Tuesday Two-Minute Writing Tip – How to Punctuate Dialogue

Got two minutes? Then check out this week’s quick tip ~ 

Hello and welcome…I am a freelance editor and an editor for The Wild Rose Press, as well as an author. I often struggle with my own writing, and I have found that sometimes, a little reminder of ways to improve the process can be helpful, so, I like to share these moments of brilliance with others :). But, in this busy world of ours, who has time for pages and pages of writing tips? That’s why I’ve condensed mine down to quick flashes you can read in (approximately) two minutes. Enjoy…


Disclaimer: All of my tips are suggestions, and are only my opinion. And, for the most part, there are exceptions when going against my advice will make your story read better. Take what works, leave the rest.

A quick lesson on punctuating dialogue…

Punctuation belongs inside quotation marks

When an attribution is used, such as ‘said’ ‘asked’ ‘exclaimed’ etc, use a comma and lower case following the quotation mark:

“You are driving me crazy,” she said.

If an action follows the dialogue, use a period and capitalize the first word:

“You are driving me crazy.” She clenched her fists.

An em-dash is for interruptions or abruptly cut off dialogue:

“You are driving me—“

“Don’t!” He held up a hand. “Don’t say another word.”

An ellipses is used when trailing off:

“You are driving me…” She let her words fade. What was the use? He never listened anyway.

If you have dialogue interrupted by a thought, or an aside, use em-dashes outside the quotation marks.

“You are driving me crazy”—she wished she had a nickel for every time they’d had this argument—“and I don’t know how much more I can take.”

Please, please, please, always keep a speaker’s dialogue within the same paragraph, but start a new paragraph for a different speaker.


“You are driving me crazy.” Martha shook her head.

“I don’t know how much more I can take.” She dropped heavily into the chair.

“Martha, please, I’m sorry,” Drake said.


“You are driving me crazy.” Martha shook her head. “I don’t know how much more I can take.” She dropped heavily into the chair.

“Martha, please, I’m sorry,” Drake said.


“You are driving me crazy.” Martha shook her head. “Martha, please, I’m sorry,” Drake said.


“You are driving me crazy.” Martha shook her head.

“Martha, please, I’m sorry,” Drake said.

It is acceptable to have dialogue by the same speaker before you have it by another speaker, as long as it is broken up by some kind of action and you make it clear the same person is speaking again. For example:

“You are driving me crazy.” Martha shook her head.

Drake filled his glass with scotch, keeping his back to her.

“I don’t know how much more I can take.” She dropped heavily into the chair.

Multiple paragraphs of dialogue by the same speaker: Do not use a close quote at the end of the first paragraph, or the following paragraphs, until you get to the last one, then you will use a close quote: (This is from my short story, “Caster’s Unfriendly Ghost” – the other examples are not from a story :))

“Let me save us some time. I died in a plane crash a year ago, you came to my funeral. You haven’t seen or spoken to my wife since. I, however, have been keeping an eye on her. She’s about to make a huge mistake, and I need your help to keep that from happening.

“I’m sure you’ll help me because, in spite of the fact that you pushed the two of us together, you care about Emily, and you don’t want to see her hurt.” Joey moved toward him, and Caster stepped back. “Before we proceed, though, I apparently have to make you see that this is real, that I’m here. Pinch yourself.”

 If this had gone on for more than two paragraphs, you would use an open quote at the beginning of each paragraph, but only a closing quote at the end of the last.

Using character names in dialogue (and, please, do so sparingly), always use a comma before and/or after the name:

“You are driving me crazy, Drake.” Martha shook her head.

“Martha, please, I’m sorry,” Drake said.

Please, be kind to your editors, save them time and spare them headaches by learning to use punctuation correctly.

Until next time…happy writing!


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2 minute writing tip final

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I am releasing an e-book with a collection of Two-Minute Tips I have shared on my blog. Now, you can have them in one convenient place for easy reference. Pre-Order price is 99¢ – Regular price will be $2.99.


*** If you would like to send me a few sample pages (around 7500 words or so, even though I will not edit that many on the blog. It just gives me more to choose from) for me to edit and share on an upcoming blog post, please do so in the body of an email to AliciaMDean@aol.com. Please use the subject line: “Blog Submission” This is for published or unpublished authors. In the email, please include whether you would like me to use your name or keep it anonymous, and whether or not you would like me to include any contact info or buy info for your books. Also, you can let me know if you would like for me to run my edits by you before posting on the blog. Please keep in mind, this is for samples to use for blog posts. I will not edit or use samples from all the submissions I receive, but I will use as many as possible. 


*** Find the Magic and the book I use for examples in FTM, Without Mercy, are both on sale for 1.50 each. Click HERE for Find the Magic and HERE for Without Mercy ***


How to write a novel? That is the question. There are probably as many answers to that question as there are people who ask it.

Wanting to write and actually doing it are two very different things. I am well acquainted with the sometimes grueling process of churning out a story. Over the years, I have tried many methods for creating and completing manuscripts, and have tweaked and honed it down to a workable (for me) process.

Using specific examples from one of my own novels, Without Mercy, I share my method in this mini how to book. The first eight steps actually deal with plotting while the last two are designed to help expand your outline into a well-developed draft. There is no one, perfect way to create a story, but there will be a method, or methods that work for you. I’m not sure if this is the one, but it works for me. Only you can decide if it also works for you. Fingers crossed that it does!

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Filed under For Writers, Promo Tips, Tips from an Editor

5 responses to “Tuesday Two-Minute Writing Tip – How to Punctuate Dialogue

  1. coryellsusan

    Thanks. Now, a question. If you use an ellipsis (…) which appears to end a complete thought, do you use four dots instead of three? (….)? Ex: “I really wish you would stop….” I shook my head. “Stop talking, for once.”


  2. Another good post! I have to admit that I didn’t know about paragraph punctuation in dialogue. My characters must not speak in paragraphs much. I think I interrupt with actions a lot. Hmmm…now I want to go back through all of my books and see if my editors caught any mistakes I’ve made. Thanks for sharing, Alicia!


  3. Love this line, Alicia. “Please, be kind to your editors….” 🙂 In my head I’m hearing a tone of desperation, maybe a tiny whimper or two. Here’s hoping your plea is heard! Fantastic lesson, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Diane Burton

    I always get confused on how to interject an action in the middle of a spoken sentence. I never knew where to put the m dash (inside the quote marks or outside. Thanks.

    Something that drives me crazy is using an action verb in place of a dialogue tag. Example: “I don’t believe you,” she snorted. You can’t snort and speak at the same time. Same with laughing.

    Hissed is another bugaboo. You can’t hiss without words that end in “s”.


  5. Alicia, you are the best! I learn something new every time. 🙂 For instance, I never knew that when the speaker has a thought in the middle of her sentence, the em dash goes outside the quotation marks. I think I either avoided the instance altogether, or I italicized the thought. Thanks so much!
    Kimberly Keyes


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