Dialogue in a story is one of the most important elements that helps the reader relate to the characters. Dialogue helps in developing the character and makes the story more interesting for the reader. The problem is that improperly formatted dialogue punctuation can make the story boring or confusing. For this reason, you need to format it in a way that the reader understands what is going on and is pulled into the story.
There are several ways in which you can format dialogue in your story. One way of making dialogue sound more realistic is to make use of contractions in your dialogue. For example, instead of writing “I will”, you would write “I’ll”.
Also, you can make characters sound unique by the way they speak. Some formal characters speak formally, some informal characters speak informally, and some like to play with words or spout jokes.
You also need to make use of action to drive home your point. This prevents the dialogue from becoming boring and predictable.
The following is a list of simple rules for writing dialogue. The following rules will help you represent speech in the written word in an accurate and professional manner. This dialogue formatting is for books published in The United States. Other countries format dialogue differently.
1. Use double quotation marks around the words the character says
“The building collapsed right in front of me,“ said David.
2. All punctuations are placed within the quotes. The period, comma, or question mark, should come before the end quote, and not after.
“Who is on the phone?” asked Maria.
3. Dialogue tags, the words that indicate who is speaking, (the he asked/she said portions) are placed outside of the quotation marks and are separated by a comma.
Commonly used dialogue tags are: said and asked. Other dialogue tags include shouted, murmured, mumbled, and replied. Any word that describes the tone of voice of the dialogue can be used.
When dialogue ends in a question or exclamation mark, tags that follow start in lower case.
“Make it a double,” shouted Anthony.
action interupting dialogue formatting
“Did you order a cab?” asked John to the tall lady standing on the corner of 53rd and 5th.
4. Use a different paragraph for every new speaker. When the person who is speaking changes, create a new paragraph.
Even if the person only says one word, it needs to be in a new paragraph.
“No, I didn’t call for a cab,” answered Jane.
“Alright then, have a good night,” said Anthony as he pulled off into midday traffic.
5. Actions that take place before the dialogue is spoken, goes into a separate sentence.
Brittney couldn’t believe what she saw when she came around the corner. “What’s going on here?”
6. Use single quotes to quote something within the dialogue.
Mary started telling the story. “First, I spoke to John, and he said, ‘I didn’t do it’, but I know he did because I saw the powdered sugar on his hands.”
7. If you want to add action between the dialogue, use lower case on the first letter of the continued dialogue.
“Move out of the way,” whispered Allison as she pressed her right knee into his back, “or you’re going to regret it.”
8. Long Speech
If the dialogue takes up more than one paragraph (long speech), place opening quotation marks at the beginning of each paragraph. However, closing quotation marks are placed only at the end of the final paragraph.
I hope this teaches you how to format dialogue in a story. Formatting can be tricky, so use the rules of writing dialogue to stay on track.