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Dialogue In-Depth 1 - The Basics

This month we're talking about dialogue - everything from the basics, to making it realistic and readable!


So let's start simple, with some of the major rules. What are the first things a writer needs to learn about dialogue?


1. Punctuation

Punctuating dialogue is something many new writers struggle with, but it's actually pretty easy!


You probably already know that dialogue needs quotation marks (they may be single ' or double " depending on your country). But within those, the words follow their own set of punctuation rules. The main thing you need to know is that punctuation always goes inside the quote marks:

  • Correct: 'Hi there,' she said.

  • Incorrect: 'Hi there' she said.

  • Incorrect: 'Hi there', she said.


If you aren't using a dialogue tag, finish the quote with a full stop, not a comma, to indicate the end of a sentence:

  • 'Hi there.'



2. Capitalisation

You also need to know when capital letters are used.


You'll always start with a capital letter within your quote, but not in the dialogue tag. This may be confusing if the character is asking a question, and a question mark is used instead of a comma, which makes it look like two separate sentences. In this case, you still use lower case for the dialogue tag.

  • Correct: 'Are you going to eat that?' she asked.

  • Incorrect: 'Are you going to eat that,' she asked.

  • Incorrect: 'Are you going to eat that?' She asked.


Of course, if you're using the character's name in the dialogue tag, you'll use a capital letter as usual.



3. Formatting

A mistake many new writers make is writing an entire conversation in one paragraph. This is not only incorrect - it's incredibly confusing to the reader!


Start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes, or the focus shifts away from the dialogue.


You can also break up a large block of dialogue by seperating it into several paragraphs. The rule here is to start the new line with a new quote mark. Alternatively, you can break up text with some action or internal monologue to keep the reader engaged.


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