Dialogue & Conversation
Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people in a narrative work. As a literary technique, dialogue serves several purposes. It can advance the plot, reveal a character’s thoughts or feelings, or show how characters react in the moment.
Originating from dialogos, the Greek word for conversation, the term dialogue refers to a verbal conversation between two or more people. In a written work, dialogue is one way that a writer can utilize the writing skill that is showing instead of merely telling. Allowing the reader or audience to learn about a character through his/her own words, will provide more information and a deeper understanding of the character at hand. When it comes to writing stories, dialogue is an effective tool — not only for character development, but also plot movement and theme conception.
When writing dialogue, it is important to adhere to specific grammar rules. Not following traditional grammar rules could create confusion for the reader and thus make it difficult to understand who is speaking or what is being said. Correct use of quotation marks, commas, periods, capitalization, and paragraph separation will create clear, purposeful dialogues. Paying particular attention to grammar and mechanics will improve your writing regardless of purpose, style, or genre. However, paying particular attention to grammar rules for dialogue will help your characters’ conversations flow from the page. The reader will be aware of who is speaking without having to backtrack or stumble. Brush up on your grammar and improve writing skills with this course.
Words, phrases, and sentences that are being spoken must be contained inside quotation marks. Be sure to place quotation marks around everything that is coming out of a person’s mouth. If a character is quoting something that another person/character spoke, a single quotation mark is used (inside the double quotations).
“I am going to the basketball game on Saturday if you would like to come along,” she said.
“Robbie, she asked me if I, ‘Would like to come along.’ Is this a date?”
In American English grammar, periods and commas go inside the quotation marks. Other punctuation marks such as semicolons, question marks, dashes, and exclamation points, go outside unless they pertain to the conversation in quotations.
If the quote is at the end of the sentence, a period should be placed inside the end quotation mark. If the quote does not end the sentence, a comma should be placed inside the end quotation mark and the sentence can be continued. Put a comma inside the ending quotation mark if there is a dialogue tag after what the person says. A dialogue tag shows who is speaking (he said/she said). Use a period or exclamation point if there is no dialogue tag following the quote.
Cally said, “Have a nice day.”
“Have a nice day,” Cally said.
If the speaker is asking a question, the question mark belongs inside the quotation. If the question is not included in what the speaker is voicing, it should be placed at the end of the sentence, outside of the quotation marks.
I asked Cally, “Would you like to see a movie tonight?”
Was she telling the truth when she exclaimed, “I already have plans.”?
Commas separate the spoken dialogue from the rest of the sentence. Usually, the person is identified before or after speaking with a dialogue tag. Dialogue tags are separated with a comma. Also, actions or descriptions are included within dialogue to provide more details to the sentence. Additional information is also separated by a comma.
“You look lovely,” I said when she answered the door.
I could smell her perfume as she leaned forward and whispered, “Thank you.”
Use commas or periods after dialogue tags depending on where they are in the sentence. If the dialogue tag appears before the person’s words or in the middle of two sets of words, the tag requires a comma. If it appears at the end of the sentence, it requires a period. Dialogue tags such as he said or she said should never use an exclamation point. Properly punctuating will help with text clarity and consistency — both important when conveying your message to an audience. The course, Quality Paragraph and Essay Writing will instruct you on how to write with unity, coherence, and clarity.
Capitalization and Paragraphs
Capitalize the first word of what the person says.
Start a new paragraph each time a person speaks. This separates the characters to distinguish who is speaking and create a natural flow for the reader. A dialogue tag (he said/she said) does not need to be used every time someone speaks. Therefore, it is necessary to start new paragraphs to make it clear who is speaking during a verbal exchange.Interjections, words that express emotion, are usually found within exchanges of dialogue. Read this article on interjections to see some examples of interjections and how to properly punctuate when using them.
Dialogue Grammar Recap
- Put quotation marks around the words that actually come out of a person’s mouth.
- Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
- Use commas or periods after dialogue tags depending on where they are in the sentence.
- Capitalize the first word of what the person says.
- Start a new paragraph each time a person speaks.
How Dialogue Enhances Writing
Dialogue reveals information about the speaker(s) within a written work. Dialogue also enhances the story line and plot. Do you need some guidance on characterization and other literary elements when it comes to fiction writing? Young Adult Fiction Writing Workshop teaches the techniques of writing young adult novels through step by step lessons and practice. The following types of information are revealed to improve character development and storyline through the use of dialogue:
- Exposes Character Traits
Through indirect characterization, dialogue reveals details about a character by what they say, how they say it, and perhaps what they choose not to say.
- Unveils Mood/Emotions
A character’s word choice, description of tone, and choice of language reveal the inner state of the character without directly “telling” the audience. Showing instead of telling creates a deeper understanding of the character through the eyes of the reader or audience.
- Reveals Motivation/Influences
Dialogue can illuminate a character’s internal motivation or desires.
- Establishes Relationships
Seeing how a character addresses and responds to other characters shows the type of relationships that they form and where their relationships currently stand. Dialogue can demonstrate how relationships change throughout the course of the story. It can show how a character changes or responds to various situations.
- Advances Action
Dialogue can move the plot or change the direction of the plot through conflict. Dialogue also adds drama and suspense. A character’s words also support and develop a theme for the work.
- Provides Necessary Information
Instead of boring the reader with an excessive amount of details through exposition, it is nice to include some information through dialogue. Remember, not to overdo this. Your details should come across in a natural manner. If you are having trouble transferring your ideas to the page, you may want to take a step back and reevaluate or review what information is important to include and establish the best method(s) to convey this information. This creative writing course from Udemy shows you how to transform your ideas into literary works.
There are certain instances in which dialogue does NOT enhance writing. It is important to use dialogue where it will be effective for your purpose as an author. If overused or used unnecessarily, dialogue could be doing your writing a disservice.
When writing dialogue, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is the dialogue logical?
- Does it fit the character?
- Does it support the theme or purpose of the story?
- Does it create movement in the story?
Dialogue should not be used to for the following reasons:
- To simply break up text
- Slow down a story
- Create a conversation without a purpose
- Provide details that would be better described through narrative
- Provide background information that sounds unnatural
6 Tips for Writing Dialogue
- When writing, be careful not to overuse dialogue in order to provide background information for the reader. Of course, this can be done well just not overdone. Writer’s Digest tells to never use dialogue as an “information dump.” This makes writing sound forced or fake.
- When using dialogue tags, it is good to mix it up once and a while to express a speaker’s tone but it is not necessary to use an overabundance of different tags. It might be distracting to the reader. A simple “he said” or “she said” will usually flow nicely and the reader will focus on the message that is being communicated.
- Include action or descriptions in between dialogue. This creates even more meaning for the reader and will enhance characterization and action within the story.
- Whether you write novels or prefer writing short stories, it’s important to know how to write dialogue in a story. Dialogue is one of those key elements of fiction with which many writers struggle. You want to use dialogue to convey the important details of the story without sounding forced or fake.
- Do not make character’s talk for the sake of talking. When writing to convey a message – whether you are telling a story or simply relaying information – it is important to make conversations sound natural yet not contain things that do not matter that are found in real-life conversations. When writing, everything should be purposeful and convey a point.
- Also, characters should not sound the same. If each character sounded like you (the writer), this could result in bland, one-dimensional characters. Just like each character has a different personality, create a distinct voice and personality for your characters through conversation. You can reveal character traits through a speaker’s word choice as well as thought process. Empower your writing with this introductory course from Udemy that offers a powerful and unique framework for writing.
Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engel
This is a great example. Watch L’Engel intertwine scene description with dialogue. Also, the main character, Meg, has dialogue written for her that continues with a tag in the middle.
Calvin licked his lips. “Where are we going?”
“Up.” Charles continued his lecture. “On Camazotz we are all happy because we are all alike. Differences create problems. You know that, don’t you, dear sister?”
“No,” Meg said.
“Oh, yes, you do. You’ve seen at home how true it is. You know that you’re not happy at school. Because you’re different.
“I’m different, and I’m happy,” Calvin said.
“But you pretend that you aren’t different.”
“I’m different, and I like being different.” Calvin’s voice was unnaturally loud.
“Maybe I don’t like being different,” Meg said, “but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.”
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Here’s a classic, straightforward block of dialogue.
“Now he is here,” I exclaimed. “For Heaven’s sake, hurry down! Do be quick; and stay among the trees till he is fairly in.”
“I must go, Cathy,” said Heathcliff, seeking to extricate himself from his companion’s arms. “I won’t stray five yards from your window…”
“For one hour,” he pleaded earnestly.
“Not for one minute,” she replied.
“I must–Linton will be up immediately,” persisted the intruder.
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Now, let’s enjoy a block of dialogue that’s blended beautifully with ample description for the scene at hand. We’re instantly drawn in and then the dialogue picks up speed and lures us further into the story.
“Hi, Richard,” she said, and spit out a mouthful of toothpaste. She was wearing cut-off jeans that had bizarre, frantic designs drawn on them in Magic Marker and a spandex top which revealed her intensely aerobicized midriff.
“Hello,” I said, setting to work on my tie.
“You look cute today.”
“Got a date?”
I looked away from the mirror, at her. “What?”
“Where you going?”
By now I was used to her interrogations.