Basic Guidelines for Writing Narrative Dialogue

Only one character should speak in each paragraph.
– When starting a new paragraph to show a change of speaker, the first sentence of the new paragraph should contain the dialogue.
– Identify the speaker only when it is otherwise confusing.
– When identifying the speaker, do so as early as possible in the paragraph.
– Use realistic dialogue which suits the character saying the words. For example, your character may use very informal language which features a great deal of slang and contractions.
– A quoted line of dialogue can be its own sentence inside a larger sentence with a capital letter at the beginning and a comma, a period, an exclamation mark, or a question mark at the end.
                 Example 1 – Comma: “I’m planning a trip to Australia,” said John.
                 Example 2 – Period: John said, “I’m planning a trip to Australia.”
Example 3 – Exclamation Mark: John yelled, “I’m planning a trip to Australia!”
Example 4 – Question Mark: John asked, “Are you planning a trip to Australia?”
– Quoted dialogue can contain more than one sentence.
Example: “I’m really tired,” mumbled Tony. “I think I’m gonna go to bed as soon as
this movie is over. What time is it, anyway?”
– When in doubt about dialogue, check your Language Arts textbook or a novel to see how the professionals do it.

Common Mistakes

– Using a comma where a period is required: Frank smiled as he spoke to Alice, “You look very happy today.” (INCORRECT – comma after Alice should be a period.)
– Placing commas outside the quotation: “It’s breakfast time”, yelled Mom.
– Placing periods outside the quotation: George said, “You need to pay attention”.
– Using inappropriate words to introduce or describe dialogue:
             a. Angus questioned, “Are you okay?” (questioned is wrong – asked is correct)
             b. “Do you have any water?” said Billy. (said is wrong – asked is correct)

One thought on “Basic Guidelines for Writing Narrative Dialogue

  1. Pingback: Excellent piece about writing narrative dialogue correctly « eBook Lovers Co-Op

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