ppw writing tip 9

It’s finally time. Only took 9 posts for me to get to the subject that started it all for me – making my writing better by keeping a journal. Are you ready to hear this writer and bookbinder’s take? Of course you are.

Writing Tip #9 – Keeping A Writing Journal

Since May 15, 2013, I have written in a journal every day. And I mean every day. Travel, food poisoning, the flu–none of those things have stopped me yet. Even when I could barely stay awake for more than a few minutes I managed to get a few words out. Good words? Maybe not. But that’s hardly the point.

I have made writing every day, even if it’s just a line or two, part of my necessary routine. If I can hold a pen, I will write. I’m not breaking my streak for anything.

The majority of those thousands of entries aren’t accounts of my day-to-day life. No, I write about the day-to-day lives of my characters. I note the shorter stories that popped into my dreams. I wander around in the plots and details of my storylines until I have a sense of what’s going on.

It’s been more helpful to my writing than I ever could’ve imagined. All of those tips that say to write every day to improve? They aren’t kidding. I look back on my early entries and I can’t believe I wrote so poorly.

I mean, in my defense, I was 13 and mostly recording the surprisingly dramatic adventures of my toys, heavily featuring all the rubber ducks I had in the tub. The content was always going to be a little iffy. Still, there’s gold in there.

I can look at old entries and find character details buried in the action and words that I love and never would’ve been able to express back then. Even if I never use the characters again, it makes me wildly happy to read their old stories.

In more recent years, my journal has been a fantastic way to keep notes for later. A good chunk of the dialogue in the novel I wrote over the summer came almost directly from what I had written in my journal the year before.

My favorite part is always when I find something I wrote and go, “Wow, I totally forgot about that.” That’s how I know writing every night is worth it.

Why you should journal too

I’ll keep this simple. There’s a ton of reasons why you should journal, and not all of them are just regarding writing. Here’s a few:

  • Writing more = better writing (usually)
  • It’s a great way to keep writing if you have a day job that prevents you from having the time or energy to write.
  • It keeps a record of tiny details about your stories for you to find later – continuity is helpful, y’all.
  • The more you write the more you have to read a year or two down the line – reading my old journals is almost like reading a book, and it never fails to keep me entertained.
  • Someday some ancestor of yours will get to read your notebook and find out what you were like. This may or may not be a bad thing, that’s up to you.
  • When you’re famous and dead your family can sell your books for lots of money or make some literature scholars very happy.
  • Journalling, regardless of what you write, has massive potential for positive mental health benefits.

The Writer’s Journal, The Possum Paper Works Way

Step #1 – Find a notebook you can’t wait to write in.

my journals
Four years’ worth of my journals – including the first book I ever made!

Go into Barnes & Noble (or their website) and find the leather journal that makes you swoon. Hunt down 20 cent composition books during the back-to-school season of sales. Find a journal software or app you can jive with. If you’re feeling extra awesome, order a snazzy Possum Paper Works book or a custom journal from another bookbinder!

Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy. At all. My first one was a $10 Spider-man journal from Walmart, and I got similar style books for most of the first 6 or 7 journals I filled.

Now, I love the Barnes & Noble books. I had two that I got as gifts, and my current journal is another one from their line. I spent $35 for a journal that will last me over a year now that I don’t always write a full page. It’s basically the only thing I’m willing to buy from B&N.

I like lined paper books, because I tend to write linearly when I use pen and I sometimes write more when I use paper. You might be more of a blank-page bullet journalling type (see the end of this post for more resources about that!), or your journalling might be sporadic and on-the-go and need to stay on your phone. Find the book (or app) that sounds like it’ll fill your needs the best.

You can also always make your own book. Just be aware that if you do that…you might not ever want to stop making books…

Step #2 – Figure out what time of day you’re most likely to write during.

This is dependent on a couple of factors. Mostly, you want to figure out when you’ve got at least five or ten minutes of free time, and when you’re most motivated to sit down and focus for a little bit.

I’ve kind of given up on focusing most of the time. I write while scattering back and forth between the TV, my laptop, or whatever else has my attention that night. Sometimes I do actually want to write, and suddenly find myself wishing I had more than 1 page. But I make rules for myself. No more than one page, and these days, no more than 5 entries per 2 pages. It makes sure there’s something written, no matter how short.

A neighbor of mine always writes right after she wakes up. That’s when she’s at her peak. It might work best for you too, writing a few lines before you even get out of bed.

You could write whenever, but I definitely recommend sticking to a set time whenever possible. Making it a daily routine, as regular as your cup of coffee or brushing your teeth, will help you stay with it longer, and thus write more.

Step #3 – Get to it!

Don’t sit there staring at your blank notebook. I know you don’t want to mess up the nice paper or the lovely blank screen. I get that. But come on, dude. You want to write? You’re gonna have to write.

Don’t look at me like that.

This took me nearly a week to write, okay? I get it. Writing sucks. Still. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…to write, you…have to write.

But it doesn’t have to be all that awful.

Journal to improve your writing – but let yourself write about anything you want.

Write about stories and character ideas. Write tiny sections of dialogue, worldbuilding, that stupid little scene where your characters make a bunch of terrible cow puns.

But write other things too. If you had a crappy day and you can’t think of anything other than whatever drama’s on your mind, write it out. If you need to work through something going on in your life, let your journal be your therapist. There’s a reason journalling is touted for its positive effects on mental health.

Plus, it’s actually a lot of fun to keep a normal “diary” journal too, even if all you write for it is one line at the start of every writing entry like I do. It can show you how far you’ve come as a person and not just as a writer.

If rules help you meet your writing goals, set rules. But don’t be afraid to break them.

Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day.

That’s okay. I promise. You’re not me. I am a dangerously stubborn being. Not everyone works at their best under pressure.

A few years ago, I had to force myself to break my own “one page a day” rule. My mental health was in the toilet, and most nights writing a full page made me feel worse with the stress of trying to come up with enough to fill a page.

One night, I decided I was done. I wrote a few lines, and stopped. I didn’t write again until the next night.

Not once have I regretted it.

Let yourself take breaks. It’s as important in journalling as in everything else in the world. Not every novel has to be a masterpiece, and not every journal entry has to be something you’ll ever look at again. That’s fine.

I promise.

"A writer’s journal must not be judged by the standards of a diary. The notebooks of a writer have a very special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself." - Susan Sontag

Have fun with it.

Use your favorite pens. I started with Uniballs I had lying around, then got more as I found out how much I adored them. I used a red pen every fourth night to switch things up.That was the extent of the “fun” of the journal, other than the joy of writing.

About when writing started getting hard, I started using a different kind of Uniball, with a bunch of their colored Signos brightening up my collection. It made a huge difference. One night more recently I was feeling lackluster again and I used a Papermate Flair pen that I’d just gotten. I doodled all over my margins, and while my writing wasn’t as hot, the emotion was there, and I actually managed to get a bit done.

It makes a difference, if you can have a little fun with your journal. It really does. 

Just remember, if it’s hurting you more than helping, stop and re-evaluate. Writing itself isn’t always fun. That doesn’t mean you have to make yourself feel worse by doing it.

Finally, it’s never a bad idea to tag your entries.

Man, I wish I had started doing this as soon as I started writing.

What I mean by tag is have some kind of short word or acronym you can use to show what you wrote about on any given day.

I have dozens and dozens of stories. The shorter ones don’t tend to get tagged, but if it’s taking up more than three nights of writing, I try to always put a little note up by the date of the entry that tells me what the story or universe I’m writing about is.

If that tag’s not there, and I’m trying to find a specific bit of information, I’ll fly right by the page and never find it. When you’re dealing with hundreds of entries, that’s not ideal. At all. Trust me on that.

my journal
A set of recent pages from my journal. Note the lines up top with the one word tags! And the way I just kinda gave up on the red entry…

Need more inspiration?

Not enough guidelines? Not the type of journalling you’re interested in? Don’t despair!

My own Pinterest board of journal inspirations has tons of images and how-to guides sure to inspire your own notebooks, so be sure to check it out!

Here’s a couple of writers with their own tips on keeping a journal:

Cole Smith Writes

This post looks at a more traditional style of keeping a writer’s journal – and has free journalling resources.

Nicole C. W.

A collection of 7 categories of things to put in your journal.

TCK Publishing

How to use bullet journalling methods for writing!

Megan Rutell at Page Flutter

A super in-depth look at Megan’s personal writing journal, filled with tips and tricks for you to borrow.

Happy writing!

possum paper works logo

Other writing tips can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

writing tip 9 journal summary

writing tip 8 character sheets graphic

Howdy! Today we’re looking at a tool that has helped me immensely in the past – character sheets. Yes, like the ones you make in D&D campaigns. Sort of. Stick with me here – free stuff on the way!

Writing Tip #8 – Character Sheets

I love writing characters. By love, I mean I write stories about characters, not characters within stories. It’s very rare for me that the plot comes before the people that live through it.

Back in the early days of my writing, I wanted to find a way to develop the little things about those people better. Somehow (probably via Springhole), I discovered the all-powerful concept of character questionnaires.

I’m a strong believer that the best characters are the ones who have more aspects than even the writer can ever fully know. Those characters are the ones that seem like humans in their own right.

Like weird magazine interviews, making character sheets can help develop your characters into full fledged people.

Before you know it, you’ll have things to slip in about your characters that surprise even you. You can find out that your quiet middle-aged librarian is really into hockey and EDM. It happens.

Character sheets can also help you keep track of the little things. The stupid tiny details that you forget and make you want to scream. Like what the name of your character’s guinea pigs are. That isn’t something you want to forget.

My list is a combination of multiple different character questionnaires I found around the web. I edited the questions to serve my own purposes. Mostly, I made it easier and faster. Most rows can be filled with only a few words, but there’s lots of sections for creating a detailed portrait of your character.

If my suggestions don’t work for you, I recommend looking up other worksheets. Shorter versions (or longer) might work better for you.

As always, don’t take my word for law! Part of the magic of writing is finding out what works for you.

Start with the basics.

Just beginning? Write down the simple things – what your character might have on their IDs, what they fill out on application forms.

Name, nicknames, gender and pronouns, age (approximate is okay), birthday, height and weight, distinguishing physical features, if they wear glasses or contacts, what languages they speak or otherwise know, and if you want, the MBTI personality type that best describes your character.

These are basic things that you’ll want to keep consistent. Trust me, you don’t want to forget that yes, your character does wear dark glasses so no, you can’t write about what their eyes are up to.

True story.

Move onto the external.

What’s your character’s place in the world? Specifically, look at the relationships they have with other people.

Your character’s family, marital status, sexuality, significant others, pets, closest friend(s), other friends, enemies, other relationships, ethnicity and/or race, and religion are all good things to consider.

If you’re working on two or more characters, keep in mind that the relationships one character values might not be the same as the other person. Just because Person A considers Person B a close friend, Person B might not think of Person A that way.

Play around. Some of the best conflict in stories can come from knowing how your characters interact.

Get physical.

No, I don’t mean fight your characters (unless you want to). I mean dig into their physical presence. You’ve already covered how they look generally. Now you want to look at the other details, the kinds of things a good actor or con artist could change in an instant.

To start, figure out their what their diction (word choice) is like, how fast they talk, if they have any natural accents, and other speech patterns. Do they have any particular mannerisms (behaviors)? What’s their general demeanor like?

You can also look at how they groom themselves, what their usual physical posture is, what gestures they make often (including nervous tics), and what their handwriting looks like.

All of these details can make it easier for you to describe your character, and thus create a stronger image for your reader to imagine.

Work, home, and other fun things.

Find out your character’s education level and any degrees earned. What’s their job? Do they like it? Where have they worked in the past? What’s their financial situation?

Figure out where they live. That can be the country, the city, or right down to the street number, if that’s what you want. Are they an owner or renter? Do they live with anyone else?

What do their main living and working spaces look like? Are there any other places they spend a lot of time? How do they usually get to all these places (car, bus, horse and carriage, private helicopter, etc.)?

I have spent more time than was logical researching tiny details about Baltimore, MD to fill out this section for a set of characters. Don’t do that. Unless you really like figuring out bus routes. In which case. You do you. No judgement.

Likes and dislikes.

This is a fun one. And often quite challenging. Don’t let it fool you. Figuring out what characters like can get hard.

Like hobbies. Some people don’t even consider themselves to have hobbies. It’s your job to figure out what your characters do in their free time. Even if, as a friend of mine said, their hobby is just vibing.

What are their eating habits and food preferences? What’s their sleep schedule like? What kinds of books, music, TV, and other entertainment do they like? Any specific titles?

You’ll also want to think a little about how they dress. It can be as simple as what kind of shirts and pants they wear, or as detailed as a link to a Pinterest board. If there’s any special accessories that are important, like wedding rings or other mementos, make sure to make a note of that too.

Any quirks? I don’t love that word, because normality is both fake and overrated, but hey. We’ve all got those little things we do that most other humans don’t.

Become a doctor.

Not literally. Just a WebMD doctor, if you get really into it.

What’s the general health status of your character? Are they perfectly dandy, on death’s door, or somewhere in between? Any allergies, chronic conditions (including mental kinds), disabilities, or addictions? Do they take medications – or magic repressant potions? Your call.

If relevant, a detailed medical history might help you keep track of more complex backgrounds.

Just please, please, please, don’t define a character entirely by their mental/physical ability levels. Been there, done that, still mad at my younger self for thinking that was cool. People are complex. Your characters should be too.

Get inside their head.

Time for the fun part. Figure out what it’s like to be inside your character’s brain.

Ask about their fears and their secrets. Find out their general outlook on life and humanity/people, and how they approach both. I write a lot of surly-ass cynics with hearts of gold. Whee.

What makes them the most comfortable? Most uncomfortable? Their greatest wish, greatest fear, greatest strength, greatest weakness? What otherwise stresses them out?

Consider their political/ideological stance, both in relation to specific parties (if applicable) or general ideas. What would they think about welfare programs? Race and gender? Global trading? Go big or dig deep. Ask what they value. Find their prejudices, fair or not. You don’t have to like everything about your character.

That said, other characters won’t love everything about any given person, either. Investigate what other characters think about your character. Discover what your character thinks about themself. Any conflict between the two? Capitalize on it.

I’m fascinated by asking my characters how they feel about free will and fate. It’s rarely a simple answer, but it can define many of their actions and reactions. How does a believer in free will justify bad decisions? How do the faithful hold their faith after tragedy strikes?

If you want to get really deep, ask how your character themself would react to being asked about any of these things. What would they lie about? What do they want to believe about who they are?

Anything else?

If there’s anything else relevant to your character that you haven’t included, write it down!

Remember, character sheets are for your reference. Don’t skimp out. If you couldn’t find another place to detail the wild history of your character’s crocodile-wrestling adventures in Egypt, tack it on.

If you’re lost for plot points later on in your process, character sheets can help you find the little bits of conflict and humanity that make fresh ideas smash into your brain. Those weird hobbies you vaguely mentioned? Well, turns out the heist needs a badminton expert now. Those guinea pigs? Your character has a side gig photographing them for Instagram.

I dunno, man, it’s your character. Go with it. The better you know your character, the easier it is for them to tell you their story.

And isn’t that all we’re trying to do?

Make your own character sheets!

Free PDF file for your own use, based on the details outlined in this post! Just download and print!

Possum Paper Works Character Template

possum paper works logo

Other writing tips can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

writing tip 8 pin

Hey there! It’s officially University Season, so between that and the upkeep of my business, I highly doubt I’ll have much time to post. That said, I have a new writing tip! It’s one I found very helpful recently – having a daily word count goal.

Writing Tip #7 – Daily Word Count Goals

Last week, I finished writing a book. Okay, it was a rough draft of a book. A very rough draft. It still has many issues to fix before anyone besides friends and family even can know about it.

But I finished, dammit. I wrote a book.

And I’m not saying that to brag (much). I’m proud, but I also want you to have to tools you need to do the same.

If you’re here, you want to know how to write better (I hope). I totally get that. I didn’t find it in me to write a real book until after I’d read dozens of other author’s works, online and in print, on how to tell a story.

All of those things helped me get to the point I am today. I learned many lessons from all–on plot, characters, form, whatever.

That said, the tools for helping with the act of writing did little for me. For whatever reasons, certain tips that other authors swear by did nothing to motivate me.  I had to find my own limits and skills.

The tool that worked the best for me? Making myself write no less than a certain number of words every day.

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day; it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised. - John Steinbeck

How I Wrote A Book

Early this summer, right after my spring classes ended, I told myself that I would try to write a book. I had no real plans to speak of for the summer, so I made a daily schedule for myself–write in the morning, read in the afternoon, do tasks for this blog and my business in the evening.

Based on the total word count I expected, and a rough estimate of the number of days I had, I knew I’d have to write more than 500 words every day if I wanted to finish before classes started.

It wasn’t the first time I gave myself that task for the summer. Two years in a row, I wrote at least 500 words a day on a vague comic book script (still not even halfway done). Sure, it was vague. The rules changed as I felt like it. Not writing on the weekends? Sure, why not. On vacation? That’s fine.

I wrote. Lots of words hit the page. It worked well, and got some of my story out.

This time, I wasn’t nearly as lenient.


The Rules

500 words had to happen. Each day. Every day. No exceptions.

It’s a weekend? 500 words.

Stressed out and tired? 500 words.

Only an hour to write? 500 words.

On vacation? 500 words. Or more.

Sometimes I could barely reach that number. Sometimes I blew way past. Writing dialogue? Suddenly 1,000+ new words are on the page. Writing a bit of plot that totally lost me? Exactly 501 words written, finished at 1:30 PM.

When I started working on the project, that barely happened. I’d finish before noon each day, often with at least 600 words. After two months of straight writing, it got a whole lot harder.

Should I have taken breaks? Probably. Did I have time to? Nope.

More importantly, was I gonna break my 500 per day streak just because I had a bad day? Hell no.


Going Over the Count is Okay!

In the last month or so of writing, I realized I needed to do 750 a day to get to the total count I expected the book to finish at. But I didn’t reset my count calculators to help. So I kept writing 500. Sometimes I’d get to 750, sometimes 1,000.

It wasn’t enough.

Last week I wrote 1,500+ words for 5 days in a row.

I’m still coming off of the exhausting high of finishing my book.

But I finished.

If you’ve got the muse or the determination, don’t stop. Get it out.


Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Miss the Goal

Okay, I have to be honest–at least with this last session, I would’ve beat myself up for not getting to 500. No matter what I say, my brain still thinks of 500 words as generously low.

It’s not.

Getting up and writing ANYTHING, be it a sentence or thirty pages, is so much more than most people will ever do.


I probably should’ve taken some breaks to clear my head. I didn’t. But I also had the luxury of not having many commitments while I was writing.

If I missed my goal right now, with all my other deadlines, I wouldn’t get too stressed about it. Remember, writing should have an element of love and passion, not just numerical goals all the time.

Or, to be blunt, unless you’re lucky enough to have a publisher/agent, you’re the only one who cares if you miss your goal.


Word Count Varies Per Person

The advice I see all the time is to just write. To put all the words on the page. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

That has never worked for me.  I am a perfectionist. Every word must be perfect. The sentence lengths must vary. The word choice must make sense for the given character. Words and phrases can’t repeat in the same section. So on and so forth.

I can’t turn my need for perfection off, but I don’t mind anymore. I just have to work around the slow pace that results.

That means that, for the most part, the 1,667 words a day or 10,000 per weekend or whatever that NaNoWriMo requires? Not possible for me. Especially not if I do anything other than write during the day or want sleep.

And I want sleep. That much I refuse to give up for anything, good grades and writing included.

So, 500 words is my magic daily word count.


Famous Authors and their Daily Word Counts

Years ago, I found this great article and chart at Writers Write that shares the approximate daily word counts of 39 different authors, plus quotes about writing from each of them. It’s worth a look.

But with caution.

I love Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury wrote 1,000 words a day.  I am not Ray Bradbury.

The thing is, the bulk of Bradbury’s words, especially in the early days? Those words paid him directly, thanks to the golden age of fast-paced pulp fiction where more words meant more money.

He had much more financial motivation to write more than me. The same goes for the 2,000 words Stephen King writes. No one pays me to write. I only have my own passion to drive me. Passion is great–but sometimes it needs a kick in the ass to keep up.

If you’re not a professional writer, you can’t expect yourself to meet the daily word counts of one. Especially not if you have a full time job or education that has nothing to do with writing.

Right now, the words I have time to write are limited to lab reports, blog posts, and my nightly journal entry. I simply don’t have the time or energy to write fiction. And that’s okay.

When I have the motivation to write again, I will. No matter my surroundings.

If you have the motivation to write, what are you still doing here? Go write!


What’s Your Magic Daily Word Count?

How do you know how many words you can write in a day?

Trial and error, my friend. That’s it.

See what you write when you’re feeling driven, when you can devote all your attention to your writing. See how much you write when you want to throw your computer across the room. The sweet spot for most days is probably in the middle.

As I mentioned, 500 is mine. I found out early on in writing that 2,000+ words a day? It ain’t happening. As far as I can recall, I’ve done that once. Last week. When I was pushing all of my energy into finishing by a deadline.

Most of the time? 500 is the max of what I can do in a reasonable period.

You might be able to drop 2,000 words a day like it’s nothing. More power to you. Maybe 500 is too much for you. That’s cool too.

Whatever you do, get the words out there.

"If you write 10k [words] a day, you will end up with a book. If you write 1k a day, you will end up with a book. If you write 500 words every Tuesday, you will end up with a book. If you write 100 words before bed, or 50 whenever you can, you will end up with a book. The only way you won't end up with a book is if you quit." - VE Schwab

The Main Point

Find a way to get yourself to write. Some writing is better than none. If you take nothing else away from this, remember that. If you want to be a writer, you have to write.

Having a daily word count goal can make that easier.

I’m not particularly goal-driven, but if I start something, good luck getting me to stop. I’ve written in my journal every single day since May 2013. I’m stubborn. Word count streaks work for me better than anything else.

Maybe they won’t work for you. That’s fine. I hope you’re able to find the method that does motivate you. Some people do well with timed sessions. That’s not for me, but I might write a tip on that someday in the future, since it seems to help others.

The big thing is to not give up. If one way of writing doesn’t work, find another. The internet is filled with helpful hints for your perusal.


Tools to Use

If you write non-linearly like I do, find yourself an app with word count tracking built in–as in, you can see exactly how many new words you’ve written.

I use Highland 2, which lets you make a “goal” of total words, total pages, new words, or new pages, and shows you the progress as you write. I love it and hate it. It makes it easy to check how I’m doing–but also how much I have left.

NaNoWriMohas tracking tools during the month of November, and possibly year round? Like I said–writing 50,000 words in a month is not for me. Worth

A quick web search for “word counter” will also reveal dozens of free tools for counting your total word number, and there’s a couple of free apps as well for tracking.

If all else fails, make a spreadsheet! Most word processors also have ways to display your total word count. You can make a note of the count when you start, or use the total count to make milestones. Start at 213? Aim for 750, or 1,000. 

Some authors track page count as an alternative. This is also great! Two double-spaced pages is usually a little more than 500 words. Most word processors can also track that.

As always, find what works for you.

About 1750 words in 2 days, in case you were wondering about this article. 😉

possum paper works logo

Other writing tips can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

writing tip 7 word count summary

notebook graphic writing tip #6 punctuation & quotation marks

Put your hand up if you struggle with using punctuation with quotation marks in your writing. I know I put my hand up. Today’s writing tip rodeo focuses on resolving our confusion about quotes! “Yeehaw!” said Paulie the Possum.

Writing Tip #6 – Quotation Marks and Punctuation

I generally consider myself decent with grammar. The use of punctuation within quotes, though, that I struggle with. The sad part of that? Dialogue is my favorite thing to write.

It turns out, using punctuation with quotation marks isn’t that difficult. Easy to forget, maybe, but not difficult. So, to help you remember the rules, I’ve made a little guide, featuring a conversation between Paulie the Possum and Ollie the Otter!

paulie and ollie chilling

Please note, this guide is about American English rules, not British English rules. You can find most of the rules I’m working with here and here.

A few general rules

Quotation marks only go around direct quotes. If you’re summarizing what someone said, not their exact words, don’t use quotes!

YES: This post is about “resolving our confusion about quotes.”
YES: This post talks about how to resolve your issues with quotation marks.
NO: This post discusses “how to resolve your issues with quotes.”

There’s a few other rules hidden in there: first off, notice how none of the quotes are capitalized? The quotes don’t start a new sentence–they’re actually a direct part of the sentence using the quotes. So, no capitalization needed (dialogue is a little different–see following examples).

Similarly, there are no commas just before the quotes, because the quotes function as subjects of the sentence. Again, dialogue is often a little different.


The basic rule: if it’s a period or represents a period, it goes WITHIN the quotation marks. Not outside. Not outside with a comma inside. Just INSIDE and alone.

“What do you mean by ‘represents a period’?” you may ask. Well, if a sentence continues after the quotation, use a comma instead of a period right before the second quotation mark. See the examples below for more information.

Some examples:

“I like flowers,” Paulie the Possum said.
Ollie the Otter said, “I like rivers better.”
“Well,” Paulie retorted, “you’re an otter.”
“Yep.” Ollie grinned. 

In the first sentence, the end of Paulie’s words do not end the sentence. Thus, a comma is used instead of a period. And yes, the comma should be used even if it’s only a word of dialogue!

In the second sentence, the tag that tells us it’s Ollie speaking comes before his words. The sentence leads into the quote, but the quote is a separate part of the sentence, so a comma is used to show that break. Ollie’s actual dialogue ends the sentence, and thus has a period at the end, WITHIN the quotes.

The third sentence ends the same way, but the speaking tag is in the middle. Even though Paulie’s spoken sentence isn’t over, we put a comma just before the quote mark. The second part of Paulie’s line is lowercase, because he didn’t stop speaking.

The fourth sentence is actually two sentences. In the first sentence, we see only dialogue, Ollie’s line, and end the line with a period (WITHIN the quotes). The second sentence stands alone.

Also. A general dialogue rule. IF IT’S A NEW PERSON TALKING START A NEW PARAGRAPH. Please. We will all thank you.

Question Marks (and Exclamation Marks)

Question marks and exclamation points follow rules similar to periods, but without the fun challenge of replacing them with commas.

Some Examples:

“Why are we doing this?” Ollie asked, suspicious.
Paulie the Possum laughed. “Why not?”
Ollie snorted. “Because it’s silly!”
“You’re silly!” Paulie replied.
Ollie wondered , was he really that “silly”?

In the first example, Ollie asks the question, not the person writing the line (me) so the question mark goes in the quotes. The fourth example is similar, with an exclamation point instead.

DO NOT put a comma after the quote marks. Your word processor might make you want to by capitalizing the next word obnoxiously and messing up your flow if you don’t, but ignore it.  Seriously.

The second and third lines show how you can use question marks and exclamation points with quotes ending the sentences – like periods, they go INSIDE the quotes. No period needed.

In the fifth example, the sentence directly asks a question. Even though the quoted word comes at the end of the sentence, the quote isn’t the question. Ollie’s thoughts are, so

On that note–I don’t using quotes with a character’s thoughts, but that’s mostly a style choice. You do you.

Other Punctuation

Unless you’re writing a formal paper or book with block quotes in it, or other longer, standalone sentences, you probably won’t need to use colons or semicolons. If you do, look it up, because different style guides might have different rules about what to do.

If you use em dashes in your dialogue, they go inside the quotes if they’re a part of the dialogue. However, if they divide the dialogue up, the dashes go outside the quotes.

Ollie grumbled, “I’m not that silly, I’m–“
“No”–Paulie laughed–“you’re otterly ridiculous.”

Although, honestly, I kinda hate how that last one looks, so I’d just use commas there, personally.


If you have any doubts, ever, look it up. Trust me, this isn’t something you want to mess up and have to fix throughout your 40,000+ word manuscript. Promise. It sucks. Now go forth and write! And don’t pay attention to Paulie, he’s just giving Ollie a hard time for the sake of theater.

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