This month’s program for my RWA chapter was a day-long session with Carina Press editor Angela James. She presented her program entitled, “Before You Hit Send:  A Self-Editing Workshop.”  It was good to gather with my fellow writers as we explored the nitty-gritty of sentences.  Yes, we discussed the dreaded topic of grammar.

Of course, many of the rules are already familiar to any writer.  Yet, at various times throughout the day, I and my fellow members would exclaim as we at last gained insight into a rule we’d never understood but followed.

For instance, the correct way to write a piece of dialogue is:

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Why isn’t the word she capitalized?  It appears to be a new sentence since it comes after the question mark.  The answer can be understood, if you look at a non-question line of dialogue.

“I’m going to the store,” she said.

Even though I’m going to the store is a complete sentence with a subject and verb, it finishes with a comma because the sentence isn’t done.  The she said is also part of the sentence.  Therefore, a comma is used as a conjunction to join the two pieces of the sentence together, and the she is not capitalized, since it’s still the same sentence.

Therefore, when the line of dialogue is a question, it keeps to the one sentence rule, and the question mark does not demand a capital letter.

The variation to this rule is when the line of dialogue is followed by an action tag.  Writers always are told a character cannot laugh a line of dialogue.  Try it.  Laugh “I’m going to the store.”
You can’t because in order to speak, you have to stop laughing.  Even if you say each word between a laugh like a stutter, you still must stop laughing to speak.  To put in a laugh, a writer uses an action tag.

“I’m going to the store.”  She laughed.

This requires a period followed by a capital letter because it’s two different sentences.  Now the author could write:

“I’m going to the store,” she said with a laugh.

That’s a dialogue tag with an adverb.  With a laugh is an adverbial phrase because it modifies said.  And because it’s all one sentence, the dialogue ends with a comma and no capitalization for the next.

It was neat to learn the why of a grammar rule that I use all the time in my writing.  No longer will I just be following it because I should; I now understand the logic behind that grammar rule.

See, grammar actually can make sense!