Everything You Need To Know About Writing Dialogue: Formatting Advice, Writing Examples And Tips!
From character names to story locations, when it comes to the world of writing, one of the best parts many writers enjoy is the creative freedom that comes with creating a story.
However, one of the toughest parts of writing is learning how to present dialogue correctly. Believe it or not, there is an incorrect way to write dialogue, which can leave many writers scratching their heads.
You could have a stellar plot in the works, but if you aren’t making sure that you are presenting your character’s dialogue correctly, you’re more than likely going to find that your book falls at the first hurdle.
The dialogue is often the main way that readers are able to form emotional connections to characters, and without the presence of great writing, the book will all too often be put down.
The only question is, how do you write dialogue correctly? If you are currently finding it a bit of a challenge to write dialogue – rest assured that you have come to the right place.
In this article, we are going to be sharing with you helpful tips, guidance and more that will help you to become a better creative writer, all while ensuring that you are able to nail dialogue writing, too.
Along with all of the above, we are also going to be sharing some helpful examples along the way that will help to make the writing process of your novel as smooth and as enjoyable as possible. So, without further ado, whenever you’re ready, let’s dive right in.
Everything You Need To Know About Writing Dialogue
Regardless of whether you’re planning to write your very first novel or you’ve already got a collection of them – we’re sure that you’ll agree with us when we say that, when it comes to writing a novel well, dialogue is absolutely essential to get right.
No matter whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, well written dialogue is key to making a good novel outstanding, and in this guide we are going to cover everything that you need to know about writing dialogue well. In this post, we are going to be covering the following topics:
- The rules of dialogue writing
- Formatting/punctuation guidance and writing examples
- How to reduce small talk and refine your character’s dialogue
- How to give your characters distinct voices and maintain consistency
- Common mistakes all writers make and how to avoid them
So, now that you have a better idea of what we are going to be talking about in this post – just keep reading to learn how to elevate your dialogue in just a few simple steps! Let’s go ahead and begin.
The Basic Rules Of Dialogue Writing You Need To Know About
Before we get any further into this guide, we think that covering the basic rules of dialogue writing is going to be a fantastic place to kick this guide off.
So, before we get into the nitty gritty details of what makes good dialogue writing good – let’s breakdown the basic rules that all writers should follow while they are writing dialogue.
Whenever you’re ready, just keep scrolling to discover them:
- Remember that every speaker gets a new paragraph: This is a very important rule that you should make sure you are following while you are writing dialogue for multiple characters. Every time that a character speaks, you will need to show this clearly by providing each character with their own paragraph. Even if you are only planning on giving a certain character one word to say – it is important to make sure that you are remembering to do this, otherwise the conversations will be difficult for your readers to understand.
- Every paragraph needs to be indented: While you are writing dialogue, it is also important to make sure that you are starting each paragraph with an indent. However, while it is generally considered acceptable to start each paragraph with an indent, the only exceptions in which you wouldn’t have to do this is if you were beginning a brand new chapter of your novel or during a scene break. These are the only two times where a dialogue paragraph would not require an indent.
- Ensure that punctuation for everything said is inserted inside the quotation marks: Here’s another important rule that you need to make sure that you are following when writing dialogue! Whenever you need to include punctuation as part of whatever it is that your character is saying, it is important to remember that the punctuation goes directly inside the quotation marks. This will help your reader understand how the dialogue is being said by the characters.
- Remember that longer speeches do not require end quotations: This is perhaps one of the more confusing rules that you’ll need to make sure that you are following when writing your characters’ dialogue – but it is a rule that you are going to need to make sure that you are following nonetheless! If there is a part of your novel where a character speaks for several paragraphs, it is important to keep in mind that the quotations on the end of each paragraph will not be required. HOwever, you will need to make sure that you are beginning each new paragraph with them. This might sound quite confusing to get the hang of, but with practice you will find that you are able to pick this little rule up quite easily. Just think about it: if you were to include a quotation mark at the end of all the paragraphs, this would confuse the reader as to who it is that is speaking.
- If your character is quoting somebody else, make sure that you are using single quotes: Here’s another rule to follow when writing dialogue. If a character is quoting another person, you will need to make sure that you are using single quotation marks for the part that is being quoted. For instance, here is an example of what we mean, “I spoke to Cassie today, she said ‘are you tired?’”.
- Try and avoid small talk where you can: While this isn’t necessarily a rule, it’s still an important part of making dialogue writing good. By making sure that you are avoiding unnecessary small talk, you will help to ensure that the conversation feels more authentic, all the while making it easier for your readers to understand and follow.
How To Format Dialogue Correctly
Now that we have covered some of the basics, we are now going to be taking a closer look at how you should format your written dialogue correctly.
Even though this isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to get right, it can be relatively hard to get right – especially if you are just getting started in the world of novel writing.
When it comes to book formatting, in particular, the main confusion comes from the fact that there are many different types of dialogue that can be used, as well as a vast array of punctuation, too.
These two things combined together can make for plenty of confusion when writers try to ensure that their dialogue has been formatted correctly.
Generally speaking, the basics to keep in mind when formatting your dialogue is that for everytime a new person speaks – you will need to make sure that you are creating a new, indented paragraph with quotes to clearly show what they are saying.
In addition to this, in order to make sure that you are formatting your written dialogue correctly, you are also going to need to make sure that you are punctuating the written dialogue properly, too.
Believe it or not, the punctuation is often the part where most writers tend to fall flat – regardless of how experienced of a writer that they are.
Of course, even though it is standard practice to make sure that you have your own editor to look over your written drafts – it is important to remember that this isn’t an excuse to slack.
Remember, the more work that you leave for your editor to do, the more money you will need to pay them!
Not only that, but as a writer we’re sure that you’ll be eager to make sure that you are aware of how to punctuate your dialogue correctly – regardless of whether you are going to be outsourcing an editor or not.
Plus, by making sure that you are getting these smaller details correct the first time, it means that your editor will have more time to focus on providing your drafts with a more comprehensive edit, rather than getting caught up in punctuation and the likes.
Like we have already briefly mentioned above, dialogue formatting and punctuation is often a lot more tricky than it might seem. While it’s not the most difficult aspect of writing a novel, it will require some taking used to.
So, before we go into more depth on this topic, let’s take a short break to take a look at some dialogue examples, as well as how you should correctly punctuate them. Let’s take a look at these examples below:
Dialogue Punctuation Example One: Using A Single Line
The first writing example that we are going to be taking a closer look at is single lines of dialogue. The good news is that single lines of dialogue are one of the most common and easiest to write.
Thanks to this, it means that the punctuation required for this type of written dialogue is extremely simple and easy to do.
As a general rule of thumb, when it comes to writing single line dialogue it’s important to remember that the quotation marks will always need to go on the outside of both words at the beginning and end of the dialogue punctuation. Here ‘s an example of what we mean by this:
- Example: “We should go back home.”
As you can see from the example that we have provided you above, the quotation mark at the end of the dialogue goes outside of the punctuation.
In this example that we have provided above, the punctuation in this case is a period – although it’s worth keeping in mind here that this will be the same for any other type of punctuation including exclamation marks, question marks and even a comma!
Just to summarize that, regardless of what type of punctuation that you are going to be using in the written dialogue, the punctuation used will always be located inside the quotation marks.
If you include the punctuation outside of the quotation marks, then this will be grammatically incorrect and your editor will be required to fix it. Now, let’s move on to the next punctuation example that we have to share with you.
Dialogue Punctuation Example Two: Single Line That Contains A Dialogue Tag
Now that we have talked you through the basic single line punctuation in dialogue, we are now going to be taking a closer look at a slightly more complex style of dialogue punctuation: using a single line that contains something known as a dialogue tag.
If you aren’t already familiar with the term, a dialogue tag is essentially anything that is used to refer to the way that a character spoke. Typically, a dialogue tag will describe the way that a character is speaking.
Here are some examples to help you understand the term a little bit better:
- He said
- He shouted
- She exclaimed
- She bellowed
- They whispered
- She huffed
- They said
Now that you have a better understanding of what we mean when we refer to the term dialogue tag, we are now going to be providing you with a helpful example of this style of dialogue punctuation being used:
- Example: “Let’s go to the mall after school!” he shouted.
Dialogue Punctuation Example Three: Asking Questions
The next example that we are going to be taking a closer look at is asking questions. When asking a question, a question mark will naturally go at the end of the sentence that is being spoken – and this is often a point of confusion for many writers who are creating dialogue.
However, even though this can quite often be a point of confusion, the good news is that understanding how to punctuate dialogue containing a question is actually pretty darn simple.
To cut a long story short, it is important to remember when writing a dialogue that contains a question, that the question mark will essentially act as a comma or period, depending on where it is in the sentence that the question is appearing.
Let’s take a look at an example of what we mean by this:
- Example: “Are we going for coffee later?” she asked her mother.
Following on, if there happens to be a dialogue tag in the sentence that you are writing, then the question mark will simply serve as a comma, and you will then ensure that the first word of the dialogue tag has a lower case.
The only exception that this wouldn’t be required is if it is a character’s name,
Dialogue Punctuation Example Four: Using A Dialogue Tag In A Single Line Before The Character Speaks
Last but certainly not least, the final example that we are going to share here is using a dialogue tag in a single line before the character speaks.
When it comes to doing this correctly, you are essentially going to need to follow the same rules as if you were including dialogue after the character has spoken. It is as easy and as simple as that.
Let’s take a look at an example of this below:
- Example: She looked up and said, “Wow, look at the clouds.”
As you can see from the example that we have shared with you above, it is super easy to correctly include a dialogue tag in a single line before the character speaks. To do it correctly, just make sure that you remember to include a comma.
Dialogue Punctuation Example Five: Single Line Of Dialogue Getting Interrupted
When we talk in real life, it is very common for interruptions to occur from time to time. Just think about it, when you’re talking to a friend or loved one – how often do you find yourself being interrupted or cut off while you are talking?
While it is often not intentional, being cut off during a conversation is a lot more common than we might think – and so it is a good idea to make sure that you understand how to use them while writing dialogue.
Most commonly, getting interrupted while speaking most commonly occurs when someone is having an argument with the other, or when someone just doesn’t care to listen to what the other person is saying.
Whatever the reason might be for the interruption, it is important to understand how to include them correctly in the dialogue that you are creating. Let’s take a look below:
- “Are you seriously–”
- “I know exactly what I’m doing!”
As you can see from the example that we have shared above, the Em Dash is clearly used at the end of the single line of dialogue in order to clearly display to the reader that an interruption has been made.
Then, in order to provide continuity and flow, the dialogue of the character that has made the interruption is included directly underneath. This can certainly seem a little bit confusing at first to get the hang of, but with practice -you should be able to pick this up quite easily.
Reducing Small Talk, Refining Your Character’s Dialogue, And Maintaining Consistency
Now that we have covered the basics of dialogue writing, as well as provided you with some guidance and writing examples on how to punctuate correctly – we’re now going to be providing you with some additional stylistic tips.
As we’re sure you might very well agree with us, just about anyone can write dialogue – however, there’s simply no denying that writing good dialogue is one of the most challenging things to do.
Even though all of us talk and hold conversations daily in our everyday lives, you’d think that writing dialogue would be one of the easier aspects of creating a novel.
Still, understanding what you should make your characters say all the while maintaining reader interest is easily one of the most challenging aspects of any writing project – which is why we are here to help make the process of writing dialogue a little easier.
Below, we are going to be sharing with you some of the very best tips that will help you ensure that you are able to create immersive dialogue that commands attention, feels authentic and doesn’t take away from the storyline/plot in any way whatsoever.
Whenever you’re ready, let’s take a look at some of the best dialogue writing tips and tricks that we have to share with you below:
1. Say Your Dialogue Out Loud!
This is by far one of the best ways to ensure that the dialogue you’re writing is true to life and will have an authentic feel when being read. To do this, all you are simply going to need to do is write down the dialogue, and then proceed to spend a few moments speaking it out loud.
When you hear how it sounds out loud, you will have the ability to clearly see whether or not the dialogue feels authentic or forced.
As a side note, it is also important to keep in mind that you will likely be more critical of your dialogue than someone else.
In fact, it’s totally normal to speak your dialogue out loud and immediately feel that it is “cheesy” or “corny” – believe it or not, even the most experienced published writers tend to feel this!
For this reason, we recommend that you consider asking someone else to read the dialogue aloud, as this will allow you to listen to the dialogue without any bias.
While listening or speaking the dialogue out loud, we recommend that you ask yourself the following questions:
- Does it sound like something someone would really say?
- Does it add to the story or is it filler?
- Does it flow easily or do you find yourself struggling to say it without tripping over your words?
- Does it fit with the character?
2. Avoid Filler Words!
This is one of the best pieces of advice that we can give you. When it comes to novels (or any kind of written piece that contains dialogue, for that matter) it is important to keep in mind that the generations within the piece will not be exactly the same as they might be in real life.
In real life, you might hold a conversation with someone for hours, and if you were to mimic that exactly in a book – the dialogue would end up being far too long and take away drastically from the story as a whole.
For this reason, when it comes to writing dialogue in novels, short stories and more – it is important that you make sure that your rdialogue is to the point and as brief as possible.
The last thing that you want to do is to bore your readers from unnecessarily long winded dialogue! So long as you make sure that you are only including dialogue that is brief, to the point and relevant to the plot/development of your characters – then you won’t go far wrong.
3. Create Dialogue That Is Consistent With Each Character
If you want to make sure that your dialogue is not only good but great – then you’ll be making a good choice to ensure that the dialogue you write is consistent with the various different characters within your writing project.
For example, if you happen to have a character that has a moody personality and is known for speaking in short sentences – then you should ensure that this dialogue style is maintained throughout the story – or at the very least, until there is a character development.
We also recommend that the language that your characters use throughout the novel are maintained, too. This will help to maintain authenticity.
4. Try To Avoid Small Talk Where Possible
Even though you might not be able to avoid small talk all the time while you are writing dialogue – we do recommend that you avoid using small talk if it is not absolutely necessary.
As we have already touched upon in a previous point, including too much information can do more harm than good! Not only can too much information cause readers to become bored and disinterested, but it can actually take away from the quality of the rest of your writing.
Too much trivial small talk is one of the quickest ways to bring down the quality of your work, all while making dialogue difficult to understand or even read.
By making sure that you are keeping your dialogue as short as possible and to the point, you will help to maintain the steady pacing and flow of your novel – all while ensuring that the dialogue is effective, useful and impactful to the plot.
5. Make Sure That Each Character Has A Unique Voice
Last but not least, you are also going to want to make sure that each character within your novel/writing project has their own unique voices.
Besides being integral to character development, ensuring that each of your characters has their own unique voice and frequent words/phrases that they say will raise the authenticity of the dialogue for your readers.
Common Dialogue Mistakes That All Writers Make
Before we wrap this guide up, the final thing that we are going to be talking about are some of the most common mistakes that all writers tend to find themselves making (at least once) when they are writing dialogue for the first time.
As a writer, regardless of whether you have several writing projects under your belt or you’ve just gotten started on making your very first novel – it’s important to keep in mind that it is only natural that you should find yourself making mistakes.
Mistakes are a part of life, and they are often necessary in order to allow you to hone your craft and become a better writer.
However, if you have your sights set on becoming a celebrated author or you simply want to become the best writer that you can be, it is important to try and avoid some of the most common mistakes that often bring the quality of writing down.
When it comes to writing dialogue, in particular, there are many common mistakes that all writers make – and the good news is that they are easy to avoid, so long as you are aware of them.
That being said, let’s take a look at some of the most common mistakes you should do your best to avoid:
Mistake #1: Frequently Using A Person’s Name
This is by far one of the most common mistakes that many writers make – regardless of how experienced a writer that they might be.
Even though it might be tempting to want to include the character’s name as much as you can in order to make it clear who is talking to who – this just isn’t the way that people typically tend to naturally talk in real life.
In fact, unless we are greeting them, emphasizing a point or signaling a warning to them – it is very rare for people to speak the name of the person they are talking to in direct conversation.
So, if you use it too much in your dialogue, you are likely going to find that the conversations you write feel inauthentic to the reader.
Mistake #2: Including Too Much Information
Here’s another example of a common mistake that all writers find themselves making at least once or twice when writing their own dialogue.
Even though it’s totally okay to make sure that you are including all of the relevant information required to make sure that your readers are aware of what is going on – including too much filler will make it hard for your readers to follow.
Instead of bombarding your readers with a ton of information, you should instead focus on other methods of word building to help your readers enjoy an immersive experience in the plot that you have created.
Mistake #3 Failing To Mix Up Dialogue Tags
As we’re sure that you might agree from your own experience of reading books, nothing is more frustrating than reading the same dialogue tags in a book.
In fact, this is one of the main reasons that many readers lose interest in a story and put the book down in search of a new one!
In order to make sure that your readers stay engaged with the story that you are writing, it is important to make sure that you are frequently changing up the various different dialogue tags that you are using.
Mistake #4: Using Repetitive Styles Of Dialogue
This ties in coseley to mistake number 3, and follows the same principle. If you consistently use the same styles of dialogue while you are writing your book, you are more than likely going to find that the dialogue sections are boring, repetitive and frustrating to the reader.
Along with making sure that you are mixing up the various different dialogue tags that you use while writing your dialogue, you should also be sure that you are also making sure to mix up the styles of dialogue that you are using, too.
If you use repetitive styles of dialogue, this will make it difficult for the reader to follow, and will likely bore them.
There we have it. You’ve made it to the end of our guide! Now that you have taken the time to read through all of the above, we are hoping that you now have a much better idea of how you can correctly write dialogue with confidence.
As you will have seen from everything that we have talked you through above, there are a great variety of things to take into account when writing dialogue – which means there are plenty of things that can go wrong.
However, by making sure to follow all of the guidance that we have shared with you above, you should find that you are able to create excellent dialogue that will be grammatically correct, engaging and authentic.
Before you click off this article, why don’t you consider giving this page a bookmark? By saving this page, it means that you will always know where to find s should you need to come back and refresh your knowledge on how to correctly write dialogue.
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide once again, and good luck with your writing project!
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!