"We know!" you all exclaimed today. "You use quotation marks!"
"Yes, you are right!" I replied. "Let's talk about using correct punctuation with quotation marks!"
"Yippee!" you all cried. "We can't wait!"
"Well," I said, "let's get going then!"
The main job of quotation marks is to show or set off the exact spoken or written language that someone has used (a.k.a. the direct quote). To use quotation marks correctly, we have to surround what the speaker has said with the quotation marks, including the end punctuation we imagine goes with it.* Remember that the end punctuation always goes inside the quotation marks because it is part of the quoted thought. Once we have used quotation marks to show what a speaker has said, we can add information about who is doing the speaking. The part of our writing that shows who is doing the speaking is NOT included in our quotation marks, because it is not part of what the speaker has said. It DOES need a period after it, though, if it comes at the end of the sentence. Look at these examples:
Direct quote: "What book are you reading?"
Add speaker: "What book are you reading?" asked Alagan.
Direct quote: "We're reading Blood on the River. It's awesome!"
Add speaker: "We're reading Blood on the River. It's awesome!" responded Hansumjen.
Direct quote: "Huh! That's your opinion!"
Add speaker: "Huh! That's your opinion!" snorted McMadmad.
*Here comes the twist! There is one more punctuation mark that makes an appearance in most dialogues, and that mark is the comma. Remember that the comma is a separator...it separates things. Commas are super flexible, very important punctuation marks, but, I will be honest, the comma can be tricky. Watch the little stunt it pulls here:
Direct quote: "Glenshire students trick-or-treat for UNICEF."
Add speaker: "Glenshire students trick-or-treat for UNICEF," Mrs. Gauthier said proudly.
WHOA! What is that comma doing AFTER the direct quote and INSIDE the quotation marks? It kicked the period off the end of the direct quote and put itself in the period's place, and, crazily enough, that is what you have to do every time you add a speaker after a direct quote that ends in a period. There is no such thing in grammar as "Glenshire students trick-or-treat for UNICEF." Mrs. Gauthier said proudly. (If you have time, stop and ponder why a period gets replaced by a comma, but an exclamation point or question mark does not.) And that's not all! Now look at what happens when we add the speaker at the beginning:
Add speaker: Mrs Gauthier said proudly, "Glenshire students trick-or-treat for UNICEF."
WHOA! Now what is that comma doing BEFORE the direct quote and OUTSIDE the quotation marks? Well, it's separating! It's separating the part of our sentence that is not quoted material from the direct quote. And that is the real function of commas in dialogue: to separate the direct quote from the added information, whether that added information comes at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of our sentence. Consider a few more examples:
"You eat rats?" Sparrowpelt asked. "I'd rather go hungry!"
"So would I," Cherrytail agreed. "Just thinking about rats makes me sick."
"Where I come from," Stick mewed drily, "you'll eat anything you can get."
Leafstar sympathized, "I guess when you're really hungry, you don't feel so picky."
Try writing your own sentence or two of dialogue using quotation marks and punctuation correctly. Have fun! This is where many new stories begin!