1. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    Commas in these situations?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by RightWrite, Feb 11, 2020.

    (1) For situations where you include dialogue tags in the middle or end of dialogue, when do you use a comma after the dialogue tag when it's immediately followed by action beats or description beats?

    -- I know the following example requires a comma after the dialogue tag I inquired, because it's followed immediately by an action of shaking:

    "So, what is it tonight Holmes, cocaine or morphine?" I inquired, shaking my head in disappointment.


    -- But, how about in this case. Do you add a comma after the dialogue tag I demanded?

    "How do you know...Who are you?" I demanded with a look of concern on my face.


    (2) Specific question: do you use a comma or a period after the word hesitation in the example dialogue below?

    I answered without hesitation, "Of course my friend! You're welcome to read my diary."

    Is the sentence I answered without hesitation a dialogue tag or an action beat, thus requiring a comma or a period after the word hesitation, respectively?
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2020
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  2. Richach

    Richach Senior Member

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    This exert has been professionally edited so it should read correctly.

    ‘Oh, diddums! Whatever is wrong?’ she teased, blinking her deep brown eyes at him and pursing her lips.

    I think the clauses seem to have a similar structure to your example, so I would say yes a comma after demanded.

    I would add that commas seem to breed like rabbits and can often blight a story. Commas are intended to be weak form of punctuation, yet they can even alter the structure of sentences and that is really damaging. They are not always needed and in my opinion the reader doesn't need to be micromanaged. Grammarly is a sod for adding too many commas.
     
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  3. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    First one - yeah, there should be a comma. The "I demanded" is the dialogue tag and that should be separated from the subsequent action (the look of concern).

    Second one - yeah also; if the dialogue action tag precedes the dialogue it should be separated with a comma. Also see my first point about separating the dialogue and the action - it may look like the comma bukake that @Richach warns about, but you need two; it should read:

    I answered, without hesitation, "Of course my friend! You're welcome to read my diary."

    It becomes ugly like that though. Maybe consider having the action as a completely separate entity - dialogue tags are only there to let the reader know who is talking. This can also be achieved by interspersing the dialogue with actions and having no tags once the flow is established

    'Can I read your diary?' she asked, with a cheeky grin.
    I answered without hesitation.
    'Of course not.'
     
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  4. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    You have a few choices for what goes after "said." Some of those always get commas, and some are stylistic.

    1) present participle phrase -- always gets a comma
    2) absolute phrase -- always gets a comma
    3) prepositional phrase -- stylistic
    4) adverb/adverbial -- stylistic

    "Hello there," I said, reaching for my gun.
    "Hello there," I said, my finger already on the trigger
    "Hello there," I said with satisfaction.
    "Hello there," I said dryly.​

    And of course you can make those complex or compound, but I have to stop somewhere.
    Notice that the last two lines could have a comma in there. It depends on the tempo of the sentence. Each of them can be read different ways. That's why they're stylistic.

    Examples:

    “That's right,” I said with an encouraging nod. (From a recent NY Times article. Quick tempo: no comma.)
    "Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back. . ." (From Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado." Slow tempo: gets a comma.)​

    Your second question about whether that is a tag or a beat . . . It can be either. In some ways it can even be both. "Answered" can be either transitive or intransitive, so it allows this.

    I answered quickly, "No."
    I answered quickly. "No."
    I answered quickly: "No."​

    If you have an independent clause as a dialog tag, you can put a colon after it. That's your rare third option. Here, I like the middle one, but I can't say it's the best choice. It depends on what's around the line. Sometimes I don't think it depends on anything at all. It's purely preferential.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
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  5. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Shouldn't there be a comma after "tonight"?

    I don't know if this is a direct quote from Conan Doyle. The rules may have changed a bit in the last century. I'd have written:

     
  6. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Member

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    I'm personally a stickler for unambiguous punctuation. Without a comma after the tag demanded, it is implied that the demand came from the look of concern on my face (action) rather than the speech said tag was attributed to.

    Edit: For your second point, yes it is a comma after hesitation, because the action mentioned was speaking.

    With a period, it's being narrated twice, like a glitch in the matrix: I answered without hesitation. I answered.

    Further, you don't need a comma b/t answered and without, because there is no way to interpret that tag incorrectly as it currently is.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
  7. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    Thank you all for your replies.

    Shouldn't that read...

    I answered without hesitation, 'Of course not.'

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the dialogue tag I answered without hesitation should be on the same paragraph as the spoken dialogue since it was said by the second character, right?

    Your post was very thorough. Thank you.

    But what do you mean by tempo? Do you mean pacing, so that the comma elicits a pause in the reader's mind and, hence, engenders a desired emotion within the reader?

    Yes, it's from the Sherlock Holmes Canon, but it's not a word for word quote, and I made up the dialogue tag and action beat. Next time, I'll stop being lazy and look it up before attempting a direct quote. :bigwink:
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2020
  8. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, that's it. You can read it quickly or slowly, and then the comma comes or goes to force the reading. So two people can punctuate the line differently and both be right. That's not always true, but it is with this type of line. You'll have to make the call based on the surrounding text and story.

    That's what's so weird about it. The rules of grammar are almost wholly contained in the sentence, but here, you're having to look farther to make a decision.
     
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  9. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Which brings me to a comment I made last summer regarding James Thurber's defense of a comma as used by Harold Ross, founder and editor of the New Yorker magazine:

     
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  10. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

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    I was suggesting that you don't need the dialogue tag as long as it is clear who is speaking. You can put actions, action tags, dialogue tags, nothing, or all of the above as long as it's clear. Clarity is the aim.
     
  11. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    Which variant of a speech verb, transitive or intransitive, gets the comma?

    New question: How about situations where the dialogue tag is immediately followed by a preposition such as on, in, or from? Do you use a comma after the dialogue tag in that case?

    Examples:

    “Calm yourself professor,” the dean said in a stern manner.

    "Stop!" he bellowed from an arms length of the bus.

    "Well, I should get an A. Surely, hard work goes for something," he said on a positive note.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2020
  12. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I agree about the comma following 'tonight' but that construction sounds a bit clumsy to me. I'd write it:
     
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  13. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Intransitive ends on a period. It doesn't need an object. Transitive gets a comma because there has to be a continuation or the thought is incomplete. It seems like most of the transitive verbs for speaking can also be intransitive verbs, so those give you a choice. Either is correct, but the surrounding text guides them to one favored direction (usually).

    I shouted. "Help!"
    I shouted, "Help!"​

    Both of those work. "Said" is transitive only and will always get a comma.

    . . .

    Those prepositions depend on what they're aiming at. They are stylistic. So you have a choice there too. It depends on the pace you want the sentence read. This little section I gave you uses prepositions as examples ("with," in this case).
    With these types of lines you're just feeling the rhythm. You can look back after the fact and justify it, I suppose. I wouldn't give it too much thought as it goes on paper. Just realize you have a choice, know that the default for modern writing is "less punctuation," and then justify your decision by how you want it read, because there isn't really a rule for stylistic commas.

    If I were examining a dialog tag and trying to decide to put that comma in front of the preposition, I would look at the dramatic impact of the line and then whether it was closer to the noun (the actor) or the verb (the action). The actor would get a comma by default, and the verb would get no comma by default. But then I could still override that depending on the pace of the line. (This isn't a grammar rule. It's just my approach.)

    "Hands up," I said, with my gun held steady. (describing the actor, "I.")
    "Hands up," I said with smug satisfaction. (describing the action, "said.")​

    BUT, I would be very willing to change either of those depending on the intended pace, and I would probably favor dropping rather than adding just because of how modern writing is. Genre can effect that too . . . For example, crime and noir genres tend to drop punctuation to keep a quick pace throughout. So for me, the first line (gun held steady) has many options. There's a solid chance that I'd leave the comma off it, truthfully, but it really depends on how I got to that line and where it's trying to go. It would be much less likely that I would add a comma to the "smug" line. That's just my approach.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2020
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  14. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hi - the comma angle of your question, @RightWrite , has been well-answered here. But what brought me up short in your original post was your use of 'inquired' as a synonym for 'asked.' Although the usage is evolving a bit, it's one of those usages that's evolving because so many people get two similar-sounding words mixed up. In general, this:

    Screenshot 2020-02-17 at 08.11.22.png

    So, I would change this sentence :
    "So, what is it tonight Holmes, cocaine or morphine?" I inquired, shaking my head in disappointment.

    To this :

    "So, what is it tonight Holmes, cocaine or morphine?" I enquired, shaking my head in disappointment.




    However, here's a colloquial example of 'inquire' used as a verb in the traditionally-correct manner. The person is making a formal inquiry into the job situation :

    I inquired about a job while I was in town.



    It's probably a petty, old-fashioned concern, but it does pull me up short whenever I encounter either of the two words used in a traditionally 'wrong' context.
     
  15. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    In the back of my mind, I did have a feeling it was incorrect. Thank you for pointing this out and making the correction.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2020
  16. CatVI

    CatVI New Member

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    Would it be right to use a comma after the friendly smile, or is this sentence problematic in general?

    He handed him a business card with a friendly smile and said, “But do not worry, sir. If you ever get the money, please contact this number. We will be more than happy to drive away the evil ghost that has possessed you!”
     
  17. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    I think you could say it either way without qualms. I do wonder, however, whether it was the person who had the friendly smile, or the card.
     
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  18. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    That's true. It could probably be written like this instead:

    With a friendly smile, he handed him a business card. “But do not worry, sir. If you ever get the money, please contact this number. We will be more than happy to drive away the evil ghost that has possessed you!”
     
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  19. CatVI

    CatVI New Member

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    This removes the problem directly. Thanks. I didn't notice at first that people might assume the business card was smiling. I need to be more careful of similar sentences.
     
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  20. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    No problem. I would also add that you should make the dialogue leaner by removing unnecessary verbiage; it reads like an everyday mundane conversation. Moreover, try to add an element of tension in the dialogue. For instance, he maybe smiling, but his speech contradicts that, either in a subtle or overt manner. You don't have to do this for every line of dialogue in your novel, but you get the idea...
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2020
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  21. CatVI

    CatVI New Member

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    I see, that makes sense. I don't want to derail the discussion though, since it it about commas haha.
    I will look into what you have suggested. Hopefully, the forums have some good resources :D
     
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  22. RightWrite

    RightWrite Part-Time Skeptic, Full-Time Rationalist Supporter

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    Sounds good! :) I would recommend picking up a good book on general fiction writing first. Then, you can progress to more specialized books and resources that focus on a specific genre of your choice. There are good books on Amazon. Yeah, let's not derail this thread. lol :)
     
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  23. KiraAnn

    KiraAnn Active Member

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    I’m going to go out on a limb regarding the OP part 1.

    Despite being dialog tags, “inquired” and “demanded” are verbs. The parts after them are prepositional clauses except in the first, a comma is implying “with”. So, here the comma is a substitution. You can pull that swap with both sentences. IMO, that makes the comma required in the first example but required to be absent in the second.

    In the second post of the thread, the example is a compound participial phrase. Slightly different rules at work there despite the seemingly similar structure.
     
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