How to Punctuate Dialogue

double quotation marks, how to punctuate dialogue

Is it a struggle for you knowing how to punctuate dialogue? How to punctuate dialogue correctly eludes a lot of writers. Yet once you know the rules, it is straightforward.

Quotation marks, speech marks and quotes

Quotation marks are also referred to as ‘speech marks’ or ‘quotes’. I’ll use the term ‘quotation marks’ here so as not to confuse it with the other meanings of ‘quote’.

Quotation marks are either single – ‘ or double – “

In Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, it seems more common for writers to use single quotation marks for dialogue, while in the United States, double quotation marks are more common. Either is correct – consistency is the key.

Opening and closing quotation marks

When you use quotation marks in dialogue, you use opening quotation marks – ‘ – to begin the dialogue, and closing quotation marks – ’ – to end the dialogue.

Do you always need to use quotation marks in dialogue?

The English language is very flexible and readers are not too fussed about whether you do or don’t use quotation marks in dialogue. However, most writers do, because it clearly separates narrative from dialogue. So if you don’t use quotation marks, then you need to make clear to the reader in some other way when you are switching between dialogue and narrative.

Comma to introduce speech

When you have a dialogue tag – she said/he said or similar – introducing a character’s speech, you need a comma before the opening quotation marks.

Example:

Jenna asked, ‘Can I go to the movies with you tonight?’

Comma after speech and before dialogue tag

When the dialogue finishes and you are using a dialogue tag – he said/she said or similar – as long as the dialogue doesn’t end in a question mark or an exclamation mark, you use a comma before the end quotation marks.

Example:

‘I’m going to the movies with you tonight,’ Jenna said.

But:

‘Can I go to the movies with you tonight?’ she asked.

‘I’m not going to the movies with you tonight!’ she said.

In the above two sentences, you only use a question mark or an exclamation mark, not a comma as well.

You’ll note that the first word of the dialogue tag – she – needs to be in lower case (small letters), as the sentence is not considered finished until after the dialogue tag.

However, sometimes a separate sentence follows the dialogue, as in the example below, so that sentence needs to begin with a capital letter:

‘I’m going to the movies with you tonight.’ It was clear that Jenna was not going to take no for an answer.

Punctuation falls inside closing quotation marks

Just keep in mind that before using closing quotation marks, you need to finish punctuating the sentence – with a comma, a full stop, an exclamation mark, or a question mark – just as you’d do if the sentence had no speech.

Examples:

I looked at James and said, ‘Your glasses really suit you.’

Here, you can see that the full stop comes before the closing quotation marks.

‘Can you send me that file today please?’

The question mark comes before the closing quotation marks.

‘How dare you!’

The exclamation mark comes before the closing quotation marks.

More than one person or character speaking

When two or more characters are speaking, make sure you have a paragraph break for each new speaker. This makes it clear to your readers which character is speaking.

Quoted text within quotation marks

When a character is quoting another character or person, put the words they are quoting within double quotation marks nested inside the character’s speech.

Example:

Jenna said, ‘Mum always used to say to me, “Be careful who you associate with”, and I’ve always taken notice of that.’

Note that the closing quotation marks of the quoted speech go before the comma.

Dialogue plus dialogue tag plus dialogue

When you have your character begin a sentence, then interrupt their speech with a dialogue tag, then resume their speech after the dialogue tag, this is how to punctuate the sentence correctly.

Example:

‘Your glasses really suit you,’ I said to James, ‘so I think you should wear them more often.’

You could also break it down into two sentences separated by a full stop:

‘Your glasses really suit you,’ I said to James. ‘You should wear them more often.’

Dialogue interrupted by an action or a thought

Example:

 ‘Your glasses really suit you’ – actually, I couldn’t take my eyes off him so I was just stalling so he’d keep talking with me – ‘and I think you should wear them more often.’

‘Your glasses really suit you’ – Penny walked past and threw him a come-hither look – ‘so I think you should wear them more often.’

Multiple paragraphs of dialogue by the same speaker

Characters sometimes have a lot to say for themselves! While it’s wise not to tax the reader’s patience by frequently having characters talk for several paragraphs, when their speech is longer than, say, five or six lines, it’s a good idea to break it into two paragraphs. The rule is to use an opening quotation mark in the second paragraph to indicate the same character is still speaking, and to end the quotation marks after the paragraph in which the character finishes speaking.

Example:

‘I want to see you every day of my life from now until forever and I hope you feel the same way. Do you know when I first fell in love with you? It was that day at the market when that little kid fell down the steps and you rushed to help him up.

‘There was so much tenderness in your eyes, it was all I could do to stop myself from proposing to you then and there. You have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.’

Anything else you’d like to know about punctuating dialogue?

Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

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Is your Book Character-Driven or Plot-Driven?

First of all, what does character-driven and plot-driven mean?!

Illustration of a confused person looking at different options to represent the choice between character-driven and plot-driven stories
What do character-driven and plot-driven mean?

Plot-driven

In a plot-driven story, the action is the focus of the writing, not the character. The character tends to be static; there is little character development. Plot-driven stories are often genres like horror, action, science fiction. An example of a plot-driven story is Dan Brown’s mystery thriller The Da Vinci Code. The story focuses not on the development of protagonist Robert Langdon or focus character Sophie Neveu but on their search for clues in an attempt to solve a mystery.

Character-driven

Character-driven stories focus on the character, the character’s emotional depth and the transformation the character experiences. A famous example of a character-driven story is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The central characters, children Scout and Jem Finch, develop an awareness of racism and its implications when their lawyer father Atticus defends Tom Robinson. They also ‘grow up’ (develop) in their understanding of their neighbour Boo Radley when he ultimately saves them from the story’s villain.

NY Book Editors  explain it like this: ‘Whereas plot-driven stories focus on a set of choices that a character must make, a character-driven story focuses on how the character arrives at a particular choice. The plot in a character-driven story is usually simple and often hyper-focused on the internal or interpersonal struggle of the character(s).’

Do you write character-driven or plot-driven stories?

As writers, our style naturally tends towards either character-driven or plot-driven stories. What’s important is to get the balance right – because both plot and character are necessary!

This means becoming aware of how we approach storytelling – that is, whether we write character-driven or plot-driven stories – and then consciously making a choice to keep the balance right between character and plot.

Problems of imbalance

Why is it necessary to have a balance between character and plot? Most of us write because we love writing. Beyond that, we write so that readers will want to read our books. We’re writing for an audience, ultimately, and good storytelling engages our audience through to the end of the story. This means we need to find the happy balance between character and plot.

Losing the plot

Stories that focus so much on character that they ‘lose the plot’ risk making their characters yawningly boring. A character may be appealing, intelligent and good-looking but if they are given no task to fulfil in the story – no conflict they have to face, so no growth and no development – then there’s unlikely to be great reader engagement with the story. 

Too much focus on plot

A fast-paced page-turner with heaps of action and heart-stopping scenes that leave the reader breathless, but that star one-dimensional characters, will be unsatisfying to the reader. One-dimensional means the characters lack depth, they do not learn or grow – they are boring.

How to nail it

If you’re struggling with getting the balance between character and plot right, these ideas may help:

Analyse movies

When you’re watching a movie, follow it more closely than you might usually and work out whether it’s character-driven or plot-driven.

Read

Read excellent books written by excellent writers. You can’t go wrong with the classics of worldwide literature, and if you’re unsure, a quick Google search will reveal them. Your local librarians are a good source of knowledge on first-rate writers and books.

A couple of examples of books where the author got the balance between character and plot just right are:

Do a writing exercise

Challenge yourself to come up with an interesting situation asking a ‘what-if’ question, like Stephen King suggests (see below). Think up your main character, and then write a scene or a couple of pages. You never know; from these humble beginnings an award-winning story may be born!

Take courses

Many writers’ centres all over the English-speaking world now offer online courses in many aspects of creative writing. Search online to see what’s on offer for 2019.

What Stephen King says

Let’s finish this discussion with what storytelling master Stephen King says in his book On Writing: A memoir of the craft. He says that he distrusts plot, putting forward two valid reasons: ‘… our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning’. He also believes that ‘plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible’. What is needed is a strong situation. He proposes that the ‘most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question’, and gives examples of his own books: ‘What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot). What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)’ (© 2000 Stephen King).

Acknowledgements

Australian Writers’ Centre, Character-driven versus plot-driven stories, 2014.
https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/character-driven-versus-plot-driven-stories/. Accessed 14 Jan 2019

Jennifer Kenning, How to be your own Script Doctor, 2006, the Continuum International Publishing Group, New York. Page 83: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=WT4VZC4lKiQC&pg=PA83&lpg=PA83&dq=Character+driven+vs+plot+driven+stories&source=bl&ots=biInlzdkNQ&sig=MeS9yKpo4drzEEIcC0_JBKBRws4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjFtpTCvuzfAhUFKo8KHcQtA084lgEQ6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Character%20driven%20vs%20plot%20driven%20stories&f=false. Accessed 14 Jan 2019

Stephen King, On Writing: A memoir of the craft, 2000, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

NY Book Editors, Character-Driven Vs. Plot Driven: Which Is Best, nd.
https://nybookeditors.com/2017/02/character-driven-vs-plot-driven-best/. Accessed 14 Jan 2019

The Guardian, How to Write, 2000. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/oct/01/stephenking.sciencefictionfantasyandhorror. Accessed 15 Jan 2019.


Gail Tagarro, Accredited Editor (AE)


Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may think you need a manuscript appraisal for further development. Ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!


I invite you to download my self-published eBook – see cover below. Click here to download. Enhance your writing technique and skills! Learn how easy it is to self-publish your book!

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The Incorrigible Optimists Club

the incorrigible optimists club

A Book Review

I had never heard of The Incorrigible Optimists Club or the Algerian-born writer Jean-Michel Guenassia. I came across it in the library when I was selecting books for my Christmas holiday reading. The original is written in French and I read the English translation by Euan Cameron.

It is quite untrue that covers don’t sell books. I was drawn to the cover and then I was hooked after reading the blurb and the first page. (It wasn’t until later that I noticed the border design of the book bizarrely matched that of my laptop case.)

I love long works of quality fiction, especially for Christmas holiday reading, and at 624 pages, this one fulfilled my craving.


A Highly Recommended Read!

The Incorrigible Optimists Club is one of those special books that’s hard to set aside when you have to do necessary things, like cook meals, or sleep.

It’s hard to believe that The Incorrigible Optimists Club is this author’s debut novel. Written against the backdrop of the Algerian War (the war for independence between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front 1954—1962), and the era of the Iron Curtain, the book offers no facile solutions to the issues raised. Neither does it excuse the terrible tragedies caused by politics and war. What’s more, the author manages to maintain an optimistic tone, and insert humour, despite the seriousness of some of the issues.

Paris 1959

The year is 1959, the place Paris. The story follows Michel Marin, a twelve-year-old compulsive reader and amateur photographer who’s a champion table football player at the local neighbourhood bistro.

But for his age, Michel has an extraordinary interest in the wider affairs of the world and a special empathy. He is drawn to a curtained-off area at the back of the bistro where a group of exiled Eastern European men gather to chat, play chess and smoke: the Incorrigible Optimists Club. As he is gradually accepted into their circle, he listens to their stories about their homelands before they fled to France, and becomes involved in their lives.

He forms a friendship with a Russian former doctor and expert chess player, Igor, who teaches Michel to play chess. He also becomes friends with another exile, Sacha, who is rigorously and aggressively denied access to the club, especially by Igor and another Russian, Leonid, whenever he dares show up. We do not learn until the end of the book why these two men hate him so much.

Michel becomes an important connection to the outside world for Sacha. In his turn, Sacha becomes a trusted sounding board for Michel’s teen angst in the absence of his father who has moved away from Paris when he and Michel’s mother, an aloof figure in Michel’s life, separate.

The club is also the occasional haunt of Jean Paul Sartre, French philosopher, writer and political activist, and Joseph Kessel, Argentinian-born French journalist and novelist. Many of the men in the club survive thanks to the generosity of Sartre and Kessel. The author drops these famous characters into his book as if he were telling the time of day, although the characters treat them with due reverence: “We gazed at him [Sartre] from a distance, slightly intimidated, feeling we were privileged witnesses of creativity in action, and even those who disliked him watched in silence…”

In the tense resolution of the story, Sacha’s strange rituals and the mysteries surrounding him are finally revealed in a way Michel could never have foreseen.


Jean-Michel Guenassia, The Incorrigible Optimists Club, 2014, Atlantic Books Ltd, London. Available through the Book Depository with free shipping.


Gail Tagarro, Editor (AE)


Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!


I invite you to download my self-published eBook – see cover below. Click here to download. Enhance your writing technique and skills! Learn how easy it is to self-publish your book!

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A PROFESSIONAL QUALIFICATION FOR EDITORS

Is there a Professional Qualification for Editors?

In Australia since 2008, yes, there is a professional qualification for editors. The name of the qualification is ‘Accredited Editor’.

What does it mean to be an Accredited Editor?

Editors who have passed the accreditation exam and become certified may use the pronominal ‘AE’ – e.g. Gail Tagarro, AE – to indicate their qualification.

Benchmark, credibility

The qualification is a benchmark for employers and clients. For editors, it provides credibility, and is a ‘reliable indicator of competence’ (IPEd).

I was very excited when a professional qualification for editors – an industry-standard qualification – was introduced. I knew it was going to be important for my future as an editor. Up until then, in Australia and New Zealand at least, there was no industry-accredited qualification available.

What Organisation Manages Editor Accreditation?

The Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) Accreditation Board has been responsible since 2005 for developing and implementing the accreditation scheme.

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First exam 2008

IPEd introduced the first accreditation exam in October 2008 across multiple locations in Australia. I sat it in Brisbane. At the time, it was paper-based (as it was for the next four exams). We used pencil and rubber, and I didn’t stop writing the whole time. By the end of the three hours, I thought my hand was going to drop off. My colleagues and I exited the exam room in a daze.

When I passed and received my certificate, I was euphoric.

On-screen exams

On-screen delivery of the accreditation exam happened for the first time in 2016. The next on-screen exam was in 2018. I was an invigilator both times. Exciting, slightly nail-biting times ensuring that before the exam and against the clock the PCs and Macs were set up and functioning correctly, and then explaining to the candidates how to answer the various types of questions.

Rigour

No walk in the park, the accreditation exam is a rigorous one. It stringently assesses editors’ knowledge and skills, and an 80% score is the minimum required in order to pass. While anyone can sit it, it’s recommended candidates have at least three years’ full-time editing experience. Even for experienced editors, it’s advisable to attend the workshops that IPEd and some of the state editing societies offer, and to work through sample exams. It’s also wise to do a lot of prior study, to prepare for questions slightly outside of our usual areas of expertise.

Renewal of Accreditation Every Five Years

Once qualified, Accredited Editors cannot rest on their laurels and calmly watch the world go by for the rest of their working career.

Every five years, AEs must apply for renewal of accreditation. This involves completing a lengthy form to provide proof of ongoing work in the editing profession, and evidence of continuing professional development.accredited editor Brisbane, accredited editor Australia, accredited editor Gold Coast, accredited editor Queensland, what is an accredited editor, professional qualifications for editors

Yippee, my Accreditation was just Renewed!

This is the real reason I wrote this blog! To skite (a word one never sees these days…) that I applied for reaccreditation in December 2018, and last week my application for renewal was approved!

I’ve now been an Accredited Editor for 10 years.

 

A professional qualification for editors—IPEd Accredited Editor (AE)

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Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!


I invite you to download my self-published eBook – see cover below. Click here to download. Enhance your writing technique and skills! Learn how easy it is to self-publish your book!

book cover gail tagarro author