Quotations and Dialogue
Q. I can’t get a consensus from fellow professional editors on how to punctuate the following sentence:
“So up there,” Joe pointed at the window, “that was you waving at me?”
Since there isn’t a dialogue tag, some say to use em dashes per CMOS 6.87.
However, I believe em dashes should be reserved for special emphasis, and pointing isn’t important. Changing the wording changes the author’s consistent writing style.
It’s obvious that Joe is speaking, so why would we need a dialogue tag as well as the action beat in order to use commas? Can’t we eliminate “said” if it’s clear who is speaking and only use the action beat?
Thank you very much for your help.
A. Your example is clear enough and will probably work for most readers. But it does break with convention, according to which commas used with narrative interruptions also require true speech tags. People don’t point words, they say them:
“So up there,” Joe said, pointing at the window, “that was you waving at me?”
If you want to leave out the speech tag, that same convention would require either em dashes or periods, because now the narrative interruption has lost its immediate connection to the spoken dialogue:
“So up there”—Joe pointed at the window—“that was you waving at me?”
“So up there.” Joe pointed at the window. “That was you waving at me?”
Otherwise, it’s not much better than either of these:
“So up there,” Joe pointed at the window.
Joe pointed at the window, “That was you waving at me?”
On the other hand, if the author’s style regularly features comma splices, your version is fine; through repetition, readers will catch on. If not, consider the alternatives.