I'm new here and a new writer in general. I'm trying to get a handle on action tags and punctuation and I'm wondering about these two examples:

Claire huffs out a heavy breath, then speaks. ”I think you’re really good for her, you know.” She nods at Helen in the rain. "Maybe the best thing that’s happened to her since," she angles her eyes down and shrugs, "me.” Her hands swing round to clasp loosely behind her back as she looks up at Mary, mouth forming a smug grin.

Also should there be ellipses after the "but" in this sentence? Or is a comma ok?

“I'd understand if it's too soon, but,” Helen twists her head toward Claire, then back to Mary, “if Claire agrees to mind Chrissy on Tuesday, would you join me for dinner?"

Or, now that I'm looking at it, should the "but" be somewhere else?

Thank you for any help.

1 Answer 1


Strictly from a punctuation standpoint, better grammarians may have better insights for you on this, but here's what I see.

In both cases, the problem seems to be where and what type you've used. In the first case, the sentence that ends with "since" might be better on its own, apart from the first part.

Sort of like:

Claire huffs out a heavy breath, then speaks. "I think you're really good for her, you know."

She nods at Helen in the rain, then dropped her eyes and shrugged. "Maybe the best thing since...me."

Not necessary, but maybe something to think about. I think the use of an ellipsis will show a hesitation better than a comma.

As for the second sentence, I'd either move the "but" to after the tag, or use an ellipsis after it to demonstrate a trailing off, a hesitation in the flow. It really depends on what you're after, and is somewhat subjective, naturally, but I think you'd be better served doing one of the two things I've suggested.

As a third option (still for that second sentence), you might have the "camera" pan around to show other character responses to the "hanging" sentence, or the pause in the speech (if you decide there is one). Then deliver the part after the "but" to give it a bit more punch.

I hope that helps you a bit.

  • This totally helps a lot! I do see what you mean, and thanks for giving options. I have so many things to learn the basics of mechanics of dialogue. Thanks!
    – jhw145
    Oct 8, 2015 at 18:58
  • 1
    @jhw145 Great! I'm happy to have helped some! Best of luck, and remember - we, as writers, NEVER stop learning. :)
    – Josh
    Oct 8, 2015 at 21:04

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