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Interesting video on dialogue interpunction

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Hi all! Now, I hope this will work, I want to share a Youtube video with you all that I found extremely helpful and informative on how to apply proper dialogue punctuation in a story. I hope you will find it just as useful!

The mentioned cheat sheet in the video is included below:

How to Punctuate Dialogue

Cheat Sheet


Commas with Dialogue Tags

Place the comma inside the ending double quotation marks. Do not capitalize the dialogue tag that follows, which is a phrase that features a subject (e.g., he, she, they, the captain) and a speech-related verb like “said” or “whispered.” 

“I’m trying my best,” he said.

This dialogue tag remains uncapitalized when paired with a question mark or exclamation point. Don’t include a comma after these forms of punctuation.

“Are you going to do it?” she asked.

“Yes, I will!” he shouted.

If the tag comes before the dialogue itself, the comma goes after the tag.

She said, “You should really pay attention to commas.”

If the tag interrupts the dialogue and the character continues their sentence, then a comma appears inside the end quotation as normal. A comma is also used for the end of the tag to indicate that the sentence continues.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I’m going to try.”

However, if the second phrase is a new sentence (indicated by a capital letter), then the dialogue tag should end in a period.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I’m going to try.”


Action Beats

Remember that actions aren’t dialogue tags. As such, they need to be formatted as separate sentences with a capital letter.

“I forgot your name. Sorry.” He shrugged.

She laughed. “It’s not a big deal.”

Actions that interrupt dialogue are formatted with em dashes outside the dialogue without commas.

“I forgot your name, so”—he shrugged—“sorry about that.”

Often Acceptable Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags feature speech-related verbs. Actions like “sighed,” “trailed off,” “laughed,” and “giggled” are typically treated as separate sentences. “Said,” “replied,” and “asked” are fine to use frequently as dialogue tags, but below are other options that can be used occasionally.








chimed in






















went on




Direct Address

Use a comma with the name, nickname, or role of a person when another character is addressing them in dialogue.

“Hey, Diane.”

“What’s up, bro?”

“Mr. Anderson, we need you to come with us.”


Interrupted Speech

Whenever a character cuts off another character mid-sentence, or a character stops talking abruptly, use an em dash.

“What the—” he began.

“It’s not what it looks like,” she said.

Speech that trails off can end in an ellipsis.

“I have no idea what happened . . .” He trailed off.


Quotes within Quotes

If a character is quoting someone else, or they’re reading text aloud, use single quotes within the double quotation marks.

“The note says, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.’”

Single quotes can also be used for “air quotes” indicating sarcasm within dialogue:

“I guess he thinks he’s ‘all that,’ huh?”

Within the narrative itself, though, you would use the standard quotation marks.

She had mentioned something about “taking her time.”



If the same character keeps talking across paragraphs, leave off the quotation mark at the end of the paragraph, and include another quotation mark at the start of the next paragraph. Only use the ending quotation mark once they’ve finished their monologue. These open quotation marks signal a continuation by the same speaker. Here’s an example from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee:

[opening quotation mark] “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal— there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal. [no ending quotation mark]

[opening quotation mark] “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.” [ending quotation mark]


Summary of my tips for punctuating dialogue:

  • If a tag comes after the dialogue, a comma goes inside the quotation mark.

  • Don’t capitalize dialogue tags when they follow the dialogue (e.g., she said, they asked).

  • If a tag comes before the dialogue, a comma goes after the tag, outside the quotation.

  • Omit dialogue tags where possible.

  • Treat actions as separate sentences.

  • Add variety by using action beats instead of dialogue tags.

  • Draw unique action beats from the specific scene setting rather than relying only on basic body language.

  • “Said” is not dead, and you can use other dialogue tags in moderation, if they add to the volume or tone.

  • Use em dashes for interrupted speech.

  • Use ellipses for speech that trails off.

  • Semicolons and colons should appear sparingly in dialogue.

  • If you’re quoting something within dialogue, use single quotation marks.

  • Character monologues include open quotes (but not closed quotes) for each new paragraph.

  • Break the conventions when you want, but know why you’re doing it and understand that some readers might put your book down because of it.

  • Be patient with yourself as you learn new skills. You won’t catch everything the first time—that’s the purpose of learning to self-edit.

Edited by WritersBlock404
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17 hours ago, WritersBlock404 said:

em dash

Very good, I do all that when writing and ignore the school of thought which dictates only use he said, she said, nothing else is needed. However, my word processor does not have an em dash so I use ...

  • Like 2
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