Friday, August 10, 2012

Grammar Day: Dialogue Tags

Grammar is a tricky subject. With all the rules and exceptions, how can a person keep track? I can't answer that, but I can help with little pieces here and there.

Today's Topic: Dialogue Tags

If you've read any of my stories, you know I enjoy using dialogue. Formatting aside, my first drafts tend to look more like scripts than novels. (I've tried writing scripts, though, and couldn't do it--or simply wasn't motivated to. Go figure.)

Spelling: Both dialogue and dialog are accepted (that is, they're both in the dictionary), but dialogue is more widely used in North America. Since I'm in North America too, that's what I use.

What's the point? Dialogue tags help the reader keep track of who the speaker is. Imagine a book where none of the dialogue had tags. While each character ideally has their own way of talking, that would still be a confusing read!

Punctuation: The punctuation of a dialogue tag depends on where it lands.

In the middle of a sentence, the tag is enclosed with commas.
"She really enjoyed it," Jane said, "but thought the roller coasters were scary."
When the tag comes at the end of a sentence, whether or not it ends that character's section of dialogue, it is preceded by a comma, but finished with a period.
"I saw that before," Frank said. "It was okay."
"That is one thing I don't miss," she said.
Capitalization: If you're continuing a sentence after the dialogue tag (as in the first example), the next word of dialogue is not capitalized. Also, if the dialogue tag is 'he' or 'she' instead of a name, it is also not capitalized.

Any Exceptions? Sometimes you'll want to end a dialogue with something besides a comma (which is equal to a period). Go ahead and do this. Sparingly. (Notice the capitalization is the same.)
"I heard that!" she said.
"Did you know about this?" he asked.
You can also use action in place of a dialogue tag. This lets the reader know who is talking, while giving a clearer picture of the scene. In this case, the dialogue ends with a period and the action begins a new sentence.
"They told me you weren't coming." She turned a page of her book in disinterest.
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