Look at the dog.” [WRONG]

If an exclamation point or question mark is used and the dialog tag comes after the dialog, then there should be no comma and the dialog tag should not be capitalized.  For example:

“Did you see the dog?” he asked. [RIGHT]

“Did…

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