Creative Fiction Writing Workshop: Using Quotation Marks and Other Punctuation

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Don’t let dialogue and punctuation marks outsmart you in creative fiction writing.

Dialogue between characters is one great way to engage in character development. Usage of quotes can become very complicated in your characters’ dialogue, but you don’t have to struggle with how to use quotes along with commas, periods, capitalization, the em dash, the ellipses, and other marks. Use the templates below for models on how to use quotation marks, and you will be a whiz at this in no time.

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Your word processing program will probably use smart quotes. The quote marks curl toward the words. You may set your word processor to use straight quotes if you prefer. Be sure you are consistent and always use one or the other throughout your entire writing.

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1. Using the ellipses to show the thought trails off, when the sentence is incomplete:

End with a blank, then the three dots, the quote, a blank.
“I, I, I . . .” he stuttered.

A non-quote new sentence follows: Capitalize the new sentence.
“Still she’s reckless, and that temper of hers . . .” Not to mention the prickly pride.

A new paragraph follows:

“I don’t know what to say, Aramis. They’re your best friends, not my best friends. I’ve no right to tell them. But maybe . . .”

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2. Using the ellipses within quotes when the sentence is complete:

A new sentence, within the same quote follows. Note there is a period before the three dots.
“He has my father’s signet ring, and Papa never let that out of his possession. . . . They murdered my father in Belgium.”

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The quote sentence is complete and is followed by a new non-quote sentence:
“And Uncle Porthos even took me on his horse. . . .” Suddenly, the boy stopped as if realizing he had a crowd.

3. Quote starts the sentence; the “he said” is in the middle, and then the quote continues:

Don’t capitalize the continued sentence.
“My father’s out of the country,” she began in a measured tone, “and a lone woman could hardly welcome a group of strange men to her home.”

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4. Quote starts the sentence, ends with a comma and quote and blank and the “he said.”:

Do not capitalize the word after the closing quote unless it is a proper name or the word “I.”
“He will see you now,” the servant said, bowing as Athos thanked him.

Quote ends with a question mark and is followed by the “he said:”
Don’t capitalize the “he said” part.
“Do we have an agreement?” the unofficial leader of the group asked.

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5. Quote starts in the middle of the sentence:

Put a comma after the leading “he said.” Have one blank, then the quotation mark, then the first word of the quote capitalized.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “It was just a possible explanation. I know it’s not a very good one.”

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6. Use the em dash to show a pause in the quote that is all one sentence:

Use no spaces before or after the dash.
“You know what I really wish? I really wish you could find it in your heart to trust me?to not always play the gentleman. However, it’d be more than enough if you just decided to be your real self.”

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Use the em dash to show one sentence trails off and then a new sentence begins:
Capitalize the new sentence. Use one space after the closing quote.
“Yes, but?” She silenced him with a kiss.
“I think so, but?On second thought, it’s not true,” he said.

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Kat Jaske ?2006 All rights reserved

The reviewer from ForeWord in her five-star review of For Honor by Kat Jaske, stated that Jaske was highly skilled in character development. Kat Jaske is an English and French teacher in Las Vegas, where her high school selected her first novel, For Honor, as the featured book for the 2006 reading incentive program. Jaske’s second book in the series, Gambit For Love of a Queen, and the third swashbuckling, adventure novel, Righting Time, also feature the musketeers, sword fighting, and the lady musketeer and spy, Laurel. See the author web site for more information.

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