Quotations and Dialogue
Q. When breaking dialogue with narration (where the verb used is not describing speaking), how should the punctuation appear? “Yes, this is fine,” she stood up. “Please go ahead.” Or should it be: “Yes, this is fine.” She stood up. “Please go ahead.” What if it were “nodded” instead of “stood up”? What about in: “Look,” she pointed to the road, “a blue car.” Do we need to add “said” (or similar verbs) here? Thanks for your time.
A. We’ve seen questions like this before. They usually come down to one thing: Can a person do something other than speak or write their words or communicate them using a signed language? In other words, can you smile the word hello or nod to someone in English? If you agree that people do not literally stand or nod or point—or smile—their words, structure your dialogue accordingly:
“Yes, this is fine,” she said, standing up. “Please go ahead.”
“Yes, this is fine.” She stood up. “Please go ahead.”
Nodding, however, comes closer to speech than standing does, and some editors would allow a construction like this one:
“Yes, this is fine,” she nodded. “Please go ahead.”
This leeway might be extended to smiling and shrugging and similar gestures that play a supporting role for many people when they talk. Pointing is also a gesture, but many editors would draw the line before allowing that verb as a dialogue tag. Instead, they’d edit your example to maintain a distinction between speaking and pointing:
“Look,” she said, pointing to the road, “a blue car.”
“Look.” She pointed to the road. “A blue car.”
“Look”—she pointed to the road—“a blue car.”
Opinions vary. Editors can help by asking an author first before making wholesale changes.