Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Good Read and a Dialogue Writing Tip

by John Piccarreto

June at Shimmering Lake Golf Club on the shore of Canandaigua Lake and the five-week beer-cart-girl certification program is in full swing. It’s a very popular program and a great way for any college girl to start her summer, but this year it could also turn out to be very dangerous.

Strange things start to happen and throw in December 21, 2012, a solar cataclysm, a missing ancient Egyptian necklace, the CIA, Middle Eastern terrorists, and it’s a lot more than Verne bargained for when he left his high-powered Wall Street position to purchase the course.
Question from the e-mail: What are the most common mistakes you see in the manuscripts you receive. I don't expect you to answer all at once, but if you could put one up on your blog every few days, I will compile my own file of "What NOT to dos!"

Speech Tags and Action Tags

Answer: Dialogue Punctuation is often done improperly.  People are more and more careless about grammar, thinking it doesn't matter anymore. But if we call ourselves an author, we ought to care about precision of language use.

First, Anything said aloud goes inside QUOTATION MARKS.

All the speech tags (all the SAIDS) should be connected to what IS said by a comma, because it is still part of the same sentence. I can't tell you how often I see them done incorrectly, with a period between the said and what is said.

Who said it should always be attached to the rest of the sentence with a comma. 

Action tags (where someone takes an action, BUT NO SAID is present) should always receive a period after the the speech and in the action sentence should Stand Alone.  Readers will assume that the person who takes the action was the person who spoke if the action and the speech ARE IN THE SAME PARAGRAPH.

That's a great way of getting rid of all the redundant language (said, after said, after said) by just using the action. Images make for "good writing" and using an action tag forces you to use an image, because you have to show the character in Action. BUT you must be sure that the person who speaks and the person who moves are the same person.

In dialogue the “speech tag” or “said” is still part of the same sentence as what has been said and should be attached with a comma, and never get a cap on She or He. 

An “Action Tag” or movement, gesture, reaction or the like, gets a stand alone sentence of its own.  IF you are going to use an action tag, you might as well leave off the said and just use the action, because the reader will assume that the person who spoke is also the person who moved. If someone else moves, change paragraphs, just as you would if a different person spoke.


“I thought I knew that,” she said, with a laugh.  (Speech tag.)  No cap on she, as it's still part of the same sentence.

“I thought I knew that.” She laughed. (Action Tag) She gets a cap and the action sentence stands on its own, because it is an action, not a speech. Remember, no one can speak and laugh at the same time.

Either of the above would be okay. But...

“I thought I knew that.” She said, laughing.

"I thought I knew that," she laughed.

are Both Dead Wrong and will make both the author and the publisher look both Ignorant and FOOLISH!

What is said is usually more important than who has said it, and so the SAID part of the sentence usually comes after the speech.

Even authors with lots of books to their credit may still make this kind of mistake.

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