How to Write Dialogue in a Novel (With Examples)

Writing and punctuating dialogue in fiction can be tricky. This article uses examples to illustrate how dialogue should be formatted.

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Manuscript Mentoring

July 27, 2020 · 3 Min Read

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Dialogue Format Examples

 

How to write good dialogue? Why, by formatting it correctly, of course! The proper use of quotation marks, commas, periods, and speaker attributions are extremely important. Have a look at the following dialogue rules and examples for a clearer understanding of the basics.

 

When quoted dialogue follows said/shouted/called/asked (basically any verb used to indicate vocalization), then a comma, not a period, is used: 

          Gary sighed, then turned around and said, "Alright, I'll do it."

         Tiffany shouted, "Let's go play!"

         He put his hands to his mouth and called, "Spot! Where are you, boy?"

If a single sentence in quoted dialogue is interspersed with a speaker attribution (he/she/I etc. said), then a period is used only at the end of the quote:

         "I have often wondered," she said, holding up the binoculars to her eyes, "why the clouds have such funny shapes."

         "No," William whispered, "they don't know yet."

         "I really thought," he lowered his voice conspiratorially, "that she was the one behind the letter."

However, if both parts of dialogue are separate sentences, then the dialogue attribution (he/she/I etc. said) or action between the two parts is closed with a period. Naturally, the second sentence is capitalized:

         “Where is the parrot?” I asked. “You do still have a parrot, don’t you?”

         “If only we had known that it would rain.” She leaned against the wall and sighed. “Now we’re going to have to cancel practice.”

         “I will show them!” She ran to the table and grabbed her car keys. “They'll regret what they’ve done!”

What if someone is interrupted mid-speech? You use an em dash (not a hyphen or an en dash):

Hyphen:       -

En dash:       –

Em dash:    —

         “I was hoping that I—”

         “Stop right there, Billy,” his mother said, holding up her hand. “I’ve already told you that you can’t go to the movies this weekend.”

          “I would have done it, Adam, but the mailman said—”

          Adam slammed his fist down on the table. “The mailman was already here this morning. You’re lying!”

Remember, it is not always necessary to write dialogue with a speaker attribution. He/she/I etc. said can often be omitted if the dialogue is written in a paragraph where the speaker is already referred to. Another instance where a speaker attribution can be omitted is when it is obvious who the speaker is. For example:

         Henry raised his hands to silence the room. “Thank you for coming tonight. We appreciate your attendance.”

         The man and the woman were sitting side-by-side on the bench, gazing into the horizon.

         “You know,” he said, “I think this sunset is the only other thing in the world that’s as pretty as you are.”

         “That’s the nicest thing you’ve said in a long time, Jim.”

Longer Dialogue Examples

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The following examples are conversations between characters. Note the half-inch indentation at the beginning of every new paragraph.

Example #1

         Sally cleared her throat and said, “My name is, uhm, Bonny. I kicked a ball into your garden. May I come in to fetch it?”

          Rose frowned at her. “I know your name isn’t Sally because when your mommy shouts ‘Bonny’, you run into the house.”

          “It’s true,” Sally dropped her gaze, “I am lying.”

          Rose put her hands on her hips. “Why are you telling fibs at my gate?”

          “I actually just want to come play with you.”

          “Why didn’t you say so?” The gate swung open. “Come on in!”

Example #2

          Ronald sat down behind his desk. “Please, Andy, sit.”

          Andy did as his boss instructed. He wiped his brow and realized he was sweating profusely. “What’s this about, sir?”

          “Well, Andy, I have some news for you.”

          Andy adjusted his collar. “Bad news, sir?”

          Ronald eyed Andy for a long moment, then smiled and said, “You’re promoted.”

          “Promoted—”

          “Yes, promoted. You did an excellent job on the Hawkins account.”

          “Thank you, sir,” Andy said meekly. “Truth be told, I didn’t think you were going to give me good news when you called me in.”

          “All’s well that ends well. Now, get going,” Ronald nodded toward the door. “I have a lot of work I have to get to.”

          “Yes, sir, of course, sir.”

Manuscript Mentoring

 

Teaching writers how to write believable, snappy dialogue is one of the many aspects covered by our mentoring services. If you are need of professional writing coach, then have a look at our Services page!