Em Dashes in Dialogue

Last time, we looked at using ellipses in your dialogue. Up next: em dashes.

Punctuation such as em dashes and ellipses are used correctly.

using quotation marks

© AKS – Fotolia.com

The em dash—it looks like this—is used to indicate a break of thought or speech. It can be used parenthetically, as in the previous sentence, or singly, for example if a character changes topic mid-sentence.

“The next slide shows the third quarter—no, sorry, that’s the wrong slide.”

It can also be used to show an interruption. Continue reading

Using Ellipses in Dialogue

Punctuation is hard to master in everyday writing. Fiction adds a layer of complexity because of the different way dialogue is punctuated. As if commas weren’t hard enough to wrangle on their own, dialogue puts a special twist on a couple of marks that don’t otherwise see a lot of use.

Punctuation such as em dashes and ellipses are used correctly.

In nonfiction writing, ellipses are used only to show omissions. But they have a special use in dialogue to indicate a trailing off of the character’s speech.

using quotation marks

© AKS – Fotolia.com

Remember our flustered presenter from last time?

“I guess …” she clicked around, vainly searching for the right version. “Looks like … I think I misplaced the new version.”

Continue reading

When to use single or double quotation marks

Considering that the rules for quotation marks are relatively simple (I mean, compared to something really complicated like the comma), it’s surprising how often we see errors with them.

In dialog, stuff that’s said aloud goes in quotation marks. “I can’t believe she said that.” (Stuff that’s not said aloud is sometimes set in italics.) Simple enough. Few writers struggle with that.

using quotation marks

© AKS – Fotolia.com

Single quotes are used when you have a quote within a quote: “I can’t believe she said ‘irregardless.’” There are a few other publication styles that call for single quotes—for example, a lot of newspapers use them in headlines because they take up less space—but a quote within a quote is about the only time most writers need to use single quotation marks. Continue reading

The ‘rules’ about exclamation points

Much advice about the use of exclamation points in fiction comes in the guise of “rules.” I’ve heard several:

  • Never use exclamation points.
  • You may use one exclamation point per book.
  • Only use an exclamation point if the character is shouting.

By now you know me well enough to know that I categorize all of these as nonrules. Here’s what Chicago says: Continue reading