Dialogue Woes


For some writers, the very word sends shivers down our spines and tremors to our fingers.

Never fear, it’s not as bad as you think!

First, you need to know the basics of dialogue punctuation.

1. Use a comma inside the quotation marks to end a line of dialogue when using a standard dialogue tag afterwords. EX: “Commas are our friends,” she said with a smile.

2. Use a comma inside quotation marks if there is a tag in the middle of the sentence. EX: “Oh,” she nodded, “So, that is how that works.”

3. However, you can use a period if there is an action between two statements. EX: “That’s interesting.” She jumped to her feet to grab her notebook and pen. “Hold on, let me write that down before I forget.”

4. Use an em-dash when dialogue is interupted by an action or another character’s dialogue.

EX: Kevin nodded. “I was just about to–“

“Shut up, Kevin,” Jeff interrupted.

EX2: “But, I was just going to say–“

Without warning, Jeff leapt to his feet and slapped Kevin across the face.

5. Use elipse when a character trails off in dialogue. EX: “But, I thought…” Kevin stopped short as Jeff shot him a menacing glare.

Okay, so those are the basic rules, now let’s discuss dialogue tags.

1. Said/say

EX: “This is the oldest trick in the book,” she said.

2. Action

EX: “Indeed, it is very reliable,” he nodded enthusiastically. OR “Indeed, it is very reliable.” He nodded enthusiastically. OR He nodded enthusiastically. “Indeed, it is very reliable.”

3. Other forms of “said”.

EX: “But, I like this way better,” she asserted.

There are many ways to write dialogue, but your main concerns should be:

1. Does it sound realistic/authentic to the setting and character?

2. Does it advance the plot or character arc of the character speaking in some way?

We don’t need to have a page of conversation about a new puppy character A adopted unless that puppy is going to show us something about the characters involved or is going to have an effect on the story in some fashion. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your dialogue and find a style and tags that work best for you.

Overall, dialogue is an essential element to writing, but shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. Find what works for you and….

Keep writing!

Allison M

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