1. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Between dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Melzaar the Almighty, Sep 23, 2010.

    I feel bad spamming WF with so many posts, but there are so many knowledgable people here. :p

    Okay, so when you stick in a "he said" sort of thing in the middle of a longer piece of speech, what are the exact rules for following it on with a comma instead of a full stop? It can go either, "Blah," he said, "and something else." or "Blah," he said. "And something else." ... I seem to be having a problem knowing when it should be a comma, and when it should be a full stop. I understood it as the idea following on from the beginning, with the "he said" just interrupting quickly, whereas you'd only use a full stop if you were starting a new sentence when speech resumes?

    I think a lot of my problem is that I have a tendency to use long sentences so what other people might think of as a break is actually just a comma to me. :p

    And should that be lower case in the next speech bubble after the instance with the comma or not?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's called a dialogue tag.

    This one is correct.

    He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    So even if you have a pretty long action from " to "?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Please read the blog post. A long action is not a tag. A tag identifies the speaker. An action by the speaker, interspersed between pieces of dialogue, is called a beat, and it is punctuated differently.
     
  5. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Don't worry about posting lots of questions. I like to read them, even if no one else does :)

    "It depends," he said, "whether the words either side of the 'tag' form a complete sentence."

    "Sometimes they don't," he added. "In this situation you would use a full stop and a capital letter."

    :p

    I have trouble with the comma variety. I tend not to use it really because it never really feels right.
     
  6. Auskar
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    Auskar Member

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    I thought it was a good question. I think it depends on the person speaking. If they pause, use a period. If they don't, don't. I rarely use the comma version, either, because I don't generally insert a dialogue tag except at the end or beginning of sentences, and then -- only when the reader can't figure out who is speaking.
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    btw, I did read the blog post, and it didn't have enough about beats to answer my question. :p

    So when there's a tag OR a beat, if the speech is interrupted you use a comma?
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes... but only if the interruption is in mid-sentence...
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's very simple. The beat is a separate sentence, whereas the tag is attached to one or both adjacent fragments. Because the beat is not part of the same sentence as the dialogue fragments, both the beat and the dialogue fragment are written as if the other does not exist. They are entirely independent.
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    So I guess you'll just tell me it's bad practice to split a sentence around a beat then?
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No, what Cogito is trying to say is that the two things, a dialogue tag and a beat, should not be confused, one with the other. Knowing the difference is a key factor in how you will punctuate the dialogue within the vicinity of the tag or beat.

    Examples:

    "I never really thought," Tommy said with frustration, "that you had stolen the money. It's just that the situation looked suspicious."

    Between the broken sentence is an obvious dialogue tag. It contains the verb said and identifies the speaker as Tommy. Commas all around because the complete sentence has been broken by the tag. Neither to the left nor to the right of the tag is a complete sentense.

    "I never thought you stole the money," Tommy said with frustration. "It's just that the situation looked suspicious.

    Again a dialogue tag between the two dialogue bits, but this time just to the right of the tag is a complete sentence; hence, there is a period at the end of the tag and the next dialogue begins with a capital letter. The period at the end of the dialogue tag denotes the end of the first sentence which includes not only the first bit of dialogue, but also the tag itself which is why the first bit of dialogue, even though it is an independent clause, ends with a comma and not a period. You can think of the dialogue tag as a dependent clause of sorts which is part of the entire sentence because the tag all by itself is not an independent clause. It depends on the independent clause which it is modifying for its meaning and structure.

    "I never thought you stole the money, Tommy." Billy pushed back his hair in frustration. "Its just that the situation looked suspicious."

    Here we have a beat instead of a tag. No verb indicating who spoke. Who spoke to whom is inferred via the context of the dialogue and the beat, but never explicitly mentioned. Periods all around because in this case the first dialogue, the beat, and the second dialogue are all independent clauses. The beat stands by itself as a complete sentence and is not dependent on any other syntax for its meaning or sovereignty.

    Now, as to your question about splitting a sentence around a beat. It gets done all the time, but it is a bit unusual and if you make a habit of it it ends up falling in the same bucket as the guidelines you have heard about the passive voice. There is nothing technically wrong with it, but from a stylistic POV, it draws undo attention to itself and away from what is happening in the story. Use sparingly. I've seen it punctuated a few different ways. The last time I saw an author make notisable use of it was in the later Dune novels by Frank Herbert. His style of punctuating this unusual bit of dialogue was:


    "So you're telling me that all of this-" Tommy gestured broadly. "-is yours?"

    This is only an example of one way I have seen it done. I am sure that there are many other ways that will soon get mentioned. ;)
     
  12. Aszyllin
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    Aszyllin Member

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    I am so glad someone addressed this, it has been driving me up the wall lately!
    Cheers!
     
  13. Kolten
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    Kolten New Member

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    Thanks for the tips!
     
  14. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I was about to point out that it can work either way but, since Wreybies did such an excellent job of presenting examples above, I will merely say, "If in doubt, re-read Wreybies last post."

    One codicil, however. I'm not sure the last example,
    "So you're telling me that all of this-" Tommy gestured broadly. "-is yours?"
    should have a period after 'broadly'. Rather, I believe it should read,
    "So you're telling me that all of this -" Tommy gestured broadly "- is yours?"

    Oh, never mind, Wreybs. I see you were merely quoting Herbert. My bad.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    is a beat, i.e. a complete sentence. The period does belong.
     
  16. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    "I never really thought," Tommy said with frustration, "that you had stolen the money. It's just that the situation looked suspicious."

    I am wondering if there should be a comma after thought. If we remove 'Tommy said with frustration' we would have.
    "I never really thought that you had stolen the money."
    So logically why have the comma there? Maybe the comma should go outside the speech marks.

    "I never really thought", Tommy said with frustration, "that you had stolen the money. It's just that the situation looked suspicious.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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