Ready for part 2? This part can be challenging for some writers. One of the reasons I know as much about it as I do about dialogue is because of the great Tristi Pinkston. She is THE grammar and punctuation guru. I am going to give you a brief overview, but Tristi has an amazing book that goes into a lot more detail about punctuation. You should check it out. And that’s what we’re talking about today. Punctuation. Most specifically how to punctuate dialogue. It’s not as straight forward as people seem to think.
Your character needs to say something. How do you get him to do that properly?
“Hello,” he said.
Notice the comma after Hello. That isn’t the end of the sentence. The entire thing is one sentence. That’s because the dialogue is followed by something called a “tag”. Anytime you are describing HOW a character says something, it’s a tag. He: exclaimed, said, replied, murmured, etc. In that case, you use a comma.
“I believe,” He mumbled, “that commas are annoying.”
Another instance of a tag. This time there is a comma in two places because the sentence isn’t complete.
Here’s the next way to do this.
“Just a moment.” He leaned down to grab the bear.
This time, we’re not describing HOW the character said something, we’re describing what he did while, or after, he said it. This is called a beat and you do NOT use a comma. Instead the two are different sentences. If you try to say them as though they are one, it doesn’t sound right, does it?
“I can’t reach it.” She stretched her arm through the bars in vain, trying to get the key. “It’s too far away.”
Another instance of a beat. Still three sentences.
So? Do tags and beats make sense?
One more thing. When asking a question, there are a few important things to know. A lot of people ask if the question mark goes at the end of the sentence when using ‘he asked’. The answer is no. It doesn’t make sense because then “he asked” becomes the question. Also it sounds weird. However, and this is the weird part, it is STILL all one sentence. So the ‘he’ isn’t capitalized. Like so:
“What is this?” he asked.
Notice how the question mark is inside the quotation marks, but he isn’t capitalized. That’s the right way to do a tag with a question.
With a beat, it’s easy. Just do it the same way as a normal beat.
Now for a new question; When do you need beats and tags? Not every single time a character says something. In fact, I’d advise against that. It annoys me when ‘he said’, ‘she said’ is repeated constantly.
“Hello,” he said.
“Good morning,” she answered.
“How are you today?” he asked.
“I’m fantastic,” she said.
See how that can get monotonous very quickly? It’s okay to leave out tags and beats. I even leave them out the majority of the time. But you shouldn’t do it ALL the time. I know in my last Dialogue post I encouraged you to try to do this, and that’s great for an exercise, but in a real book, don’t do it. It doesn’t matter how different your characters are, it will be hard for the reader to follow without some tags and beats. You may be wondering what the perfect balance is. You are going to have to discover it for yourself. Not very helpful, but true none the less.
So, I hope this was helpful and I’ll see you next time when I introduce the next part of RIPTIDE!