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!