Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

images8qwh4j5gWhat’s the deal with direct quotes? Why can’t I get the punctuation right? You would think after five years, I would know what I was doing.

The novel I’m revising has a lot of dialogue, which results in the use of quotation marks and commas following tags(I think).

I’m sure this is elementary to many of my readers, but I base most of my writing on concepts that I’m struggling with. I like to think that I’m not the only person who hesitates and second guesses when it comes to something as simple as writing dialogue.

During my research on this subject, something jumped out at me that I never really thought about before. The lights came on.

What was my biggest problem with quotes and the use of punctuation? I was treating quotes with tags and quotes without tags the same. I also wasn’t sure what to do when a quote ended with punctuation other than a comma.

When a quote ends in a comma and is followed by a dialogue tag, you use a comma.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, wishing he would just leave.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, “but I want to.” **The second part of the quote did not begin with capitalization because it follows a comma and is a continuation of the first quote.

When a quote ends with an exclamation point or question mark, the dialogue tag that follows ends with a period.

“I can’t go with you!” she said. She wished he would just leave.

“Who are you kidding?” he asked. “You can’t run.”

If the quote ends in an action/verbal phrase, it is not a dialogue tag and should not be treated as such. This was a concept I failed to grasp, and I would struggle trying to figure out were to put the comma.

“I can’t go with you.” She pushed past him and headed toward the door.

You have to focus when writing dialogue. You not only have to concentrate on the wording, to ensure it is moving your story forward, you also have to get the punctuation right. Slow down and take your time. Dialogue is complicated and can’t be rushed.

-Jan R






Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

They Are Only Tags-Really?

dialoguetagtotalsAt this point in the game, you probably know what a dialogue tag is. It is a phrase placed at the end of a quote to identify the speaker. It should mimic speech’s natural rhythm and make long dialogue-runs digestible.

When using dialogue tags, it is  recommended that you keep it simple. There is nothing wrong with the word ‘said’.  Don’t give in to the urge to use every big word you know. If you do, you will end up with a big clunky mess. The wrong tag can overshadow the words spoken and draw your reader out of the story.


  • “You hit my car!” she screamed.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he groaned.
  • “But you ran the red light!” She expostulated.
  • “I know-I’m sorry,” he stammered.

Sorry about the bullets, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I think you get the point though. Could you imagine reading an entire book written this way? I would go nuts.

This example shows how tags can effect your story by slowing down the pace and overshadowing the dialogue. I was hesitating after every tag and imagining the characters going through the emotions.  I couldn’t help myself. And what was with expostulating? Somebody had their thesaurus open 🙂

When you use the words ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, they are so familiar to your reader that they blur into the background and become invisible. This allows the dialogue itself to come to the forefront. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear who’s speaking. Overuse of tags can be just as annoying as using the wrong tag.images9d0tdr1t


  • “You hit my car!” she said.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he said.
  • “But you ran the red light!”
  • “I know-I’m sorry.”

I hope you thought this example read much smoother than the first. It didn’t distract from what was being said, and you weren’t focusing on the dialogue tags themselves.

There is so much information on dialogue tags. I’m only scratching the surface with this blog.

I’m not saying that you can’t use emotion in a tag, sometimes it’s necessary. It helps the reader understand the character’s feelings or reactions to a situation.  I just wanted to emphasize the importance of balance and focus.

While they are only tags, they play an important role in the mechanics of your story and can lead to some major mistakes if not used appropriately.

-Jan R


They Are Only Tags-Really?