Writing Focus: Dialogue

Good dialogue is an important part of any story. So much pressure is put on the interactions between characters in stories and most of this is shown through the dialogue between them. Often times, it can give a story more emotion, add comic relief, or explain a character's motivation. Dialogue can prove to be an important tool for writers, but good dialogue isn't always the easiest thing to write.


The most important thing when it comes to having good dialogue is following the basic rules of grammar. One of the most common mistakes when writing dialogue is incorrect capitalization or punctuation. Luckily, these rules are fairly easy to follow once you know what they are.

Comma vs. Period

One of the most common mistakes in dialogue punctuation is switching up periods and commas, but luckily it's fairly easy to distinguish when to use one over the other.

When a piece of dialogue is finished off with a tag that explains the dialogue, a comma is used. When the dialogue is finished off with an entirely new thought, a period is used instead.

"He went to the store," John said, tucking his hands in his pockets. "He wanted to buy candy."

"I wanted some, too." Jenna shook her head, upset that she wouldn't get any candy. "That ruins my day."

"I know," he said, "it started off so good, too."

Notice that when a new piece of dialogue starts after a statement that isn't relevant to the dialogue itself, periods finish off the sentences and the new dialogue is capitalized. When a dialogue tag is simply a tag for dialogue, a comma is used instead. Also, when a new speaker began speaking, a new paragraph was started. It is important to remember to correctly format your dialogue, including using block paragraphing.

For more tips on when to use commas and periods, visit the Knowledge Base.


The tricks for capitalizing dialogue are even easier than the ones for punctuation. When dialogue is preluded by a period, the first word needs to be capitalized. When dialogue is preluded by a comma, the first word doesn't need to be capitalized unless it is a proper noun.

"What are we going to do?" John asked, letting out a sigh. "There won't be any candy left for us."

"I don't know," she said, "it's hopeless."

The rules for capitalization are as simple as that. Once you have them memorized, start using them in your writing to make your dialogue tags grammatically correct.


Having proper grammar in dialogue is easy enough, but what actually makes that dialogue sound good? The truth is it's a combination of a lot of different things. It's the way the dialogue flows with the parts of the story around it, the way the characters interact while speaking the dialogue, and the word choice itself. There are lots of things that go into making good dialogue and there is no formula to create perfect dialogue, but there are lots of tips to make your dialogue better.

Read Out Loud

This may seem redundant, but it is more important that your dialogue actually sounds okay. Is this something you could picture someone saying or is some of your word choice a little off? Nothing turns a reader off more quickly than reading a sentence that either doesn't make sense or isn't something that a person would feasibly say.

Often times, your ears can pick up on things that your eyes simply can't, so read your dialogue out loud to be sure that it sounds okay.

Accents or Culture

When writing a character that is a race or ethnicity different from you, or that has a different culture, it is important to keep that culture in mind when writing their dialogue. Ask yourself if someone from that part of the world would use the same words that you would. Do they have an accent that would make specific words sound funny?

With this tip, it is important that you don't go overboard. You need to find a good balance between the culture of the character and the culture of the reader. No one wants to read a paragraph of dialogue in French only to have it be translated in English beneath it. It is both time consuming and unnecessary. Likewise, if you choose to add your character's accent into their dialogue, don't make it too thick or heavy, as it can be an eyesore to readers.

"Y' g'na ta the store?" John asked.

"I'll be headed there later on," Mark replied. "Gots to pick up me shoes."

Which one sounds better?

Show, Don't Tell

While dialogue is a great way to reveal information about your characters, there is a fine line between using this tool appropriately and taking it too far. It is important that you remember that dialogue should reveal more about the character's personality and the way they interact than about the characters themselves. It may seem like a good idea to have Susie reveal her age in a quip to John, but it may come off to readers as being tacky.

Instead of using dialogue to reveal facts, use it to show details about your character to your readers. Does Susie get shy when she talks to John? Does John blush when Susie compliments him? Use your dialogue and the way your characters interact while speaking to reveal things about their relationship and habits they have, like John's crush on Susie and Susie's nervousness around him.


If you're looking to improve this aspect of your writing, check out some of our prompts that put focus on dialogue.

Write a short story involving a couple fighting. Use their words and body language to reveal information about their fight and the role each of them has in their relationship.

A young man is looking for a new roommate after his previous one left without notice. When he invites a potential roommate in for an interview, he begins noticing some strange things about the man. Write the interview. Use your dialogue and body language to reveal the man's secrets.

One night, a teenager gets caught sneaking inside after curfew. He makes several excuses to his parents, but they don't buy any of them. Write this conversation.


Mibba's story page is full of stories that feature excellent dialogue. Check out these stories for some examples on how good dialogue can be used.

Call Girl is a fun, romantic Harry Styles fan fiction. In this story, Harry uses his words to try to win over Erin, but she is reluctant to get close to him. Notice how the author uses both the characters' words and body language to show how they feel about one another.

Saving Leo is an original fiction about teens heading off to college. Notice how the author uses the dialogue to explain the situation without going overboard with details.

The Same Unending Ache is a Vampire Diaries fan fiction featuring Damon Salvatore. Notice how the author uses dialogue to provide comic relief with witty, funny remarks from the characters

Writing good dialogue can be a somewhat difficult experience, but finally nailing down the perfect words for your characters to say is no doubt a rewarding experience that any writer could get used to!

Special thanks to aubs and everybody dies; for editing!

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