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Punctuating Dialogue: A Cheat Sheet:


This was originally written for a GI Joe fan fiction writers' workshop I was a part of. I've since adapted it for Transformers fandom. Which basically involved changing GI Joe quotes to Transformers quotes.

Source: Writing Dialogue by Tom Chiarella. Story Press: Cincinnati, OH, 1998. The bits in bold are direct quotes from Mr. Chiarella's book; quotes used are taken from Rob Powers’s collections of Transformers quotes (specifically the G1 and Beast Wars cartoon and the G1 comics lists). Anything else is written by dunmurderin.

# # #


Punctuation always goes inside the quote -- If it's a comma, a question mark or an exclamation point, it goes inside the second set of quotes, not outside it. To put it in comic terms, think of the quotation marks as the word bubble that contains what’s being said.

"Sometimes it‘s better to be known for one‘s enemies,” Blitzwing said. (Five Faces of Darkness) -- this is a correct example.

The dialogue tag frames the sentence in which it appears -- The dialogue tag is the bit that tells the reader who is speaking. As such, it is part of the entire sentence, which is why the period comes after the dialogue tag rather than before. Again, going back to the comics analogy, the dialogue tag is the hook of your word balloon since it indicates who is speaking.

The period comes after the dialogue tag -- Thus, capping the sentence.

This example is correct: “Sometimes, it’s better to be known for one’s enemies,” Blitzwing said.
This example isn't: “Sometimes, it’s better to be known for one’s enemies.” Blitzwing said.

Other forms of terminal punctuation appear inside the quotes -- Namely, question marks and exclamation points; they go inside the quotes because they are referring to what's being said, not to the sentence as a whole.

This is correct: "Autobots, transform and roll out!” Optimus Prime said.
This isn't: "Autobots, transform and roll out,” Optimus Prime said!
Neither is this: "Autobots, transform and roll out!” Optimus Prime said!

Terminal punctuation is never followed by a comma -- The question mark or exclamation point is enough in and of itself. It doesn't need the extra comma to help it along.

This is correct: “Such heroic nonsense!“ Megatron said. (Transformers: The Movie)
This isn’t: “Such heroic nonsense!,” Megatron said.

When placed in the center of a long line of dialogue, the tag acts as a pause, surrounded on either side by quotes -- In order to be able to do this, the line of dialogue must be one complete sentence; if it's two complete sentences, use a period after the dialogue tag and at the end of the second dialogue sentence.

Example of a dialogue tag as a pause: “If I want to know what's on your mind,” Blitzwing said. “I'll splatter it on the wall and see for myself!” (Triple Takeover)

You can also format this sentence without a period after said: "If I want to know what's on your mind," Blitzwing said, "I'll splatter it on the wall and see for myself."

This example could also be written without a break as: “If I want to know what’s on your mind, I’ll splatter it on the wall and see for myself!” Blitzwing said.

Example of a dialogue tag between two complete sentences: “You are the Autobot called Kup,” the Quintesson said. “You are Cybertron's chief of security.” (Five Faces of Darkness)

This example, without a break, would look like this: “You are the Autobot called Kup. You are Cybertron’s chief of security,” the Quintesson said.

The decision as to where (or whether) to break a sentence in half is pretty well up to the author. My suggestion is to read the sentence out loud and see if a pause at that point fits or not. If it sounds good to you, go for it. If not, don't. Really, it's that simple. Scary, huh?

If two people speak, without pause, or without a dialogue tag between them, it is customary to begin a new paragraph. This helps prevent confusion for the reader; it also looks nicer on the page.

Example: "Oh man! That ship wasn't built; it was poured!"
"Die cast construction! It's a lost art."
(Beast Wars: The Agenda, Part 3)

Just for clarification, these two quotes end in periods because there is no dialogue tag following them. Setting these two quotes on different lines is a visual cue to your reader that another person has started speaking. It’s also a lot easier on the eyes -- causing your readers eye-strain is not a good way to insure they will continue reading your stuff.

Note: this sort of formatting is best used for conversations between two characters where it is clear who is speaking without a dialogue tag.

Example: "I am Alpha and Omega, Optimal Optimus. Now and forever. Until the end of time!... Destroy them!" Megatron said.
"Negative,” Dinobot said.
"What?! What possible reason do you have to disobey me? I am your master! I am your creator!"
"And I... have my honor!"
(Beast Wars: Nemesis, Part 2)

It’s best not to do this sort of thing for very long because you reader can quickly lose track of who is talking to who. Robert Parker, in his Spencer books, has a tendency to carry this non-tagged dialogue on for several lines which occasionally results in me having to go back and think “Okay, Spencer said this, Hawk said this so...Spencer, Hawk, Spencer, Hawk...” until I catch up. It can get annoying.

Whenever someone new speaks up, indicate the exchange by beginning a new paragraph.

Example: "Oh man! That ship wasn't built; it was poured!" Rattrap said.
"Die cast construction! It's a lost art,” said Optimus Primal.


The reasons for doing this are the same as the reasons in the example above: breaking things up serves as a visual cue to your readers that someone new is speaking and is easier on the readers’ eyes. This sort of dialogue tagging is good for conversations between two individuals or between three or more people.

If a character speaks for an extended period and you want to begin a new paragraph, it is not necessary to close the quotes at the end of the first paragraph. -- Or the second paragraph, for that matter. Multiple paragraphs of dialogue are best left for speeches and probably ones longer than the one I’ve quoted below. You also don't necessarily need to include dialogue tags in the second (or third, or fourth, or nth) paragraph(s). A good rule of thumb would be, include dialogue tags if it’s not clear from context that the speech is still going on or if anyone interrupts the speaker.

Example: "Maybe we guilty of not seeing big picture,” Grimlock said. “But Decepticons guilty too. See too big a picture! Time on Earth help us look down, see what we trample on.
“It life, no matter what size or form. We watch it struggle, fight for existence. We helped it then -- why not now?
“If Decepticons not see that their way wrong, it up to us to educate them... the hard way!”
(Transformers: Generation 2 comic, issue #1)

So, there you have it, a handy-dandy printable cheat-sheet for more or less all your dialogue punctuation needs. Good luck!

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