I’m running into a common error lately, one I haven’t addressed previously.
The writer sets down a line or three of dialogue, ending with an ellipsis or an em dash to indicate the thought breaks off. However, they follow that with a lowercase letter and a complete sentence. A beat, in other words.
In every case, the word following the closing quotation mark needs to be capitalized. It’s beginning a sentence, not starting a dialogue tag.
What I’m seeing, V1:
“Put that down! You don’t know where it’s—” she stopped short of completing the statement when a hand touched her on the shoulder.
What it should be, V1:
“Put that down! You don’t know where it’s—” She stopped short of completing the statement when a hand touched her on the shoulder.
What I’m seeing, V2:
“I’ve had this very thing happen to me a thousand times! Why, just last month, in Paris . . .” he stared into space as if a movie of those days were being projected on the wall in front of them.
What it should be, V2:
“I’ve had this very thing happen to me a thousand times! Why, just last month, in Paris . . .” He stared into space as if a movie of those days were being projected on the wall in front of them.
Compare both of these to speech that’s interrupted by a beat, action that occurs while the speaker is talking. Like this:
“In Paris, as I was saying, I was standing on my balcony, gazing up at the Eiffel Tower” — he tapped his empty rocks glass, shooting a glance at the bartender and nodding thanks — “and I felt a hand on my shoulder. But I knew I was alone!” *
The key to getting this right is remembering that the ellipsis always belongs with the speech, so whatever comes after the closing quote will begin with a lowercase letter if it’s an actual tag (like “he said”). If it’s anything other than a tag, it begins with a capital letter. Honestly, I’m hard pressed to think of a situation where a tag would be worthwhile in this position. A beat, yes. A tag, not so much.
With the em dashes, it’s a little trickier; if the dash belongs with the speech, whatever follows it needs to begin with a capital (unless it’s an actual dialogue tag, but see my previous paragraph). If the dash goes with the intrusion, what follows will begin with a lowercase letter.
Beats that interrupt dialogue begin with lowercase letters. Beats following dialogue begin with capital letters.
*The astute among you will notice spaces around the em dashes in the Paris example. I have deviated from Chicago style for that paragraph because there’s a glitch in WordPress that causes the opening quotation mark following the second em to be a closing quotation mark. (I use straight quotes in my draft, but they become curly in the final. The draft looks correct. The final, not so much.) Inserting a space around the em dashes results in the correct curly quotes. I’m not thrilled about it, but it works.