Who Said That?

by Cherie Tucker

July 2014

Most writers know how to write dialogue. Each new speaker gets a new paragraph, even for a single word. That’s how the reader knows the voice has changed.

“You told me you cleaned your room.”

“I did.”

“Do you call that clean?”

“Yes.”

Quotation marks indicate that people are talking, and the shift in paragraphing shows that a new person is now the speaker. There is no need to add “he said” when dialogue is written like this. The late William A. Sabin uses this brilliant example in The Gregg Reference Manual.

“Waiter, what was in that glass?”

“Arsenic, sir.”

“Arsenic. I asked you to bring me absinthe.”

“I thought you said arsenic. I beg your pardon, sir.”

“Do you realize what you’ve done, you clumsy fool? I’m dying.”

“I am extremely sorry, sir.”

“I DISTINCLY SAID ABSINTHE.”

“I realize that I owe you an apology, sir. I am extremely sorry.”

--Myles na Gopaleen

If a quotation goes beyond one paragraph, do not put final quotation marks at the end of the first paragraph. Indent for the next sentence and begin with quotes. Use end quotes when that speaker has finished. The absence of end quotes will tell the reader that the same person is still talking.

“We had the best turnout ever for our conference. I think there were more than 300 people, even many from out of state.

“Speaking of that, why didn’t you attend?”

On the other hand, no quotation marks are needed when the dialogue shows the inner thoughts of a character. Here the character is not speaking aloud, merely musing.

Who does he think he is, talking to me like that.

I wonder if she knows there’s toilet paper on her shoe, Mary thought and smiled.

 

Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.  She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well.  GrammarWorks@msn.com.

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