1. Chad Lutzke
    Offline

    Chad Lutzke Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2014
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Battle Creek, MI.

    Punctuation Help on dialogue tags/formatting

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Chad Lutzke, Jul 15, 2014.

    I had some dialogue formatting questions for those of you savvy in it. Because my occupation consists of me using proper grammar and punctuation, I consider myself above average at it; however, dialogue formatting is not something I'm accustomed to.

    Recently I read some articles on the subject and they were helpful, but most of the examples merely dealt with "replied, questioned, said, yelled, etc.;" very basic dialogue tags which I use a minimum of when I'm writing. I was wondering if the following are okay the way they are formatted or if they need to be broken down into different paragraphs:

    1. "Al, chill." Greg held his hand up between Allen and the door. "It's a small cabin. If someone's in there they would've heard us by now."

    2. "I thought you said there were like three lakes out here." Allen's statement killed Greg's new-found relief. He was right, there was more than one lake. Greg had forgotten. If they followed the wrong one they would just get lost all the more.

    3. "Nice, nice." The words sounded forced. "English, right?"

    Also:
    *When using a tag that is nontraditional like #1 and #3 would I still use a comma after "chill" (#1) and after "nice" (#3) or leave it a period like it is?

    *Would Greg's nonverbal response in #2 be in the same paragraph as Allen's statement?

    Thanks for any input someone may be able to give me on this.


    ~Chad Lutzke
     
  2. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,840
    Likes Received:
    10,017
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    There's a name for what you're doing there. It's called a beat. And, no, there would not be a comma. The way you have it now is correct. The narrative between the dialogue pieces is a complete clause, separate from the dialogue. The beat is an implicit attribution where the dialogue tag is an explicit one.

    It depends on how detailed you are in ascribing the statement to X and the reaction to Y. If you feel it's questionable that the reader might confuse what belongs to whom, it probably is questionable and should be dropped to a new paragraph.
     
    Chad Lutzke likes this.
  3. purplehershey
    Offline

    purplehershey Member

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2014
    Messages:
    43
    Likes Received:
    16
    Wow, thanks for posting this thread. I had pretty much the same questions.
     
    Chad Lutzke likes this.
  4. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,963
    Likes Received:
    5,487
    In your examples, you're using beats, not tags, and you've punctuated them correctly. A tag requires some kind of "said" verb, and the dialogue does have a comma when it's followed by a tag. A beat is just an action adjacent to the dialogue, and in that case both the dialogue and the action are punctuated as complete sentences, as you've done.

    In (2), yes, I think that you need two paragraphs. Alan is acting (speaking) and then Greg is acting (reacting and thinking) and therefore one paragraph for each seems appropriate. Having Y speak inside X's paragraph isn't un-heard-of (my favorite author, Rumer Godden, does it all the time) but it's nonstandard.

    Depending on what has led up to this paragraph, I might also change the second paragraph so that it doesn't start with "Allen." This isn't a matter of it being incorrect either way, just a style choice. If your point of view is firmly and closely inside Greg's head and has been for a while, this probably isn't an issue. But if it's more distant or if it's switching between Allen and Greg, then I feel that one of the cues for who you're "with" is who acts first in a given paragrph. A paragraph that starts with the name of character Y but is "with' character X may make a certain percentage of your readers go "huh?" and go back to re-read the first sentence.

    Hmm. I find myself tripping over what I see as a slightly awkward way of attributing the remark ("Allen's statement..."). Allen is speaking, but what matters is Greg's reaction. You're weighing down Greg's reaction with the attribution for Allen's words. It would be more graceful if you could just get Allen's words attributed without tying that attribution to anything else. And that's what "said" does. Example:

    Allen said, "I thought you said there were like three lakes out here."

    Greg's new-found relief died. Allen was right, there was more than one lake. Greg had forgotten. If they followed the wrong one they would just get lost all the more.


    You mention that you don't use tag words (said, replied, questioned, etc.) much. That's fine in many cases, when there's a natural action that you need anyway, to use as a beat. But I think that you don't want to let a "fear of said" go too far, forcing you into awkward structures. While all those awful Tom Swifty tags (exclaimed, shrieked, purred, squealed) clutter things up, a simple clean "said" usually just disappears, as long as it's not used so often that it sets up an unwanted rhythm.
     
    Chad Lutzke likes this.
  5. Chad Lutzke
    Offline

    Chad Lutzke Member

    Joined:
    May 31, 2014
    Messages:
    64
    Likes Received:
    34
    Location:
    Battle Creek, MI.
    Excellent advice everyone! Thanks so much for the feedback/input!


    ~Chad Lutzke
     
  6. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Chad Lutzke likes this.

Share This Page