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Writing Dialogue

Writing Dialogue

Dialogue is a great way to make your stories more interesting but you need to make sure you format it properly! Follow these simple steps when writing dialogue:

• Always use quotation marks around what is actually spoken.

• Begin a new paragraph for a new speaker. Make sure you indent it slightly.

• Begin each sentence with a capital letter.

• Each line of dialogue should end with a punctuation mark INSIDE the quotation marks. Here are some examples:

• “Watch out for the zebras, they bite!”

• “Did you bring your zebra to school?” he asked.

• “I think I’ve left my zebra in the parking lot,” he said.

• When a new sentence follows, you can use a full stop. For example: “There are not supposed to be any zebras on the train,” said the conductor. “You will have to leave immediately.”

• Or, you can use a comma: ”There are not supposed to be any zebras on the train,” said the conductor, “you will have to leave immediately.”

DIALOGUE: AN EXAMPLE

Dialogue is a great way to make your stories more interesting but you need to make sure you format it properly! Follow these simple steps:

“This is what dialogue looks like,” I said to my student.
     “Wow!” she exclaimed. “What are those little curly things?”
     “They’re called quotation marks. You need to put all your dialogue (including the punctuation) inside these groovy things. It lets the reader know when someone is speaking.”
     “How can I write effective dialogue?” she asked.
     “Well…that’s a good question. There’s all sorts of things you can do to make dialogue sound realistic – notice how I’ve used full stops, dashes and commas to create pauses. Using these techniques makes my dialogue seems more convincing.”
     “How do you tell the reader what someone’s voice sounds like?” she asked quietly.
     “Well,” I whispered. “You can use a range of words to express what a person’s voice sounds like. Moan, whisper, shout, cackle, blurt and exclaim are just a few examples. Most of the time, though, it’s best to keep things simple – using the old ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids’ is just as effective. Sometimes you don’t even need to use these attributions.”
     “Why?”
     “Well, when two people are speaking…”
     “Uh-huh.”
     “It is quite obvious whose turn is next.”
     “So you don’t need to use attributions, right?”
     “That’s absolutely correct. Incidentally, you can use italics to emphasise particular words.”
     “What if someone’s shouting?”
     “I beg your pardon? I’m a little deaf in that ear.”
     “WHAT IF SOMEONE”S SHOUTING?!”
     “You can use a combination of capitals, italic lettering and exclamation marks. Just like that. Don’t go overboard with the exclamation marks, though. Save them for when someone is really angry.”
     “Wow. Thanks. I’ve really learnt a lot about dialogue.”
     “No problem,” I said. “And remember… dialogue can transform an otherwise boring story into something really exciting. Jump in the deep end and start experimenting today!”

DIALOGUE WRITING ACTIVITY

The following is an example of dialogue without appropriate formatting, including capital letters and apostrophes. Rewrite this passage observing the rules listed above.

so how have you been feeling the psychologist asked
oh not too bad jane replied
any more dreams
she sighed just one
and it was as terrifying as the others
she didn’t respond for a moment
yes she whispered finally
tell me about it he said leaning forward in his chair
she hesitated for a moment, remembering the terrible dream
it always starts the same she said hesitantly
the psychologist started scribbling in his notepad
im standing in the middle of a cornfield and the sky is red

DIALOGUE TEST

Test your ability to write dialogue with this short quiz.