As a fiction editor, I’m often asked about the most common writing mistakes I see. It seems trivial, but incorrectly punctuated dialogue can make readers abandon an otherwise good book.
Luckily, you can master this skill with practice and patience. Here, I’ll cover the difference between dialogue tags and action beats, where to shove your commas, what types of verbs to use, and the various kinds of punctuation that might appear in dialogue.
I’m using the guidelines from The Chicago Manual of Style, which is the preferred style guide for fiction publishing in the United States. Keep in mind that these are the US English style conventions, which use double quotation marks for dialogue.
As always, the British play by different rules and often use single quotes, while other cultures use dashes to indicate dialogue instead.
Older stories by the likes of Hemingway won’t always follow these guidelines, but these are the rules for twenty-first-century commercial fiction. And some modern authors leave out quotation marks altogether as an artistic choice.
Language is malleable and forever changing.
I’ve also created a short cheat sheet with all these punctuation guidelines so that you have a quick and easy reference.
Commas with Dialogue Tags
Dialogue tags, also known as speech tags, are the phrases after, before, or in-between spoken words that identify who’s…