I need help from you awesome people!


I have a problem. One of the strong points with my writing is dialogue. I feel like I have a good ear for it and people seem to agree. I think it was Steinbeck who said that you need to say your dialogue out loud before you write it and then it can be tweaked before its written down and it will sound like something humans would say. My fiancée will catch me walking around my makeshift office having one sided conversations over and over until I can get the cadence and the rhythm right.

However, I struggle with punctuation. I’m an English teacher, I teach English as a second language to primary learners but I never teach grammar or in depth creative writing. Also I find grammar stuff so dry that I can’t get my arse to gear to do the research.

My problem is where to put full stops and commas in dialogue.

If I write ‘I don’t think it will work,’ said Tom. ‘It’s too big.’ – should it be a capital S on said? Should there be a comma after work? Should there be a full stop after Tom?

I know I can research this twenty different ways but I’m sat at my computer in work packing up for the summer holidays and I thought ‘What’s the best resource for me to find help? Oh yeah all the awesome people who follow my blog!’

So if anyone can help me it would be much appreciated.


7 thoughts on “I need help from you awesome people!

  1. found a few sites with info for you



    If the dialogue tag appears before the person’s words or in the middle of two sets of words, the tag requires a comma. If it appears at the end of the sentence, it requires a period. Dialogue tags such as he said or she said never use an exclamation point.


  2. The way you wrote it is perfectly fine. If you look through novels, you’ll see that that’s the most widely used format – comma after “work”, no capital S, and full stop after Tom. =]


  3. ok. i’m the expert here. 😉 here’s what you do in that situation. take out the attribute. take out “said tom.” write the sentence how it’d be without “said tom.” you’d then have:

    ‘I don’t think it will work. It’s too big.’

    if “said tom” is after “work” then it’s still part of that sentence, so said does not get caps, and there can only be one period, which would be after tom.

    but you mentioned dialogue sounding natural. what about that? please feel free to e-mail me your dialogue and i’ll be glad to spiff it up. it’s my strongest point. if you want an example, read this:



  4. whilst i agree whole-heartedly with accepting rich’s tuition; he is an american, and therefore has an unhealthy aversion to the semicolon…………….that’s all i’m saying


  5. Some Americans are in touch with their inner semicolon. I’m no expert, but when I began writing fiction I had this very same question. How I solved it was I read, alot. And I still do. I read everything I can get my hands on, but mostly, I read within the genre I feel my work resides. I find works that are widely accepted and then I look for formula and structure within that work. If it worked for Ray Bradbury or Stephen King or Dean Koontz, well then, it should work for me, from a mechanical standpoint.

    What you didn’t really say here, but what I think is an important part of your question, is how do you create the ‘pace’ of the dialogue. So in that regard, if you heard a pause in your dialogue after ‘I don’t think it will work’ and before ‘It’s too big’ then I would agree with the structure you used. Does this make sense? You could also create a pause by placing an action within the pause. For example: ‘I don’t think it will work,’ he said while running greasy fingers through his hair. ‘It’s too big.’

    I must say here that I do not have a degree in writing. My degree is in science and medicine, although I began in music. But my point is I read and gleen (borrow) from what I read. Like with music, I write my own music but I also listen to stuff on the radio and figure it out then play it back. I learn chord structure and phrasing in this manner; I learn harmony and melody; I learn rhythm. Then I take pieces and add more ideas of my own and before you know it, I’ve got something all together fresh and new. And doing this, in my opinion, is a fantastic way to sharpen your skills.

    Just my opinion.


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