Writing Glitch #143

Today’s glitch:


If you insist on using a colon instead of a comma with a dialogue tag (even though it’s jarring and very much nonstandard to do so), do not use said or any other speech verb with it; just use the character’s name or whatever, followed by the colon.

Dialogue belongs in the same paragraph as its tag.

Post-apocalyptic needs a hyphen.

The rest of the changes I’ve made to this example are for improving flow rather than correcting mechanical errors.

You are a scavenger and have lived your entire life in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

One day, you stumble onto a bunker and open it. Inside is a friendly looking woman.

She adjusts her reading glasses, brushes the dust off her apron, and says, “Oh? Is it safe to go out on the surface now?”




About Thomas Weaver

I’m a writer and editor who got into professional editing almost by accident years ago when a friend from university needed someone to copyedit his screenplay about giant stompy robots (mecha). Having discovered that I greatly enjoy this kind of work, I’ve been putting my uncanny knack for grammar and punctuation, along with an eclectic mental collection of facts, to good use ever since as a Wielder of the Red Pen of Doom. I'm physically disabled, and for the past several years, I’ve lived with my smugly good-looking twin Paul, who writes military science fiction and refuses to talk about his military service because he can’t. Sometimes Paul and I collaborate on stories, and sometimes I just edit whatever he writes. It's worked out rather well so far. My list of non-writing-related jobs from the past includes librarian, art model, high school teacher, science lab gofer… Although I have no spouse or offspring to tell you about, I do have six cats. (The preferred term is "Insane Cat Gentleman.") I currently spend my time blogging, reading, editing, and fending off cats who like my desk better than my twin’s.
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7 Responses to Writing Glitch #143

  1. Ah! It seems you are well-acquainted with the rules of speech, particularly in regards to punctuation and capitalization. I have… struggled with this for many years and am still being corrected to this day. Would you do me the favor of clarifying a few things?

    In the above example, for instance, you capitalized the first word in the quotations. Do you always capitalize it even if it’s part of the previous sentence?

    Liked by 2 people

    • You and me both sister, you and me both! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    • Always capitalize the first word of dialogue, even if the tag comes before it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What if the tag comes after? Does it depend on the punctuation of the dialogue or is it dependent upon whether the tag is describing the dialogue. Does this make sense?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for bringing this up.

          If the tag comes FTER the dialogue (“I wish I’d thought of this sooner,” he said.), then obviously the first word of the dialogue is the first word of the whole sentence, so you’d capitalize it. The mistake I see A LOT is capitalizing the first word of the TAG when the dialogue before it ends with a question mark or exclamation point. (“Why do some writers assume the auto-correct is always right?” he asked.)

          A dialogue tag, by the way, is just the ‘X said’ part of the sentence; it’s not any actions the character may perform in addition to speaking. (Those are sometimes called associated actions and sometimes called beats, although the latter term can be confusing because some people refer to the TAGS as beats, too.)

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah! Thank you! I actually fail rather miserably at the post-dialogue tag. I always capitalize the word no matter the dialogue punctuation, but I’ve been called out on that in recent years. Now, I’m trying to correct myself. I appreciate you reaffirming this as I’m still a little hesitant about it at times. :p (All the things they don’t teach us about writing in school. Haha!)

            Also, I find a lot of people struggle with additives to the tag. (“Can you wish upon a star?” she asked, her eyes wide with awe.) Many don’t use the comma. Do you think it’s a matter of preference or actually grammatically incorrect to not have the comma?

            Liked by 1 person

  2. In reply to Melanie’s comment: “Also, I find a lot of people struggle with additives to the tag. (“Can you wish upon a star?” she asked, her eyes wide with awe.) Many don’t use the comma. Do you think it’s a matter of preference or actually grammatically incorrect to not have the comma?”

    It depends on WHAT you’ve got in addition to the tag. Not terribly helpful, I know, but I don’t have a succinct punctuation rule that sums up all possibilities.

    The comma is correct in this one: “Can you wish upon a star?” she asked, her eyes wide with awe. (If you DIDN’T have a comma there, you’d be saying that she was asking her eyes the question, which is weird.) On the other hand, this version DOESN’T get a comma: “Can you wish upon a star?” she asked as her eyes widened with awe.


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