Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

Part I. Punctuation Basics

Chapter 5. Take It to the Page: Part One

Many of the Take It to the Page sections use the Find feature of your word processing program to make things quicker for you. This feature will become one of your best editing friends.

If you have a word processing program (like Microsoft Word 2010 or newer) that will highlight every instance of a word that you search for, your task will be easier, but you can also do this in programs that give you the results one by one.

Step 1

In the Find box, enter a semicolon. Check each instance. Can it be replaced by a period? If so, swap it out.

Step 2

Use the Find feature to search for ellipses. Make sure you check for both … (three periods together) and . . . (three periods each separated by a space). Does each ellipses represent either speech or internal dialogue trailing off? If not, replace it with the correct punctuation. For example, you might have accidentally used ellipses to signal dialogue that was interrupted, but the correct punctuation in that case is a dash.

Step 3

Search for the following. The first two examples have no space between the punctuation and the quotation mark. Make sure to include a space between the punctuation and the quotation marks in the second two examples.



, “

. “

(In case you find that difficult to read, it’s comma-quotation mark, period-quotation mark, comma-space-quotation mark, and period-space-quotation mark.)

Check that you’ve used them correctly. This won’t catch everything, but it will clean up your dialogue punctuation significantly.

Step 4

Search for exclamation marks. Read out loud each passage of dialogue with an exclamation mark to see if you actually would (and can) exclaim the passage. Does the sentence need it to make the meaning clear? Can you rewrite the sentence to make it more powerful so that it doesn’t need the exclamation mark?

If you’d like a printable version of the complete revision checklist (material from all the Take It to the Page chapters), go to and use the password below.

Password: commasplice