We’ve all met that writer–that overly-confident, thinks-they-know-better-but-in-truth-is-amateur-at-best writer–who just doesn’t understand how writing dialog works. And then they ask you to be their editor, but every time you try to fix the consistent problem with their dialog writing, they refuse it and insist they’re doing it right. Maybe you’ve even been that writer at some point in your life–I certainly have–but I think just about everyone can agree, that writer is quite annoying to work with.

I can excuse a missing comma or a double space–that’s an accident. But if you’ve forgotten how the English language works (which is justifiable–English is so confusing even to me, a native English speaker), and for some reason can’t go open literally any book and see how to do it properly, then it’s time for a lesson in dialog writing–more specifically, punctuation.

You’re writing character dialog. Congrats, you’ve gotten this far! It’s an accomplishment to even have a character to write for, so good job. But now you’ve got the tedious task of making the dialog coherent and smooth. For your first garbage draft, obviously all rules go out the window–write the dialog any way you want, I don’t care, it’s a first draft. But when you’re going through that second, third, fourth draft; make sure to do so with a fine-toothed comb and remember to catch all those pesky dialog quirks.

You’re ending the sentence in I/He/She/They saidalways put a comma before the quotation mark. Why? The end of the character’s speaking line is not the end of the sentence. If you were to use a period instead of a comma, it would be two separate sentences, not at all related to each other–which, obviously, is not the case.
Wrong way:
“I just wanted to rest.” I said.
Right way:
“I just wanted to rest,” I said.

This, however, is not the case when there are two separate sentences of dialog in the same line. If you’re putting a descriptive phrase in between two dialog sentences, the descrpive phrase is the end of the first sentence, and the second dialog sentence is a separate sentence.
The character is saying:
“I was tired. I just wanted to rest.”
Wrong way:
“I was tired.” I replied, defensively. “I just wanted to rest.”
Wrong way:
“I was tired,” I replied, defensively, “I just wanted to rest.
Right way:
“I was tired,” I replied, defensively. “I just wanted to rest.”
Following so far? No? Too bad. Let’s keep going.

You’re writing inner thoughts: It’s a hard thing to do. Italicization can be confusing–when to use it, when to stop using it, what to italicize. But it should be formatted the same way as spoken dialog, as though it was being said out loud.
Wrong way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing. I thought.
Wrong way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing. I thought.
Wrong way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing, I thought.
Right way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing, I thought.

  • SIDE NOTE: The italicization does not end on the last letter. It ends on the last punctuation mark (in this case, the comma).

Same goes for continuing sentences.
Wrong way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing. I thought. I am trying to be very clear.
Wrong way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing. I thought. I am trying to be very clear.
Wrong way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing,
I thought, I am trying to be very clear.
Right way:
I hope this isn’t too confusing,
I thought. I am trying to be very clear.

So hopefully that helped a little bit? It likely made absolutely no sense, but if it did help you in any way, then I’m glad I could be of service. I’ll try to sum it up.
If you end in I/He/She/They said, you do not, under any circumstance, put a period before the quotation mark. THE WRONG EXAMPLE:
“This is the ending.” I said.
You always put a comma before the quotation mark if you are ending with I/He/She/They said. THE CORRECT EXAMPLE:
“This is the ending,” I said.

Good luck with your writing endeavors, and if you have any questions, let me know in the comments (or…something?).
-Fried Clam

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