Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Punc-EEK Pt. 3 Splitting dialogue with an action

As we saw last time, dialogue can be split by a tag, and I gave you some tips for how to punctuate that. Again, always remember that you are punctuating the dialogue.

Sometimes you need to split dialogue with an action, and the punc for that looks very strange to a lot of people. Here’s an example:

“I think we should go”--she pointed down the hallway--”to the left.”

Now I know a lot of you are scratching your heads and wondering if I’ve gone nuts. Because you want to put those dashes inside the quotes, right? But what’s the rule? Punctuate the dialogue. The dashes don’t belong to the spoken words, they belong to the tag because it interrupts the dialogue. So they surround the tag. They don’t go inside the quotes.

However, if the dashes do belong to the spoken words, they do go inside the quotes. “I think--”she paused “--no, wait, let’s go this way.”

By the way, the action should be a complete sentence in its own right. Please, please, please, don’t write something like this:  “I think we should go”--pointing down the hallway--“to the left.” An alternative version like “I think we should go,” she said, pointing down the hallway, “to the left.” is acceptable. However, the tighter, more active “she pointed down the hallway” is preferred.

ALERT: Word processing programs will want to use close quotes after the second dash. Don’t let them get away with that. One way to get around the program’s proclivity is to put a space after the dash, type the opening quotes, then delete the space. A bit cumbersome, I agree. Here’s a short cut: CTRL+’, then ’ will give you a single quote. For a double quote, use CTRL+”, then ” .

Sometimes a long speech spills over into a new paragraph. You don’t see this much anymore, but it does still happen. In that case, use close quotes at the end of the last paragraph only. Use opening quotes at the beginning of every paragraph:

     “I was born in a small town in northern Arizona,” he said. “My parents and grandparents were born there, too, and everyone assumed I’d raise my family in that same small town.

     “But I have itchy feet, can’t stand staying in one place for too long. So I left that town behind as soon as I got out of high school, and never looked back. How can a guy stand the same old faces and places all his life?

     “Paris, Calcutta, Adelaide--I love seeing new cities. Gotta keep moving. Someday I’m gonna make it to the moon.”

 Okay, that’s an awful example, but you get the idea. All the punc stays the same, except you don’t use close quotes until the very end. 

Next time, we’ll play with quotes within quotes and the weird-looking punctuation that sometimes results.

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

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