Study the following passage and the explanations for how it is punctuated.
“I like to eat paste,” Hambone said. “It’s yummy.” 1, 3
She looked at him. “Really?” she asked, smiling. 2, 4
Hambone said, “Really.” 6,7
She raised her eyebrows. “Wow.” She was impressed. 8
“I like to eat paste,” Hambone said, “because it’s yummy.” 9
- In all dialogue, punctuation (commas, periods, etc.) goes inside of quotes.
- Each new speaker generally gets a new paragraph. The new paragraph actually begins with any actions or thoughts of the next speaker, not just the sentence with their words.
- The last period in the quotes becomes a comma when followed by “s/he said.”
- Question marks and exclamation points stay the same before “s/he said.”
- “s/he said” is not capitalized after quotes (but is, of course, if it starts a sentence.)
- There is a comma between “s/he said” and the actual quote.
- Sentences inside quotes are capitalized as they would be, disregarding what comes before or after the quote marks.
- If you leave out “s/he said,” but describe an action, the quote ends in a period and the description is a separate sentence. (“Hi,” she smiled. = wrong.
- If interrupting a sentence of dialogue with “s/he said,” use a comma after “s/he said.” If between sentences, use a period. (Compare Hambone’s 1st and 3rd lines.)
In terms of capitalization, commas, and the option of using attributions, thoughts are formatted like dialogue. But direct thoughts are italicized, and no thoughts use quotation marks.*
- Direct thoughts quote the brain and are italicized and in first person present tense. They
are usually followed by an attribution (he/she thought/wondered/etc.).
Ex.: She glared at him. She is a bully, he thought. Why the heck am I friends with such a
mean person? “Hi, Sue,” he said.
- Indirect thoughts still quote the brain but are in the same tense and POV as the story
(which is usually in past tense, 3rd person). They may or may not be followed by an
attribution. This makes them blend in with the descriptions. This is the single greatest
technique of fiction and narrative nonfiction writers.
Ex.: She glared at him. She was a bully, he thought. Why the heck was he friends with such a mean person? “Hi, Sue,” he said.
*these are conventions, not rigid rules. Different writers may do things differently.