He Said, She Thought


Written literature contains two types of dialogue, spoken and internal.

For the sake of defining terms, spoken dialogue refers to audible speech—words spoken by a character out loud. Internal dialogue refers to thoughts that are not spoken out loud. The majority of this article discusses spoken dialogue and addresses internal dialogue at the end. These rules apply to most non-academic fiction and nonfiction works; academic requirements for citations are NOT addressed as citation styles vary greatly in this regard.

I’ve done my best to list and explain rules about presentation of and punctuation in spoken dialogue. My article only discusses American English rules. UK English rules about quotations differ. 

I’ll start with the two most important rules:

  • Surround spoken dialogue (quotes) with double quotation marks.
  • When the person who is speaking repeats something that someone else said, place single quotation marks around the repeated words. These are often referred to as quotes within a quote.

Harry explained, “After I gave her the flowers, she said, ‘Thanks so much!’ and kissed me.”

“But what if she says, ‘No’?” he asked.

  • Always end dialogue with one of the following: comma, period, question mark, exclamation mark, dashes, or ellipsis; directly followed by double quotation marks. The ending quotation marks go after whichever ending punctuation mark is used.
  • Speech tags introducing dialogue should be followed by a comma.
  • When dialogue is broken up by narrative or speech tags, double quotation marks are still inserted before and after each instance of dialogue, leaving the non-dialogue outside the quotation marks.
  • The first word of dialogue in a sentence should always start with an uppercase letter. Non-dialogue words in the middle of a sentence should only be capitalized if they are proper nouns (e.g., Charles, Saturday, Don Quixote).

Following are a few examples showing how each type of punctuation should be used in spoken dialogue in combination with quotation marks.

“I will set the table,” said John. (comma)

Michelle stated, “Dinner will be ready soon.” (period)

John asked, “What’s for dinner?” with a smile. (question mark)

“Wouldn’t you like to know!” said Michelle, smirking. (exclamation mark)

“Holy hell, wo–” John began, before she interrupted him. (dashes)

“Don’t even think about it…” Michelle shot him a warning look. (ellipsis)

A speech tag labels dialogue. Speech tags identify the speaker and occasionally describe their manner of speech. In the following examples, speech tags are in bold text.

Joe answered, “Yes, of course.”

“Why?” asked Chloe.

“Because I said so,” replied Mom.

“Don’t wake up the baby,” whispered Mary.

“Come back here!” he yelled angrily at Mike.

Mike said, “I’ll be back later.”

  • For extended dialogue by a single person that is divided into multiple paragraphs, do not include quotation marks at the end of every paragraph—only insert them at the end of the dialogue in the final paragraph.
  • When switching between more than one person’s spoken dialogue, start a new paragraph for each person’s dialogue, no matter how little they might say.

One exception to the new paragraph/new person rule may include when several people talk at once either in unison or over one another in rapid fire. If a group is speaking the same words in unison, their words would be treated as dialogue from a single person, and speech tags could be used to explain the situation.

  • If several people in the story are talking over one another or saying different things all at once, this can be represented in various ways:
    • Write dialogue for each person in a separate paragraph, identifying each one, and using double quotation marks as usual.
    • Surround each person’s dialogue separately with quotation marks, one after another, in the same paragraph. Do not identify each speaker but refer to them collectively in a speech tag.
    • Describe the situation and dialogue without quoting anyone’s exact words, and without using quotation marks. Refer to the group collectively or identify everyone involved.

Dialogue should allow readers to hear the speaker’s words. If the speaker pronounces a word unusually, this should be indicated in some way by changing the spelling, etc.

  • Words should be used instead of abbreviations or symbols in dialogue.

“Okay, Mister peeerrrrfect,” she responded sarcastically.

“Peez make me a gill-cheese sammitch, mama,” Lucy pleaded.

  • In most cases, numbers in dialogue should be expressed in words instead of numerals.

Exceptions may include four-digit years, long series of numbers, a full telephone number, or product and brand names that include numbers. For a helpful, detailed article about writing numbers in both dialogue and narrative, visit https://theeditorsblog.net/2013/01/13/numbers-in-fiction/. I refer to it whenever I have a question about number rules in writing.

Following are just a few examples of how numbers can be expressed in dialogue.

“I think he was born in sixty-eight.”

“She only paid thirty-five bucks for it.”

“Yesterday, it was over ninety degrees outside.”

“She just called number twenty-two.”

“The shortest player is six foot one and a half.”

“You owe me four hundred and ten dollars.”

“The show starts at seven o’clock at night.”

“I just bought an Xbox 360 for seventy-five dollars.” (Xbox 360 is a product name)


  • Direct internal dialogue is generally indicated with italics, never with quotation marks. Some authors choose to use a different font or style for direct internal dialogue instead of italics. Direct internal dialogue is always expressed in first person because it is stating the exact words that a person is thinking.
  • Indirect internal dialogue is not italicized because it is not stating the exact words that a person is thinking.

She stared in horror at the scene ahead. What the heck was I thinking? she wondered. —direct

He thought of all of the possible scenarios awaiting him. —indirect

I hung up the phone angrily. How dare he? Who does he think he is? —direct

After all of the favors I’d done for her in the past, I thought that she owed me. —indirect

Please let me know in the comments if this article was helpful to you or if you think of any important rules I may have left out. Let’s start a dialogue, shall we?


Bucket List


Nonfiction books and instruction booklets often contain numerous lists. Lists are helpful for displaying information in an organized, easy-to-read format. They are great for prioritizing as well as categorizing products and services.

Bucket List Types of Buckets

  • Mop bucket
  • Window washer bucket
  • Beach sand bucket
  • Hotel ice bucket
  • Storage bucket
  • Old, beat-up vehicle
  • Successful basketball shot

When making a list, several aspects are important to consider.

After creating a rough draft of your list, first review the title or intro to the listed items. Pinpoint the basic category in which all of your list items fit. Notice that I’ve underlined the base word in each of the following list titles that identifies what every item in a list with that title would have in common.

  1. Why an author writes a book                             
  2. The only twelve exercises you need to get in shape    
  3. Top ten video game characters
  4. Ten steps to starting a small business
  5. Countries that border only one other country

Therefore, the first list would include a list of reasons, not a list of book titles or genres. List number two would include a list of exercises, not a list of equipment or ways to get in shape. The third list would include characters from video games, not titles of video games. The next list would include actions, not a list of occupations or expenses. And the final list would include countries, not continents or provinces.

General rules
Now review each item on your list, making sure that

  • all items fit the list title or category,
  • all items are specific and complete,
  • verb tenses are consistent for items that involve actions,
  • prepositions are used properly,
  • only essential items are included, and
  • redundancy is avoided.

If your content/writing is intentionally humorous, some of these rules might not apply, but all items should at least fit the list category.

Next, I provide several examples of lists to demonstrate how these rules can be applied.

Notice the subtle differences between the first two lists, even though both are about the same subject. I’ve underlined the base word in each title. The first list includes resolutions or statements about what the writer has resolved to do. Each item completes the thought, “I resolve to ______.”   The second list includes actions that complete the thought, “I plan on ______.” The verbs in this list end in ‑ing because each phrase directly follows the proposition “on.”

New Year’s Resolutions
Lose weight
Get organized
Save money
Quit smoking
Fall in love
Eat healthier
Exercise more
This year, I plan on
losing weight
getting organized
saving money
quitting smoking
falling in love
eating healthier
exercising more

In the following two lists, the first one is a list of reasons or motivations. If you asked an author why they wrote their book, their responses would begin with either “to” or “for.” So, each item is prefaced with the appropriate preposition. The second list contains actions that books may accomplish. So, each item begins with a verb and completes the thought, “Books can _____.”

Each list includes items that follow all of the rules noted above. Notice, however, that items are NOT interchangeable between the two list titles/categories.

Why an author writes a book
To tell a story
To teach a skill
To educate
To entertain
To express ideas
For personal fulfillment
For fame and fortune
Books can
tell a story
teach a skill
educate
entertain
express ideas
provide personal fulfillment
lead to fame and fortune

For the next list, problems are noted directly underneath each item.

What does a book editor do?

  • Read various types of books
    • non-essential; delete
  • Correct grammar and spelling
    • verb tense
  • Punctuation and spacing
    • doesn’t fit title
  • To improve awkward, confusing language
    • preposition, verb tense
  • Replaces overused or non-descriptive words
    • verb tense
  • Charge based on word count
    • doesn’t fit new category; delete
  • Provide feedback
    • not specific, incomplete
  • Advice about plot, setting, characterization, dialogue
    • verb tense
  • Research titles, names and quotations
    • verb tense, incomplete
  • Correct verb tense inconsistencies
    • redundant; delete (correcting verb tenses = grammar)

After corrections, here’s the new list:

Essential Book Editing Services

  • Correcting grammar and spelling
  • Correcting punctuation and spacing
  • Rephrasing awkward or confusing language
  • Replacing overused or non-descriptive words
  • Providing feedback about tone, organization, and structure.
  • Providing feedback about plot, setting, characterization, and dialogue
  • Researching accuracy of titles, names and quotations

All of these examples demonstrate various ways in which lists can be greatly improved for clarity.

To learn about proper list punctuation, check out the following links:

https://getitwriteonline.com/articles/vertical-lists https://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/colons.asp https://www.businesswritingblog.com/business_writing/2012/01/punctuating-bullet-points-.html

There Are Dummies

there


[Before rightfully denouncing the post title, please continue reading — thanks so much!] 

Starting sentences with “There is/are” or “There was/were” is rarely recommended and usually unnecessary.

Beginning a sentence in this way amounts to stating that a thing or things exist(s), then proceeding to say what you want to say about those things. It’s unnecessary to state that something exists because once you describe the thought or action involving this thing, you are already automatically stating that it exists (Yes, that sentence was painful to write…). Doing this twice in a sentence is not only redundant but shifts the focus from the main thought or idea to the establishment of the existence of whatever the subject of the sentence is.

Compare these examples:

Wrong: There was a duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer, and I quickly crossed to enter the same code.

Correct: I quickly crossed to the duplicate keypad on the far wall of the foyer and entered the same code.

In the original sentence, the subject appears to be the keypad instead of the character in the story. In the rewritten sentence, the focus is now on the character’s actions. 

Another set of examples:

Wrong: There were faint sounds of tires in the driveway that caused her pulse to race in anticipation.

Correct: The faint sound of tires in the driveway tickled her ears, and her pulse raced in anticipation.

The original sentence is awkward. The rewritten sentence allows the reader to put themselves in the character’s shoes and is much more interesting.

Starting sentences with “There” is a demonstration of using a dummy subject. Writers should avoid dummy subjects because they weaken their writing, making it vague and indistinct. In the examples above, “There” replaced the subjects of the sentences. However, that was unnecessary because we know what the subjects are. If you know what the subject is, then the subject shouldn’t be replaced.

Grammar refresher:

  • Subject: performs the action in a sentence – always a noun (person, place, thing) or a pronoun (replaces a noun: he, she, it, they, that, I)
  • Object: receives the action in a sentence
  • Verb: the action performed or received

The only acceptable exceptions would include sentences in which the subject is unknown, or dialogue that involves answering a question or giving directions. For example, if the purpose of the sentence is to state that something or someone is doing something, but you don’t know who or what is actually performing the action, then it would make sense to start with, “There is/are” or “There was/were.”

Reviewing your work and rewording sentences that begin with unnecessary dummy subjects is one of many ways to liven up and strengthen your writing. I find the need to do this with my own writing on a regular basis.

Let me know what you think in the comments!

Substance

substance

Finding a nonfiction book that presents truly original content is not as easy as one would think.

I have edited many a self-help or business-related book that turned out to be mainly regurgitations of other people’s ideas.

Access to a world of knowledge on the internet makes it easy to find definitions, explanations, and opinions others may have about any subject under the sun. Things we read and hear stick in our minds and influence what we believe. Often they can become the foundation for a particular focus in our lives. 

When an individual has the desire to write a book about something that is important to them or important to others, at some point he or she will need to write down what they know on the subject. Of course, during the process, they will almost always discover that research into certain aspects is necessary before their book is complete.

However, what I take issue with is individuals who have nothing new to add to the subject or conversation they plan on writing a book about. I also take issue with book ‘authors’ who haven’t actually written any content of their own. Instead, they’ve collected material from previously published books, combined it together in a ‘new’ book, then proceeded to call it their own creation. Or, they’ve collected famous sayings that most everyone has already heard or read and that are readily available online to anyone who conducts a basic search then re-published them as ‘their’ book.

I’m sure most people are aware that students frequently plagiarize papers or simply copy and paste information they’ve found online and call it a paper. In the world of academia, this is widely discouraged, and students who are discovered will usually experience severe consequences.

But what about in the world of self-help, inspirational, and how-to books? Call me crazy, but I believe that authors should follow a few, basic, common-sense guidelines before self-publishing these types of books.

Questions I feel any nonfiction writer should ask themselves:

  1. How much of your content did you write from your own memory and experience?
  2. How much of your content has already been published, either in a book, video or movie?
  3. Are your ideas YOUR ideas, or someone else’s ideas that you just think are fantastic?
  4. If you’ve engaged in legitimate research (online or offline), have you gained the necessary permission(s) to publish content that already holds a copyright and isn’t in the public domain? This includes images as well.

Anyone who claims to be an expert or professional at something should be able to explain the topic or activity on their own, without having to scour the internet. Of course, people are all at different skill levels when it comes to communication, grammar or vocabulary, but the basic principles or processes involved in the topic at hand should already be present in their minds, ready to share.

I personally put this theory to the test when I wrote my series about preparation for self-publishing a book. I wanted to ensure that my content was original and based on my own knowledge and experience, because there are hundreds if not thousands of sites and books that talk about this subject to some degree.

First, I brainstormed a list of elements I thought were the most important for authors who were ready to publish their book to consider. Then, over a period of time, I wrote what I knew about each element, refining and rewriting many times. Everything I wrote came from my own mind, and I did not go online for ‘help’. When I couldn’t immediately come up with the exact words I was looking for, I would let it simmer for a few days; then I would simply write what I DID know, and only that.

The final two elements in my list of nine involved things that I don’t handle as part of my editing service. But I still thought they were important for authors to consider, so I included brief, accurate, related information that I’d found through research. I made it clear that my expertise only applied to the first seven elements. I have no desire to pretend to know something I don’t, especially in the professional arena.

It was super exciting for me to discover the amount of knowledge and experience related to book editing I’ve accumulated over the years. It really is true that the best way to find out if you know what you’re talking about is to try to explain it in depth to someone else. Many times in the past, I’ve outed myself by trying to explain something that I really didn’t understand and failed miserably. I’m sure everyone can relate to that feeling — problem is, some people aren’t willing to admit it.

Reading a book full of new ideas, insights or inspirations that help me in a way I’m unable to on my own is so rewarding! I must thank each and every author who has put in the time and effort to share them with the world. 

Weed Whacking

weed whacking


Just discovered an incomprehensible, impossibly long sentence in your manuscript?

Gasp!!

Kill the whole thing and call it a day?

Now just hold on a minute, wordsmith…give that red pen a rest.

First, ask what the GOAL of this monstrosity really is. Statement of fact? Call to action? Expression of feelings? List? Comparison? Physical description? …nonsense? (hopefully not)

Second, break it up into sections. Find a piece of it that you feel is solid, then ask yourself what you are trying to convey ABOUT that solid piece. Sometimes, simply cutting it in half is all you need to do. I’ve often found, however, that a writer may only have a vague idea of what they really desire to say.

Third, ask if it’s full of buzzwords and clichés. If so, how can you turn it into something original and thought provoking?

Going through this process can help weed out the unnecessary debris and leave the core blossom of the sentence standing in triumphant defiance. Your readers will thank you.