Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A primer for punctuating dialogue

I like to write. I like to read, too, but as I've mentioned before, bad writing just stops me in my tracks. It doesn't matter how wonderful an imagination an author might have if I'm getting stuck on the badly punctuated dialogue. It's especially bad for me, since dialogue is so important to my arousal. If you're trying to turn people on, you need to also pay attention to your mechanics and form, not just content. Good form isn't just for academics, you know.

So, with that, I thought I would share rules for punctuating dialogue! I'm going with American rules here, no offense intended to Brits, who have slightly different rules. 

1. Use a comma between the dialogue and the words used to identify the speaker.
"Please please fuck me now," she begged him, unable to stand the teasing any longer.
2. Periods and commas go inside the quotation marks; other punctuation like semicolons, question marks, and exclamation points goes outside unless it is part of the the quote, as in this example:
"Get over here and suck my cock," he said dangerously. "Or would you rather I flog you?" he asked, a glint of amusement in his eye.
The next example is not terribly common, I just include it for completeness. The question mark goes outside the quotation marks because it is not part of the quote:
Did he really just say, "You should try the biggest butt plug"?
The sentence ends with only punctuation mark: the question mark. Do not use double punctuation marks, just keep the stronger punctuation. Question marks and exclamation points are stronger than periods and commas.

3. When a tag line (speaker identification) interrupts a sentence, it should be set off by commas. The first letter of the second half of the sentence is in lower case - you're just continuing the sentence, not starting a new one.
"So," he whispered into my ear, "what shall I do with a horny little slut like you?"
4. For a quotation within a quotation, use single quotes, though I don't think this is terribly common in erotica:
"Have you read 'Deep Throat Made Easy' yet?" he asked her offhandedly.
5. If a quotation is more than one paragraph long, don't use end quotes at the close of the first paragraph. Use them only when a character is done speaking.

If you care about your writing, you'll care about this. If you're just spewing your fantasies forth with no regard for anyone who might be reading it, then there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise, and I wish you well anyway.

Happy writing!


  1. My last two years of high school English was divided into literature in the first half and grammar in the second half. I always got an A plus the first half, and like a C in the second half. I fear for my life from Grammar Nazis everyday.

  2. I don't think you have anything to worry about. Dunno if you've noticed or not, but this isn't high school... and I've never had any issue with your writing. :)

    I know a lot of people just don't know. But when I see something like this "Sentence.",

    It makes me cra-zeee. So I try to help!

  3. Makes me wonder... Are there people who value their writing and don't care about grammar/are really bad at it? And/or: Are there people whose writing is good (meaning the content), but their grammar isn't? The other way around, sure.

    Somehow, all of this leads me back to the question 'Why does someone write?'. (Was that right there a double punctuation? What's the correct way of writing it? I'm seriously wondering, sorry.)

    I know, my world is colored in black and white.I apologize.

    PS: Love the examples you're using to illustrate. ^^

  4. BlackberryTasteIc: I think there's a difference between valuing your writing and valuing your fantasies. If you value your writing, you want to make it better, to improve it, and therefore a little constructive criticism will be welcome. Otherwise, you just want glowing reviews, and when you ask for "Feedback" what you really mean is "Tell me how awesome this is."

    Yes, that was a double punctuation, you'd just say "Why does someone write?" :) You keep the stronger punctuation, which in this case is the question mark inside the quotes.

    Thank you! The examples took some finesse, so I'm glad someone appreciates. ;)

  5. I have a terrible time with some grammar rules. With commas in general, and in dialogue trying to decide between a comma or a period is mostly a toss up. For instance, in your example here:

    "Get over here and suck my cock," he said dangerously. "Or would you rather I flog you?"

    At the end of cock, I'd have no idea if it should be a comma or a period. So I guess. :)

    Also, I never know how to correctly type out a quote if I'm not doing dialogue.

    And semicolons? Fuggedaboutit!

  6. kaya: If the sentence continues, it should be a comma, almost without reserve. If it's a new sentence starting after the quote, then it should be a period.

    I love semicolons. I use them most for joining two related sentences where the second one expands upon the first - but I don't usually have dialogue that includes them. Probably because I mostly write from reality and we don't tend to be so verbose that we require semicolons. :)

  7. When I first started writing, I used "he said" and "she said." But I noticed right away that it makes things much more difficult. In Kaya's example above, "Get over here and suck my cock," definitely sounds like he has spoken a complete sentence that should end with a period, but because the comma is within the quotes, it makes it look as if he didn't.

    To avoid it, I try to throw in an action instead, such as, "Get over here and suck my cock." He started to unbuckle his belt, expecting an immediate response to his command. "You're not on your knees yet. Would you rather I flog you?"

  8. t1klish: I will do something like that too if I feel the period is exceptionally important with any given statement. Do it too much, though (like every time), and you start to notice it, and there's a lack of flow.

    I like what you did there. ;)

  9. But if that sentence was continuing, wouldn't the 'Or' be lower case? Like in your other example-

    "So," he whispered into my ear, "what shall I do with a horny little slut like you?"

  10. Isn't this fun typing this sentence over and over? Hee!

    The problem is that in this sentence:

    "Get over here and suck my cock," he said.

    He clearly spoke a complete sentence that should end with a period, but it ends with a comma, because it's a quote with a "he said" after it. That annoys me to no end.

    I realize you can't put it like this:

    "Get over here and suck my cock." He said.

    The punctuation is wrong, but it's technically a more accurate representation of the dialogue.

    One way to fix it would be to put the "He said," at the beginning.

    He said in a commanding voice, "Get over here and suck my cock."

    That way there is a comma after the incomplete sentence, which makes sense, and then a period at the end of the complete sentence quote.

    Now I'm going to be fixating on this when I'm writing, and that's difficult, because I don't plan anything I write, the scene just unfolds in front of me and I type it up as it happens.

  11. kaya: If it was a continued sentence, absolutely! I know starting a sentence with "Or" isn't correct, but my dude there's kind of turned on, so we'll forgive him his small blunder.

    What you're talking about would look like this: "Get over here and suck my cock," he said dangerously, "or would you rather I flog you?"

    Grammatically, that's the better choice, because you don't have a sentence starting with a coordinating conjunction. With dialogue though, sometimes you want to give more of a sense of silence between words, like I did in my initial example, and that's when you need a new sentence. (I should have just left the or off, and said "Perhaps you'd rather I flog you?") Excellent eye!

  12. t1klish: I'm actually enjoying myself quite a bit, yeah! Okay, I'm a grammar geek. The comma after the quote doesn't bother me, because that's the way it's supposed to be (for one), and because the sentence isn't finished until we've heard how he spoke, so that's where the period goes. Just breaking it up to say "he said" would be pointless and irritating, so the "how" he said it is quite vital.

    I also do what you're talking about - I mix speech tags at the beginning, the end, and in the middle of my dialogue, so that quotes that particularly need the finality of the period get them.

    Don't fixate! Nothing is wrong with your writing.

  13. I do okay, but I know I don't follow the comma thing exactly. I try to work around it with the examples above.

    More often than anything though, I just put straight dialogue where we know who's talking because they're taking turns and it's made clear who is who.

    "Come over here and suck my cock."

    "Right now? I'm in the middle of cooking dinner."

    "Dinner can wait. On your knees, my slave."

  14. I think a new search term for finding my blog might wind up being "Get over here and suck my cock."


    Oh, and of course, because nothing is wrong with your writing doesn't mean that nothing can be improved. We all have room for improvement. :)

  15. This way:

    "Get over here and suck my cock," he said.

    reads much better than this one:

    "Get over here and suck my cock." He said.

    But I don't know if it's the period that's throwing me off or the capped H on He.

    Ha. This is fun!

  16. "He said" is not a sentence, so that also may be throwing you off. The first period ends the sentence, the capped H starts another one, and the next period ends that sentence, which isn't one.

    "Get over here and suck my cock." He said it with a dangerous tone to his voice, and she shivered.

    That works, but it lacks a certain flow and has a lot more words than you'd think you should need.

    Also, yes, fun!

  17. Hmmmm...well, I don't follow all the grammar and punctuation rules when writing my blog. I do know them and use them in more formal writing. I can see that you feel strongly about this and you're entitled to your opinion, but I have to say that I don't agree. I also figure if someone doesn't like my writing they can feel free not to read. *shrug*

  18. Grace: Oh, dear. I must say I intended no offense to anyone. Your blog is not the sort of thing the primer was directed toward, at all. How you choose to write your experiences is completely up to you. And you express yourself brilliantly, btw. :)

    The main thing I was directing it at is when writing fiction that is meant to titillate. I can't be titillated if I'm hung up on extraneous or missing punctuation. If it's right, or even close to right, I'm not even going to notice it.. but if it's really wrong, I can't see anything but it.

    I also thought I could liven it up with some fun examples rather than the dry ones that you'll find in your traditional punctuation guides. ;) I mean only good, helpful vibes, not snarky, irritating ones.

  19. Conina, you didn't offend me. I don't offend easily. ;)

  20. I love this post!! :) The comments are brilliant too!!
    I get really hung up on grammar too. I'm not perfect but try my best :)
    I particularly hate when I misspell! I also get kinda OCD about the huge use of the exclamation mark! Depending on where it's used!
    For eg: Thanks! and Thanks....... relays two totally different 'tones of voice' for me.
    Lol! I do believe I feel rather nervous regards my punctuation.

    Dee x

    1. Oh, Dee, soul sister, mine. The overuse of the exclamation point is one of my everlasting pet peeves! I love how you overused it here, for example, for effect. :)

      But you're absolutely right on the tone the exclamation indicates. When I find writing with an overabundance of exclamation marks, I'm just picturing everyone shouting at each other all the time, and that's totally not sexy, amIright?

      "Suck my cock!"

      Yeah... it just doesn't sound very domly, written like that. Unless it's the third or fourth time the request has been made, there's no call for all that force in tone. :) I think you do quite well, and thanks for the comment! I love knowing older stuff is still being consumed.

  21. Thank you for explaining how to punctuate dialogue, though I'm from the UK, I have always had trouble writing dialogue and how it should be presented so that it makes sense.

    I think it is because of my dyslexia and teachers focusing on spelling rather then sentence structure.

    I love writing which, I used to think would never happen as I found English class and reading so difficult. When I finally got to University and left the school system I started to read and write for pleasure.

    I hope one day I can write a blog as honest and well written as yours.

    Thank you.

  22. I love this post and all the comments! I am also a grammar, punctuation and spelling nerd. Oh, and vocabulary!! I'm not perfect but I do enjoy learning it all! What a varied and interesting blog you have.


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