Dialogue Writing Tips



The most common way to indicate a new speaker’s dialogue is to start a new paragraph.

Here is an example from my novel Touched:

Rashan slouched into a nearby folding chair, not bothering to get one for Georgia. He moved a few braids from his forehead, but they fell back over his eyes. After a silence, Georgia, still standing, took the conversational lead. “So you’re a basketball player?”
“Varsity. Point guard.”
“Great.”
“Do you know what a point guard is?”
“Not exactly but it sounds important.”
Rashan laughed. “It is. Hey, you wanna dance?”

Different speakers’ words may be written in a single paragraph to save space as long as the change of speakers is clear by prompts to the reader such as Rashan laughed.

Single words such as yes, no, where, how, and why are not enclosed in quotation marks unless used in direct dialogue.

Examples:
She said yes when he asked her to marry him.
When Howard asked Mary to marry him, she shouted, “Yes!”

With thoughts and imagined dialogue that are unspoken, you may enclose the interior discourse in quotation marks or not.

Examples:

“If he asks for chocolate ice cream one more time,” Benny’s mother thought, “I’ll scream.”
If he asks for chocolate ice cream one more time, Benny’s mother thought, I’ll scream.
“Why,” she wondered, “did I worry about the test so much?”
Why, she wondered, did I worry about the test so much?

Posted on Monday, August 27, 2007, at 11:00 pm

12 Comments on Dialogue Writing Tips

12 responses to “Dialogue Writing Tips”

  1. Keith D. Moser says:

    How do you properly write this sentence?

    When are you going, he replied?

  2. Ravinder says:

    Please write a dialogue on
    “Asif meets his teacher Mrs. Kaul ten year after passing out from school./ They both catch up on news about Asif’s career , the school & Mrs. Kaul’s health.

    Regards

    • Dialogue refers to a conversation between characters in a story, movie, play, etc. Since your sentences do not contain any dialogue, no quotation marks (or slash mark—perhaps you meant to type quotation marks here) should be used. You need the plural word years after the word ten. We are unsure what you are trying to say in your first sentence. If Asif quit school, you would say “after dropping out of school.” If he finished school, you would say, “after graduating from school.” You should use the word and instead of the ampersand in formal writing, and we recommend inclusion of the series comma before and.

  3. Jack says:

    Hello,

    I understand that in English, speakers’ words are enclosed in quotation marks. However, recently I saw a book where the author uses quotation marks in some chapters, and dashes in others. I was quite surprised to see it as dashes are used in dialogues in some other languages (e.g., Polish). I wonder if it is possible and correct to use them in English instead of using quotation marks?

    Thanks,

    Jack

  4. Collin Bautista says:

    When each person says something do you put and indentation. this is an example from a book I’m writing. if there are other things wrong with the dialogue please feel free to tell me
    “I’m certain that they have been watching over you.” He said. “Yeah…” she said still looking up at the stars.
    “Shall we call it a night Aira, it’s getting late.” Alistar said. “Sure, but don’t think I’m not coming back tomorrow.” She said with a grin.
    “Ok.” Alistar said with a sarcastic sigh, “I’m going to set you down near the edge of the forest where your home is. Is that alright?”

    • You do not need to indent; however, start the next speaker’s dialogue on a new line. The following is punctuated correctly:
      “I’m certain that they have been watching over you,” he said.
      “Yeah … ” she said, still looking up at the stars.
      “Shall we call it a night, Aira? It’s getting late,” Alistar said.
      “Sure, but don’t think I’m not coming back tomorrow,” she said with a grin.
      “Ok,” Alistar said with a sarcastic sigh, “I’m going to set you down near the edge of the forest where your home is. Is that all right?”

  5. Ruth says:

    can you correctly punctuate this quotation: Does it all go into one paragraph?
    A boy held back the aggressive dog as he pulled tightly on the leash. He bent down to inspect his findings and wondered, “What’s this?” Quickly the boy opened his sack, threw the doll into the darkness, and muttered, “What’s this old, ugly thing worth?”
    Also this:
    “Help!” she yelled, “where am I?”

  6. Sue says:

    Hello! I’ve been proofreading/editing a charity book anthology and have run into a comma issue I can’t seem to find a rule for (or I’m not searching for with the right keywords!). Do I need a comma after “say” in the following sentence?

    He collapsed on the bed, about to say “I’m sorry,” when he felt the corrupt touch of a tendril push through the wall and stand him up.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Our Commas Rule 13a gives the writer the option of whether to use a comma with one-word quotations. However, this is a gray area, more a matter of guideline than rule. In the case of your sentence, where the quoted words aren’t exactly a direct quotation, it simply doesn’t look or feel right to place a comma after “say.” We would omit the comma, but it is not incorrect to leave it in.

      If you wanted to omit quotation marks, you could rewrite the sentence as: He collapsed on the bed, about to say he was sorry, when he felt the corrupt touch …

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