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punctuation question.... : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

punctuation question....

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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Loretta Green
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punctuation question....

Postby Loretta Green » Thu Aug 06, 2015 7:38 pm

All right, as many of you have pointed out, my punctuation sucks. Especially in and around dialogue. I have been trying to improve my skills as a writer. My question is, how do I punctuate when a character does an action at the same time they are speaking?

Dutch nodded, "I agree. We should do that."

OR

Dutch nodded. "I agree. We should do that."

Do I use a comma, or a period?

Thanks for your help.
Loretta

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DrG2
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby DrG2 » Thu Aug 06, 2015 8:45 pm

the second. You use a comma when the action is a synonym for "said". You can't nod words (unless you're doing semaphore) so it's an action, not a dialogue tag.

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Loretta Green
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Loretta Green » Thu Aug 06, 2015 8:48 pm

thank you very much. That makes perfect sense.

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Terry T.A. Rodgers
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Terry T.A. Rodgers » Thu Aug 06, 2015 9:28 pm

And to add to what DrG2 has said, doing it the second way eliminates a dialogue tag, which is always a good thing.

James A. Ritchie
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby James A. Ritchie » Fri Aug 07, 2015 11:21 am

The first way. It's completely ungrammatical to use a comma in this instance. Action is not the key, action that indicates speech is. This means things such as "stammered", "yelled:, etc. It does not mean any other kind of action. Nodded is no different that "Dutch drew and fired his gun". If you want to indicate he nodded while speaking, which is usually unnecessary, then you have to expand. Dutch continued to nod as he spoke. Either way, it's a period, not a comma. "Dutch nodded" is a complete sentence. So is "Dutch nodded as he spoke." A complete sentence needs a full stop punctuation.

On to[ of this, that's what the word "and" means. "Dutch nodded" does not mean he's nodding as he speaks, whatever punctuation you use. "Dutch nodded and spoke" means he's doing both at the same time. It still doesn't change the punctuation.

If you read enough books, you'll encounter this kind of usage often. Most just write "Dutch nodded". They leave the rest up to the reader. But when they want to make a point, they'll write something like, "Dutch's head continued to bob up and down as he spoke.

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Loretta Green
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Loretta Green » Fri Aug 07, 2015 12:10 pm

Thank you, James. Your reply helps me a lot.

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Rupam Grimoeuvre
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Rupam Grimoeuvre » Tue Aug 25, 2015 4:23 am

Interesting. I am also pretty bad when it comes to punctuation, and I've never actually considered that seriously. Thanks for this thread, Loretta.

This makes me wonder if it is wrong to say: Dutch nodded in agreement. Or Dutch nodded and said, " I agree". (This one sounds kinda redundant but I'm curious about the use of comma here.)

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Terry T.A. Rodgers
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Terry T.A. Rodgers » Tue Aug 25, 2015 7:17 am

Dutch nodded in agreement. "I agree."

This is a much better set up that your second sentence because it removes the secondary dialog tag 'and said'. You already know it's Dutch. No need to add the 'and said'. It is correct grammatical speaking though.

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Rupam Grimoeuvre
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Rupam Grimoeuvre » Tue Aug 25, 2015 7:22 am


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Terry T.A. Rodgers
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Re: punctuation question....

Postby Terry T.A. Rodgers » Tue Aug 25, 2015 7:51 am

I would change it though to just:

Dutch nodded. "I agree."

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