For this "Quick Tips" entry, I'm going to focus on conversation and the use of quotations. Here we go
Punctuation in Quotations
When a character is speaking, their statement is often followed by, "she said" or, "he mumbled". However, you have to keep in mind that this is still part of the sentence!
- Incorrect: "Wait, I have to tie my shoe." she said. Correct: "Wait, I have to tie my shoe," she said.
Even though her statement ended, the sentence carried on to tell the reader that it was she who spoke. That's how it works with a period, but with exclamation marks and question marks, many people choose to ignore this rule. If you prefer, you can switch them around so the punctuation doesn't interrupt the sentence.
- Correct: "Ow, that really hurt!" she complained. Correct: "Did it really hurt that bad?" he asked. Switched: She complained, "Ow, that really hurt!" Switched: He asked, "Did it really hurt that bad?"
Sometimes the sentence does end in the quote, in which case you would want to use a period at the end of the quote instead of a comma.
- Incorrect: "That's my dog," She pointed at the drooling creature. Correct: "That's my dog." She pointed at the drooling creature.
If you're not sure about whether or not you are dealing with one or two sentences, try reading it to yourself without the quotes. "Ow, that really hurt, she complained" sounds like a complete sentence, but "That's my dog, she pointed at the drooling creature." sounds like it should be separated. I hope that makes sense!
Fluffing Up Your Conversations
What I see the most in writing these days is instant-message-like conversations that go back and forth with no story attached. It often gets very confusing when you're trying to remember who said what. Here is an example.
- "What time is it?"
- "Half past two."
- "Already? I'm going to be late!"
- "Don't worry, the meeting got pushed back."
- "Oh, well that's a relief."
- "Hey, your tie is crooked."
- "Oops! Thanks for pointing that out."
- "No problem. Want to get dinner tonight?"
Now, since that was a short conversation, it probably didn't get too confusing. However, when it gets dragged on, it's easy to miss a line and start reading things the wrong way! Sure, you could tack "he said, she said" on the end of every sentence, but that's no fun at all. Instead of that, try adding a bit of character. Remember, when people are talking in real life, their tone of voice and body language says a lot! Let's try this conversation again.
Additional tidbit: Please remember that every time a new character starts speaking, it should be in a new paragraph. You cannot have two characters speaking in the same paragraph!
- "What time is it?" Scott asked.
- Lisa glanced at her watch. "Half past two."
- "Already? I'm going to be late!" He sounded panicked.
- Lisa smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry, the meeting got pushed back."
- Scott visibly relaxed. "Oh, well that's a relief."
- "Hey, your tie is crooked," she observed.
- "Oops! Thanks for pointing that out."
- "No problem." She paused. "Want to get dinner tonight?"
Much better! Now we know who is saying what, and even if we get lost we can just glance back a line and find ourselves. However, it still sounds very plain and boring. This is the fun part- the fluffing. Before you do this, ask yourself about the characters. Is Scott a well-groomed man in a suit with a corporate job? Or rather, is he a nervous intern late for his first meeting? What about Lisa, his companion? Are they friends or co-workers? Is she a sexy, sophisticated woman or a young girl with frizzy hair and glasses? You may know all this, but your readers don't! Instead of boring them with a block of text that describes your characters, fit it into the story as they speak.
- "What time is it?" Scott asked, fumbling with his watch until he remembered it was broken. He had dropped it in the sink the day before, but he still wore it out of habit.
- Lisa glanced at her own watch, an expensive Gucci with a little black window. "Half past two."
- "Already? I'm going to be late!" He sounded panicked. Cramming his hand into his pocket, he hunted around for the keys to his car.
- Lisa smiled reassuringly, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Don't worry, the meeting got pushed back an hour."
- Scott visibly relaxed. "Oh, well that's a relief." It was his first big meeting and he wanted to make a good impression.
- Lisa looked him up and down, no doubt thinking that he looked strange in a suit. "Hey, your tie is crooked," she observed.
- "Oops! Thanks for pointing that out." He busied himself with fixing it, trying to ignore her stare.
- "No problem." She paused. Though he didn't think it was possible for such a cool and collected woman, she almost seemed nervous. Glancing at the parking garage's dirty floor, she posed a question. "Want to get dinner tonight?"
Wow! What a difference! Now we know that Scott is indeed a nervous newbie, anxiously awaiting his first big meeting. Lisa, on the other hand, seems like a woman with money and expensive taste. What's this, though? She has a crush on him? Now a simple conversation has become a story in itself, fleshing out both characters and even telling us that they are inside of a parking garage when the conversation takes place. Even if your characters are just sitting down at a diner for some coffee, there is a story in it. Maybe one character obsessively straightens the condiments, or perhaps their companion is utterly disgusted by the amount of sugar they dump into their drink. There is always something beyond the back-and-forth quotes, so make sure to write it!
Additional tidbit: Don't be afraid to do a bit of research. In their conversation, I mentioned that her watch was a Gucci. Before I wrote this, I had no idea what kind of watch brands would be considered expensive. When I got to that part, I paused, pulled up my browser, and googled, "expensive watch brands". Research never hurts!
That's all for now, and I hope this helps! Let me know if you see any mistakes or something that��could be improved. Also, if you don't mind, I'd love if you checked out some of my writing! Thumbnail in description below.