Writing Process: Writing Dialogue

Incorrect formatting of dialogue is one of the most common errors Mibba’s story editors encounter. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest things to correct. With a little practice, writing dialogue can become second nature to any writer.

The Anatomy of Dialogue

Punctuation Within Quotation

Any punctuation for your dialogue should be placed within the quotation marks.

Statement: Julia said, “Kieran is home.”

Question: Julia asked, “Is Kieran home?”

Exclamatory Statement: Julia yelled, “Kieran is still at home!”

Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags let readers knows who is speaking.

Dialogue tags at the start of a sentence:

If the tag is placed before the dialogue, a comma should be placed between the tag and the opening (the first) quotation mark.

Statement: Mai said,“I don’t like peaches.”

Question: Mai asked,“Do you like peaches?”

Exclamatory Statement: Mai yelled,“I hate peaches!”

Dialogue tags at the end of a sentence:

If the tag is placed after the dialogue in a statement, the period within the quotes should be changed to a comma.

Correct: “I can never find the North Star,” said Lisle.

Incorrect: “I can never find the North Star.” said Lisle.

If the tag is placed after the dialogue in a question or exclamatory statement, use the appropriate punctuation for the dialogue within the quotes (? or !). No punctuation change is needed.

Question: “Can you find the North Star?” Lisle asked.

Exclamatory Statement: “I finally found the North Star!” Lisle yelled.

Unless it is a proper noun, tags that are placed after the dialogue should NOT be capitalized.

Descriptive Beats

Descriptive beats let readers know how a piece of dialogue is said and what the character is doing while speaking.

Descriptive beats are generally separated from dialogue and tags by a comma.

End of Sentence: “Have you seen my shoes?” Adhir asked, looking underneath the bed.

Beginning of Sentence: Walking into the room, his mom replied, “I think I saw it in the closet.”

Unless it is a proper noun, dialogue beats that come later in the sentence, should NOT be capitalized.

Dialogue Within Dialogue

If you ever need to write dialogue within dialogue (for example, if your character is repeating something another character has said), use the single quotes (‘_’), like this:

“And then my mom said, You are not going anywhere with Gary,” said Keisha.

Note: In this case, the punctuation in the dialogue goes within the innermost quotes. If there is no tag attached to the dialogue, the same applies, like this:

“And then my mom said, You are not going anywhere with Gary.

Tips, Tricks, and Helpful Tidbits

When addressing a character, remember to place a comma between the name and the statement.

“I don’t care, Kyle,” said Adrianne.

“Max, are you going to school?” asked Reese.

As a rule of thumb, separate different speakers with new paragraphs. This helps keep your work clear and will help prevent reader confusion.

“Gregory thinks I should download Google Chrome, but I’m very comfortable with Internet Explorer,” said Owen, clicking open a new tab. He wanted to do a search of internet browsers on Google, but was automatically rerouted to Bing’s search engine.

“I agree with Gregory,” said Madeline. “I think Google Chrome is much better and very easy to use."

Though there’s certainly a lot of other tag options, said is often the most commonly used because it can be very inconspicuous. The mind naturally reads over this word, rendering nearly invisible so it can complete its purpose without interrupting the flow of your narrative. Other tags, like he shrieked or she mumbled, tends to draw attention to itself – so use them wisely and only when necessary.

Also, tags aren’t always needed. If readers can discern who is speaking without a tag, consider not using them. Try to use dialogue tags only when needed.

Other articles