Dialogue Punctuation

How do you use punctuation when you have dialogue in your story?  Let's look at one of our favorite authors, Joanne Rowling, who wrote the Harry Potter Series. How does she use punctuation?

1. All talking needs to be surrounded by quotation marks (").

"Go to your cupboard - I mean, your bedroom," he wheezed at Harry.

The first (") is used just before the first word that the person says, and the second (") is used just after the last word. The comma has to go inside the quotation marks.

2. Instead of using a period at the end of the speech, use a comma, if you are going to tell who is talking.

"Las' time I saw you, you was only a baby," said the giant. "Yeh look a lot like yer dad, but yeh've got yer mum's eyes."

After the word baby, Joanne used a comma because she was letting the readers know it was the giant speaking. But after the word eyes, she could use a period to finish the sentence.

3. If you use a question mark, you don't need to change to a comma.

"What do they think they're doing, keeping a thing like that locked up in a school?" said Ron finally. "If any dog needs exercise, that one does."

After the word school, Joanne used a question mark. Usually, we use a comma before telling the readers who the speaker is - but not with a question. The question mark goes inside the quotation marks.

4. If you use an exclamation mark, you don't need to change to a comma.

"A stone that makes gold and stops you ever dying!" said Harry. "No wonder Snape's after it! Anyone would want it.

After the word dying, Joanne used an exclamation mark. Again, it needs to be inside the quotation marks, and there is no need for a comma.

5. If you have interrupted speech, to let the reader know who is speaking, a comma is needed before the break, and after the speaker's name.

"Professor," Harry gasped, "your bird - I couldn't do anything - he just caught fire -"

After the word Professor, Joanne used a comma inside the quotation marks to let the reader know that Harry was speaking. When she wanted to start his talking again, she used a comma after gasped to let the reader know about the change. The second (") just before your let the readers know that talking started again.

6. If someone is thinking about something, but doesn't say it out loud, you can either use quotation marks or not. Either way is acceptable.

Of course, he thought bitterly, Uncle Vernon was talking about the stupid dinner party.

Joanne chose not to use quotations around Harry's thoughts. She could just have easily used them like this...

"Of course," he thought bitterly, "Uncle Vernon was talking about the stupid dinner party.