This may be review for some of you. But I'd like to go over this for those of you who have some confusion about when to use a comma or period or what when writing dialogue.
First of all, there are two types of dialogue tags: “said” tags and “action” tags.
A said tag assigns the dialogue to a speaker by using the word “said” or a variation of that word (asked, yelled, whispered, etc). A said tag is connected to the dialogue with a comma, unless the dialogue is a question or requires an exclamation point. When using a said tag, the pronoun must be lowercase unless you are using a proper name. Pay attention to the underlined parts of the examples below for proper punctuation.
Sample said tags:
“I’m sorry,” the girl said.
“I am the President of the United States,” Abraham said.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“What do you want?” Kate asked.
“Leave me alone!” he screamed.
“Leave me alone!” Mike screamed.
“I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” Mindy said, “but I’m one of them.” (In this example, the said tag interrupted the dialogue, so a comma was used on the other side of the said tag since the sentence wasn't over yet. If you do this, make sure the interruption falls in a natural place for your character to pause. Read the dialogue out loud to see what sounds best.)
“I can’t believe I’m telling you this,” Mindy said. “I’m one of them.” (Here the said tag came between two complete sentences.) Mindy took a deep breath and said, “I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but I’m one of them.” (The “Mindy took a deep breath” part of the example is what's called an action tag. But if you combine action with a said tag, like I did in this example, you need to punctuate the sentence like you would for a said tag.)
An action tag is a complete sentence that identifies the speaker by what they are doing. Because we see a character’s action in the same paragraph as dialogue, we know they are the speaker. Since action tags are sentences, they are punctuated like sentences.
Sample action tags:
Krista rolled her eyes and sighed. “What do you want, Paul?”
“Get out!” Beth slammed the door in her mother’s face.
“If you want to come, get in.” Kyle opened the car door. “Just don’t be mad at me if you get in trouble for missing curfew.”
“If you want to come, get in,” Kyle opened the car door, “but don’t be mad at me if you get in trouble for missing curfew.” (This example used an action tag to interrupt the sentence.)
In special cases when an action interrupts dialogue in a quick way, you can use em dashes to set this off. Since the break belongs to the sentence, rather than the dialogue inside, the em dashes must appear outside the quotation marks.
“Before we start”—the knight plunged one of the blades into the grassy soil—“we need to go over the basics.”
Any questions? And tricky sentences you're unsure how to punctuate?