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How to punctuate dialogue in fiction: A guide for authors

Dialogue allows readers to get inside the minds of your characters. As an editor, I have realized that many authors struggle with how to punctuate dialogue correctly.  Here is a primer that explores the basics of punctuating dialogue in fiction with tips for making it more effective.

Dialogue is set off by quotation marks. Each time a character speaks, what they say should be enclosed in quotation marks. For example,

“Hello,” said John.

When a character speaks, their dialogue should be followed by a tag that identifies who is speaking. Tags can be a simple (“said” or “asked”) or more descriptive (“yelled” or “whispered”). For example,

“Hello,” said John or “Hello,” John yelled.

It’s important to note that punctuation in dialogue comes before the quotation marks and not after them. For example,

“Hello,” said John. NOT “Hello”, said John.

When a character speaks for multiple sentences, the sentence before the tag ends with a comma unless it is the last sentence of the character’s speech, in which case it should end with a period. For example,

“Hello,” said John. “How are you doing today?”

If your character speaks in paragraphs, changing the subject one or more times in a long speech, the convention is to omit the close quotation marks from the first paragraph, begin the next paragraph with an open quotation mark, and continue in this manner until the character is done talking. At that point, end the speech with an end quotation mark.

When a character’s dialogue is interrupted by another character or an action, use a comma to separate the dialogue and an em-dash to indicate the interruption. For example,

“Hello,” said John, “How are you do—” Before he could finish his sentence, the phone rang.

Use an ellipsis to show a pause in a character’s speech (“I just…I don’t know.”) or when the character trails off before finishing their sentence (“I just can’t believe…”). 

It’s also important to consider the context of the dialogue when choosing punctuation. For example, if a character is shouting, you could use an exclamation point to indicate this (“Get out!” he shouted.), but the fact that the tag says he shouted is enough (“Get out,” he shouted.). Try to use exclamation points sparingly, as people rarely shout entire paragraphs. Try to use the character’s words to show they are enraged instead of ending every sentence they utter with an exclamation point. Also, avoid using multiple punctuation marks at the end of a sentence (!?).

By understanding the basics of punctuation in dialogue, authors can write conversations that are clear, believable, and engaging. Remember that good dialogue is not only about what is said; it is also about how it is said, and the right punctuation can make all the difference.

For more on writing dialogue in fiction, see The Shape of Stories, A Comprehensive Guide for Fiction Writers. For help with dialogue in your current manuscript, contact EMSA Publishing for a quote.

4 Ways to Avoid Information Dump When Writing

According to The Cambridge Dictionary, information dump is defined as “the practice of giving too much information at the same time, or a piece of writing that does this.” It is also a common writing mistake made by many new and independent authors. Bombarding the reader with a character’s entire life history all at once may help to introduce a new character in the story, but it also serves to slow down the narrative. To be more precise, it drives the action to a complete halt because nothing is actually happening to advance the story while you’re giving the reader all of that information. This will likely cause your reader to question what’s happening and forget where they are in the plot.

As a reference, here is an example of information dump I’ve composed expressly for this blog post:

Braelynn chose that exact moment to enter the room. She was no stranger to danger, having inherited her grandmother’s ring the year before. The lawyer reading her grandmother’s will tricked her into putting it on, and now it was stuck. At first, she didn’t want to wear it, but then she mellowed to the idea. It seemed to come in handy when she realized that her first boyfriend was a vampire. She dusted him when he tried to bite her in his car. Then, she killed her boyfriend’s best friend (who just happened to be the leader of a gang of supernatural creatures) and threatened to vanquish the bugbear who was stalking her. Braelynn had only been fifteen at the time. She was sixteen now and still living with her parents, but they were over-protective and frequently got on her nerves. Her mother had inherited her own grandmother’s ring when she was Braelynn’s age, and she spent a good deal of her youth and young adulthood hunting supernaturals, but once she was married and had Braelynn, she retired and became a sort of life coach. Braelynn’s father was okay with her mother’s line of work now, but he wasn’t always sure he wanted to marry into a line of supernatural hunters. Her parents had cut ties with Braelynn’s grandmother when she was born, hoping it would prevent her from catching the family curse, but even in death, Braelynn’s grandmother—who was a crotchety old woman in both life and death—had circumvented that plan from beyond the grave…

From “Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 2: Fallen Angel” by Elise Abram


Lots to unpack there.

And all of this from Braelynn having entered the room.

If this is Braelynn’s introduction in the book, it is bound to leave the reader questioning why they are being given all of this information at this point in time.

Rather than dump all of this on the reader at once, it is much better if you mete out the information as the reader needs it to understand the story.

For example,

Braelynn chose that exact moment to enter the room. She scoped the room for danger. Satisfied that there was nothing supernatural within her bubble (her grandmother’s ring was still room temperature, the sapphire in its centre still dull), she tried to blend in as best as she could. Still, she reached into her messenger’s bag to feel for the stake she kept there. Ever since her boyfriend, Seth, had turned out to be a vampire and she had to stake him, you never knew what might be lurking in the shadows.

“Camille,” she exclaimed, removing her hand from her bag and using it to touch Camille’s shoulder; it was warm to the touch. Hunting supernatural creatures was a given after she’d inherited the family’s curse, and she was relieved she wouldn’t have to count Camille among those she’d vanquished.

By working in the information as the reader needs it, they get the same backstory only it is spread out, intertwined with the action that builds suspense and ushers your reader toward the climax. It is also more descriptive. In the second example, we still learn that Braelynn is a supernatural hunter, that she inherited her grandmother’s ring, and that she’d vanquished her one-time boyfriend along with other supernatural creatures. The stuff about her mother and father might be brought into a scene including her mother and father. Her approximate age can be revealed in a scene that takes place at her high school. She might hear the house settling and have a flashback to the bugbear incident. If her parents prevent her from going out one night, the narrator might let the reader know that she hates how overprotective her parents are, and so on.

The narrator isn’t the only one who can dump loads of information onto the reader. Characters can also do this in their dialogue. This is the equivalent of meeting someone and having them tell you everything that has happened to them from the second they woke up until the very moment they are talking to you. In other words, they overshare. A little character info dump is usually considered acceptable, used, for example, at the end of detective novels when they inform the other characters how they figured out who the murderer was, but other than that, information dump should always be avoided.

Here is an example of a character dumping information from my soon to be published book, Braelynn’s Birthright—Book 2: Fallen Angel:

“And who, exactly, is Samael? I mean, besides being a fallen angel who may or may not be the actual devil.”

“That depends on your system of beliefs,” Percival explains. “The Talmud says he’s an archangel, a high-ranking angel with destructive powers who is also one of the main angels of death. He is said to have opposed the creation of humankind and descended to earth in the form of the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. He also slept with Eve to produce Cain. 

“In Christianity, he’s a fallen angel with parallels to Satan, although he’s also known to destroy sinners, which could be construed as a good thing—”

“Unless you tempt the person into being a sinner like he did with Eve,” Piers interjects.

“Yes, well, he’s also known as a seducer because he tempts people toward evil. He’s also credited with bringing death and disease to the world, and due to his function in the pantheon, he may also be the antichrist.”

“So, he’s powerful,” I say.

In this snippet, the characters are about to smoke out the fallen angel at a crossroads. The information is given in small bites and worked into a conversation in which one character (Percival) assumes the role of “expert” and he is informing the less experienced character (Braelynn, the point of view character) about what she will need to pull off the next phase in the rising action. This technique prevents the narrator from dumping all of the information at once and dragging on for a page (or pages), essentially teaching the reader everything they need to know about demons at crossroads.

To avoid information dump, ask yourself:

  • Is this information is really important for the reader to know at this particular point in the narrative? If not, move it to a better place and time.
  • Will it ever be important for the reader to know this? If not, eliminate it. In the first example, will it ever be relevant that her grandmother was crotchety? Probably not unless Braelynn’s mother compares her gentle approach to Braelynn’s grandmother’s more my-way-or-the-highway one. Will it ever be relevant that her father almost didn’t marry her mother because of their curse? Probably not unless Braelynn’s father resents her mother, and their relationship is failing because of it.
  • If there is a lot of information that the reader absolutely needs to know at this particular point in the narrative, is there a way to make it a part of the scene, or can you write a scene around it? For example, can you work it into a flashback? Can you have the character briefly recall a similar experience that is mentioned in passing?
  • Is there another way you can get this information across? For example, rather than tell us that Braelynn is still living with her parents, have her walk through the door of her house and say something like, “Mom, I’m home.” Her mom might respond with something like, “I thought I told you to do the dishwasher and clean your room before you left.” This would show the reader that she lives with her parents because she walks in unannounced. That she is a teenager might be evidenced by the fact that she has been assigned chores she does not do. To hit that fact home, her mother might also ask her if she had any homework.

Avoiding information dump will help engage your readers. Without it, the action in the story and the ongoing tension building toward the climax will keep going, and the reader won’t be left with useless information to sort through, wondering where it fits into the narrative. It will also make your narrative more creative in that you must now figure out ways to cleverly and surreptitiously impart this information without dumping a truckload of disjointed facts in your reader’s lap.

Like what you see and want to read more about writing and the writing process? Buy The Shape of Stories: A Comprehensive Guide for Fiction Writers, now on sale for 30% off the eBook price.

3 Popular Points of View

Point of view is one of the most essential elements of fiction. When done correctly, it helps the reader walk miles in your character’s shoes. When done incorrectly, it affects the flow of the narrative and will turn most people away from reading your manuscript to its conclusion and climax.

The best way to write is to choose a point of view and stick to it throughout, although chapter and section breaks represent opportunities for shifts in point of view and/or point of view characters. Deciding on which point of view you will use in a work of fiction might take some consideration. Some characters don’t feel right as point of view characters, and some points of view might not do your narrative justice. When in doubt, try on a few, writing and re-writing some of your scenes from different points of view to see which one fits best.

Again, the secret sauce of point of view is to be consistent.

There are five main points of view, but the three most common are first-person limited, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient (the other two are second-person and third-person objective). Here is an overview of the three most common points of view.

First-person point of view

First-person point of view selects a point of view character as the narrator of a story. The story unfolds based on what the point of view character sees, hears, feels, smells, tastes, and knows. In first person point of view, the narrator cannot report on what other characters see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and know as they cannot assume to have access to this information. As the point of view character, I can surmise what the other person is sensing, but I cannot know for sure. The narrator doesn’t have to use phrases like “I thought” because the whole narrative details the character’s thoughts and motivations. Giving the reader a peek into the inner workings of the point of view character’s mind helps the reader bond with the character, putting themselves into the character’s shoes so they will understand and come to identify with the narrator of the manuscript.

First-person point of view uses first-person pronouns (e.g., I, me, my, etc.) in the narrative. It is best if the narrator avoids second-person pronouns (like “we”) as I cannot know for sure that if I am cold or I hear something, my partner in the scene will, too.

Because first-person point of view may be limiting in that the narrator cannot report on anything that happens when they are not there, you might want to switch up the point of view character or point of view itself in different sections or chapters. For example, if my story is written from Character A’s point of view, but I want to show Character B scheming against them, I might choose to show a few scenes using Character B as the point of view character. To really differentiate the viewpoint, I might choose to write Character B’s scenes in a different tense or in third-person omniscient.

Here is an example of a narrative in first-person point of view;

We order and sit at a round bar table in the back corner. There’s music playing in the background and people talking, and he has to lean over the small table for me to hear him when he speaks. Social distancing protocol alarms go off in my head—some habits are hard to break—but if he is a supernatural, I have nothing to worry about as they can’t transmit the virus. That begs the question: do I really want to date another supernatural? Granted, I didn’t know about Seth until he tried to take a bite out of me, but would I have willingly dated him if I’d have known beforehand?

from my upcoming NA novel, Braelynn’s Birthright—Book Two: Fallen Angel

Third-person point of view

Third-person limited point of view is similar to first-person in that it selects a point of view character and sticks with them. The narrator of the story—which unfolds based on the information the point of view character is likely to have—is a disembodied voice that is not a character in the story. All of the parameters given for first-person hold true for third-person limited, with the exception of the pronouns, which are also third-person (e.g., them, they, he, she, etc.). Also similar to first-person is that the narrator should give the reader an intimate window into the point of view character’s thoughts, feelings, and motivation.

Avoid placing the point of view character’s thoughts in italics, working the inner monologue into the  narrative.

Here is an example of a narrative in third-person limited point of view:

Nigel thought about it for a moment. Though Daniel was only his lab assistant, their academic rivalry was known throughout campus. He’d always thought of Daniel as somewhat of his muse. The more Daniel pushed, the harder Nigel worked to best him. He’d always planned to be the first human through the arch to explore other times—was he willing to compromise that dream for Daniel of all people? More importantly, could he allow himself to compromise that dream?

from Chicken or Egg: A Love Story?

Third-person omniscient

This is the most difficult of points of view to do expertly.

In contrast to the other two points of view, third-person omniscient regularly dips into the heads of multiple characters. For this to be recognized as third-person omniscient and not an error in first- or third-person limited, the point of view character must change regularly and consistently throughout the manuscript.

Like third-person limited, third-person omniscient uses third-person pronouns (e.g., them, they, he, she, etc.). The narrator is disembodied and God-like in that they are all-seeing and all-knowing.

Here is an example of a narrative in third-person omniscient point of view:

“Please,” Balor begged. He jumped from his seat, leaped across the room, landed in front of Samael on one knee, and bowed his head. Had the man’s hands not been pinned behind his head, Balor would have gladly kissed a ring on any of his fingers. In absence of a ring, one of his knuckles. “Not now.”

Samael sighed. They all pleaded to break their deal in the end, but a contract was a contract. He’d held up his end of the bargain, awarding them their most coveted desires—was it too much to ask for them to hold up their end as well?

from Braelynn’s Birthright—Book Two: Fallen Angel

Whatever point of view you select, be sure to use it consistently throughout and mark all shifts in point of view with a “hard” section break, such as a symbol (***) or chapter break, to avoid confusing your reader. Once you have learned the particulars of each point of view and how to use it correctly, you are sure to forge a bond between your characters and readers that will transcend the pages of your manuscript.

If you are in doubt about your manuscript’s point of view, why not contact me for a manuscript evaluation? I would love to work with you to put your hard work out into the world. Please click on “Contact” in the menu at the top of the page or send me an email.

Merchandise at Etsy

EMSA Publishing’s Etsy shop is now open for business featuring characters from books Heddy is Sad, Harry has A Lot of Energy, Luna is Afraid of Storms, and Luna has Nothing to do.

Also featured are a number of beautifully handknit blankets to snuggle under while reading our books.

GTA customers: contact me directly at admin @ for information on how to purchase these items for pick-up to save Canada Post fees.

Check out EMSA’s Etsy shop at

Read October’s Newsletter

It’s been a while, but EMSA Publishing has resurrected its mailing list and has resumed sending out newsletters.

Here is the link to October’s newsletter:

For free ebook copies of October’s spooky reads, email me at admin @ All I ask in exchange for the books is a quick Amazon review.

To join my mailing list, please go to

New Book Release!

Announcing the release of Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 1: Wendigo by Elise Abram!

Imagine a world where the creatures of nightmare are real. This becomes fifteen-year-old Braelynn Hanlon’s world once she inherits her birthright in the form of her grandmother’s ring and is tricked into putting it on. You see, the women in her family have been cursed, doomed to defend humanity from things that go bump in the night. On the upside, the ring comes with super-healing powers, but it also makes her a magnet for all things supernatural. Her mother has had years to come to terms with her fate, but Braelynn’s about to get a crash course on how to be a hunter of all things paranormal.

Her boyfriend, Seth, turns out to be a vampire. When Braelynn vanquishes him, the leader of Seth’s gang sends a bugbear to seek revenge. If that’s not bad enough, her best friend, Shannon, is a werewolf, and Shannon’s girl crush is enchanted. To make matters worse, the school’s activist, Winona, is an Ojibwe shaman in training, hot on the trail of a wendigo disguised as a local businessman who is threatening to destroy the local watershed. Braelynn and her friends agree to help Winona vanquish the wendigo, but will her ring and her new-found powers be enough to keep her safe?

COMING SOON: Braelynn’s Birthright–Book 2: Fallen Angel by Elise Abram

The sequel to Book 1: Wendigo, Fallen Angel joins in the action a few years after Book 1. Braelynn has parlayed her abilities into a full time job. But when she receives the ominous message “They are coming” from three different supernatural entities, what lies ahead cannot be good.

This book borrows from Abram’s other books, Phase Shift, The Revenant, and Revamped to weave a shared tapestry. If you are a fan of Supernatural, Nancy Drew (current TV series), True Blood/The Sookie Stackhouse stories, Midnight, Texas (TV series), and Legacies (Vampire Diaries TV spin-off), then this book is for you!.

It’s Finally Here!

In the magnum opus of her teaching career, seasoned English teachers , author, editor, and publisher Elise Abram curates a collection of lesson plans and techniques related to the craft of writing. This book is suitable as a self-led course or textbook for writers craft courses.

Abram’s method uses mentor texts to demonstrate elements of the art of storytelling, including crafting believable characters, gripping plots, and finding your author’s voice. Each lesson includes a number of writing exercises, exemplars, and self-assessment checklists to help you assess your progress as you complete the assigned tasks, building upon previous lessons as you hone your writing chaps. 

  • Use mentor texts to read like a writer
  • Practice showing and not telling
  • Construct believable characters
  • Pen plots that keep the reader turning pages
  • Experiment with different points of view
  • Blog and journal about your experience
  • Self-edit your work

Learn about the elements of storytelling from past and present masters of fiction as you study their techniques and apply what you learn to your own writing. Discover your writing style as you complete the activities in this course as you learn how to shape stories worthy of publication.

Buy The Shape of Stories: A Comprehensive Guide for Fiction Writers at Amazon.