Dialogue is what the characters in your writing say out loud. It represents the “spoken” word.

Types of Dialogue

Inner Dialogue – written like narrative… no quote marks
Outer Dialogue – as spoken, with quote marks
Monologue – only one person engaged in speaking (i.e. inner dialogue someone talking to themselves)
Dialogue – two people are speaking (or more)

Basic Rules for Writing Dialogue

1 – Each speaker gets a new paragraph.

2 – Each paragraph is indented. The only exception for this is if it’s the start of a chapter or after a scene break, where the first line is never indented, including with dialogue.

3 – Punctuation for what’s said goes inside the quotation marks. If someone else speaks inside that comment, set it aside with single quote marks. In the UK, this is reversed.

4 – If the speaker’s statement gets cut off (as in another person breaking in), use an M dash to indicate the interruption.

“Are you crazy—”

“Do not call me crazy.”

5 – Long speeches with several paragraphs don’t have end quotations until you get to the end of the speech (last paragraph).

Dialogue Content

1 – Dialogue should ALWAYS move the story ahead…. In other words, skip the small talk and focus on important information only. Unless that small talk is relevant for character development, skip it and get to the point, this isn’t real life and will actually feel more fake if you have too much.

2 – Avoid using modern dialogue inappropriately – out of time, location, character type, etc.

3 – Use REAL speech. You CAN sometimes break grammatical rules but don’t confuse the reader. Unrealistic speech does not sound believable and is not the way people talk.

4 – Avoid using more than a slight amount of “eye” dialect (spelling everything phonetically)… “fella” or “um” and maybe “gonna” or “gotta” are generally okay, but too much is too much.

The Battle Over Tags

Some say only use “said;” others offer a few mild tags and even suggest you vary enough to make it interesting…

“I hate you!” Sandy said.
“I hate you!” Sandy yelled.

I say, try to use an alternate approach:

Sandy was angry. “I hate you! You’ve never cared about me, have you, Benny?!”
or this one: “You really shouldn’t have done that,” he whispered.

A Character’s Unique Voice

Give each character a unique voice and stick with them – especially for your main characters. Base their voice on something about the character so it fits. Is your character a…

“smooth operator” – silky words and voice
“introvert” – short statements, not a verbal person
“young” – maybe speaks quickly
“old” – maybe hesitates regularly or forgets what she/he was going to say
“meek” – speaks quietly
“bold” – may be overpowering in speaking

Tips from Self-Publishing School

1 – Say it out loud first.

2 – Keep it brief and impactful – focus on writing the scene in a way that informs the dialogue.
3 – Add world-appropriate slang.
4 – Think about who they’re speaking to – You don’t speak in the same way around every single person.
5 – Keep long speech paragraphs to a minimum. If you have a character who rambles on, maybe have your other character shut them out and slip into “inner dialogue” – for example:

“And Sarah said, ‘You just don’t get it, do you?’ and I said, ‘Of course I do, and she said…” (blah, blah, blah)

Eric was used to listening with one ear, as he called it, when his wife went off like this. He started thinking about where he might be able to go that weekend – maybe fishing or just take a drive. Yeah, that would do it. A little getaway. He checked in on Samantha. She was still talking. Eric sighed and settled in for a long wait.


1 – Using the person’s name repeatedly
2 – Info-dumping through dialogue
3 – Avoid repetitive dialogue tags
4 – Avoid repetitive dialogue styles
Bad Dialogue Example 1: Dialogue tags in the front
Bad Dialogue Example 2: Action within the dialogue
Bad Dialogue Example 3: Tags in the middle

To fix this problem…Variation is Key

How to Do Research to Discover “Real” Dialogue

There are ways to pick up ideas for dialogue from the “real” world. Just remember that you will likely not be able to utilize what you discover directly in your writing. Some “editing” will be necessary to meet the demands of a well-written narrative for your reader’s benefit. But try these suggestions:

1 – Go where people are and listen to what they say. You can go to restaurants, parties, parks and playgrounds, and other public places to eavesdrop on conversations.

2 – Read books in your genre. Good writers abound and you can study how they handle dialogue. They likely have the benefit of good editors, so their dialogue should be “spot on.”

3 – Listen to audio books.

4 – Books and films are two separate media and are not put together in the same way. Anyone who has spent ten hours reading a book and two hours seeing the same story in a movie can tell you they are not the same. How is dialogue handled in each media? Compare and contrast.

5 – Take an on-line or in-person writing course focused on writing dialogue.

6 – Find a resource that will help you discover the verbal differences between cultures. You may want to write dialogue for your characters that best fits their country of origin. Then, how is that affected by that character’s assimilation into western culture.

7 – Try to think up your own ways to discover dialogue, make a list and then follow up on your list.

Good luck!

My Creative Example

Abby was hyped. “Okay, so I couldn’t get a good enough sample of her blood to find a match, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to track her down by the tissue sample I had… plus Rondo (one of her machines) isn’t working right now – Why, Rondo, why?!”

Gibbs was not in for a big speech. “Abbs?”

“Oh, right. So I finally tracked down her phone number from the license data.” She paused and watched her boss with a smile.

Gibbs had to ask. “Address?”

“Yup. I knew you’d want it.” She handed Gibbs a piece of paper.

After giving Abby a light kiss on her head, he turned to leave the lab. “Thanks, Abbs.”

Abby smiled and watched him go out the door. She was very fond of her boss, even though he didn’t care about her lab techniques.

LINKS from this article:

Grammarly https://www.grammarly.com/blog/writing-dialogue/?gclid=CjwKCAjwo_KXBhAaEiwA2RZ8hI2g4Kvze9eU1WEYKxoeutDA3mEITGncswQeIPGlnBCU-nXB3OC06BoC6rQQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

Self-Publishing School https://self-publishingschool.com/how-to-write-dialogue/

Indeed https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/dialogue-rules

Reedsy https://blog.reedsy.com/guide/how-to-write-dialogue/

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