Proper Dialogue Formatting

 

Part One: Punctuation

1. Matt said, “I need another beer.”

This sentence begins with a speech tag[1]. The comma goes directly after the last word of the speech tag. Then you use an open quotation mark to introduce the quote. Be sure to capitalize the first word within the quote. Ending punctuation – whether it be a period, exclamation point, or question mark – goes inside the closed quotation mark.

2. “I need another beer,” said Matt.

This sentence ends with a speech tag. The comma goes directly after the last word of the quote followed by a closed quotation mark. The first letter of the speech tag should be lower case unless it is a proper name. (EX/ “I need another beer,” Matt said.) A period goes at the end of the speech tag.

 

EXCEPTION: If your quote ends with an exclamation mark or question mark, you do NOT need a comma. EX/ “Go fuck yourself!” Matt said.    

3. “I need another beer,” Matt said, “before I go to class.”
In this sentence the speech tag is in the middle of the quotation. As in #2 a comma goes directly after the last word of the first part of the quotation. As in #1 a comma also goes directly after the last word of the speech tag. Finally, unlike the previous examples, the first word within the second part of the quotation is NOT capitalized (unless it is a proper noun).

 

 

Common Punctuation Mistakes:

1. Matt said “I need another beer.”

This sentence is missing a comma after the speech tag.

 

2. “I need another beer.” said Matt.

This sentence is using a period instead of a comma at the end of the quotation.

 

3. “I need another beer,” Matt said. “Before I go to class.”

This sentence has a period instead of a comma after the speech tag. Such an error divides the one-sentence quote into one complete sentence (“I need another beer”) and one sentence fragment (“before I go to class”).

 

 

 

 

Part Two: Paragraph Indentation

1. Start a new paragraph when you change speakers.

INCORRECT:

            “I need another beer,” said Matt. “Go look in the fridge,” Jane replied.

CORRECT:

            “I need another beer,” said Matt.

            “Go look in the fridge,” Jane replied.

 

2. Do not start a new paragraph after each speech tag.

INCORRECT:

            Matt said,

            “I need another beer.”

CORRECT:

            Matt said, “I need another beer.”

 

3.  Do not start a new paragraph if it’s the same speaker. However, be aware of keeping your speakers clear—in the example below it is confusing to hear about Jane in between Matt’s dialog. Better to break up character actions so they align with dialog from that character.

INCORRECT:

            “I need another beer,” Matt said. Jane went into the kitchen.

            “While you’re up, will you get me one from the fridge?”

CORRECT:

            “I need another beer,” Matt said. Jane went into the kitchen. “While you’re up, will you get me one from the fridge?”

BETTER:

            Jane went into the kitchen. “I need another beer,” Matt said. “While you’re up, will you get me one from the fridge?”

--or

            “I need another beer,” Matt said. “While you’re up, will you get me one from the fridge?”

            Jane went into the kitchen.



[1] Speech Tag: the part of the sentence that states who is doing the talking. EX/ Matt said; Justin replied; Jane says; Alice asked; etc.