As I was doing a quick edit of Linsey Painter's winning fictional piece, "Rachel Asks for Wisdom," I spent most of my time looking up the proper way to punctuate dialogue. As the last post for our writing fiction segment, I would like to pass on some grammar tips that I found helpful:
1. Do not capitalize speech tags (he said/she said), unless the speech tag begins with a proper noun.
Original: “Why is everything manual in this blinking country?” She exclaimed, utterly exasperated.
Corrected: “Why is everything manual in this blinking country?” she exclaimed, utterly exasperated.
2. Do not capitalize the second half of split sentences.
“Remember,” Dr. Francie’s voice lowered as if she was encouraging herself as well, “this life is just a breath to God, He’s got things worked out on a level which we can never understand. Our job is to do our very best for God, using the wisdom He gives when we ask and to be lights pointing towards Him in this dark world.”
3. If it is not a split sentence, capitalize the beginning of the next quote.
“It just seems so unfair!” Rachel exclaimed. “In Australia we have so much, and here, where there is so much need, there is so little.”
4. Start a new paragraph for each speaker. Even when someone just acts and doesn't speak, she still gets a new paragraph.
“Would you like some water?” Dr Francie asked. It was the first question everyone in the community asked anyone walking through their front door.
“Yes, please,” Rachel replied.
The ceiling fans spun round trying desperately to keep the heat at bay. Rachel gratefully sat down on one of Dr. Francie’s cane chairs.
“I heard you had a rough night on Friday,” Dr. Francie stated, sitting down opposite Rachel.
“Yes,” Rachel replied slowly not wanting to show the depth of her emotions.
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
5. Use italics instead of quotation marks for short internal dialogue.
Original: Rachel remembered her last desperate prayer. "Oh God, help me, " she cried out silently as her knife sunk into flesh.
Corrected: Rachel remembered her last desperate prayer. Oh God, help me, she cried out silently as her knife sunk into flesh.
6. If a speaker continues talking for more than one paragraph, all paragraphs except the last do not have close quotation marks, but all paragraphs have open quotes.
Dr Francie nodded. “I have been struggling with this very thing from the very first day that I got here. When I returned to PNG after completing my studies in Sydney, I was determined to make a difference in the level of healthcare. (no close quotation marks here)
“There is so much in the world that is unfair; we do what we can to tip the balance a little, eh?”
"Thank you, Dr. Francie, for your last inspiring bit of dialogue," remarked the editor. "At Women of the Harvest, we also want to tip the balance when it comes to more women in cross-cultural service writing fictional pieces."
One fun outcome of this blog segment on writing fiction has been Linsey agreeing to write a new chapter in Dr. Rachel's life in PNG for each of the upcoming
"Doesn't Dr. Rachel already feel like a colleague and friend?" Cindy asked. "I've been wondering what she encountered at the hospital after she answered the emergency call. That's why I asked Linsey to keep writing. I gotta know!"