While we're on said

Quick status update, yesterday I finished my final revision, so I’ll be sending out my novel to agents and a few editors I met at the SCBWI Houston conference this week. (Quick nervous shiver) I’ll keep you posted on my progress as it goes along, the good and the bad.

At my critique group a few weeks ago, one of our members brought in the first chapter of her manuscript and in it, she had commas and periods wrong in her dialog attributes, her saids. She told us it was something she always got confused (I’ve got a few of those myself) and that she had been online in chat groups with others who were confused. The way she settled on was actually the incorrect way. So, as it sounds like there might be others out there unsure of when to put a comma and when to put a period, I thought I’d settle it here.

A dialog attribute is when you say who said the dialog.

e.g. “It’s hot today,” said Billy.

‘Said Billy’ is the dialog attribute. In this case, you ALWAYS use a comma, as ‘said Billy’ is part of the full sentence and modifies the dialog by letting you know who said it. ‘Said Billy’ cannot stand on its own.

You can also identify dialog by putting the talker’s name in some kind of action after the dialog.

e.g. “It’s hot today.” Billy wiped the sweat from his brow.

In this case, the dialog stands on its own as a complete sentence and the identifying action sentence after the dialog also stands on its own as a complete sentence, so both are finished with a period.

Now, there are a few exceptions to the ALWAYS in the first example. You won’t use a comma at the end of the dialog, even if you have an attribution that’s part of the same sentence, if you have a question mark or exclamation mark at the end of the dialog.

e.g. “It’s hot today!” Billy said.

e.g. “Is it hot today?” Billy asked.

Both of these have dialog attributions that are part of the same sentence as the dialog, but the ! or ? stands in the place of the comma.

You can also have a dialog attribution in the middle of a sentence, in which case you’ll have a comma at the end of the first section of dialog and a comma at the end of the attribution.

e.g. “You know,” said Billy, “it’s hotter today than it was yesterday.”

Note the only period is at the end of the completed dialog, after ‘yesterday.’

Any grammar questions you get mixed up about? Let me know and I’ll see if I can help

Write On!