Tips for Writing Correct Dialogue

Most newspapers, academic papers and textbooks don't use dialogue (conversation) in them. This is why most of us don't learn proper punctuation and grammar for writing conversations. As an author trying to write a novel it's very important to write dialogues correctly. If your dialogue structure or punctuation isn't right then regardless of how great your book is you will be considered as an amateur. Punctuation is a mechanism for the reader to separate spoken words from other parts of the sentence. What if your English teacher reads your amateurish book someday? Wouldn't she be shocked? This is why I have collected a bunch of basic tips on how to punctuate dialogues. Though I am no grammar expert the below tips will immensely help you in framing dialogues. Pay attention to my yellow highlights.

What is a DIALOGUE and a TAG LINE?

Example: "I would like to go to the library tomorrow," she told him as they left the building.
Dialogue is the words spoken by the speaker - I would like to go to the library tomorrow
Tag Line are words that identify the speaker like he told/she told - she told him as they left the building

Type of sentence: A single line of dialogue that has ONE tag line.
Example: “I would like to go to the library tomorrow,” she told him as they left the building.
Punctuation Method: Put a comma after the dialogue ends and before the closing quotation mark. End the sentence with a period. Also, the tag line (she told him as they left the building) doesn’t begin with a capital letter since it’s part of the same sentence. This is why the letter s in she is not in capitals.

Type of sentence: A single line of dialogue that has NO tag line.
Example: “He hated you like hell."
Punctuation Method: The entire sentence, including the period, is within the quotation marks. Similarly, even question mark or exclamation point has to be within the quotation marks like the examples below.
“Who is he?
“That's stupid!"

Type of sentence: Two dialogues interrupted or joined by a tag line.
Example-1: "I have made up my mind," she said nodding, "I don’t want to go there."
Punctuation method: A dialogue can be interrupted by a tag and again resume in the same sentence. In such cases, put a comma inside the first set of quotation marks and put another comma after the tag line. This is done because the entire sentence is spoken by one speaker.

Separating the above into two sentences also works. The first sentence will end with a period and the second will begin with a capital letter like example below.
Example-2: "I have made my decision," she said, nodding. "I don’t want to go there."

Type of sentence: Identifying two speakers talking.
“How are you?” said John.
“I am fine,” replied Nancy.
Punctuation method: Always start a new paragraph for a new speaker.

Type of sentence: Multi paragraph quotation or a long dialogue that spans two paragraphs.

Punctuation method: Begin first paragraph with open quote marks but do not close this paragraph with ending quotation marks. The second paragraph should have both open and ending quotation marks. The reason for this method is to indicate the original speaker is still talking. The lack of ending quotation marks is a convenient clue for the reader that the quotation goes on beyond the end of the paragraph. If you closed the quotes at the end of every paragraph, then you would need to re-identify the speaker with every subsequent paragraph.


The usual way of punctuating dialogue is to start the speech with quotation marks and to close the marks when the character finally stops speaking his long sentences that span multiple paragraphs.

Note there is no ending quotation marks at the end of the previous paragraph, but it is put at the start of this new one. It’s only when you reach the end of this final paragraph that you close the quotation marks.

What is First, Second and Third Person?

First Person: I, We, Me, Us, My, Mine, Our, Ours.

Second Person: You, Your, Yours.

Third Person: He, Him, His, She, Her, Hers, They, Them, Their, Theirs, It, Its.

Depending on the type of book choose the first, second or third person method for your writing.

First person: The category ‘first person’ refers to the writer himself. When you write your sentences using words like I, we, me, us, my, mine, our, ours, then you are using the first person method. Some examples of sentences using first person are,

"I am going home to eat my dinner. Our maid is going to cook my favorite dish."
"We were walking down the street when we noticed a tiger coming towards our house and both of us screamed."

The first person method is mainly used for autobiographies, personal essays, memoirs, etc.

Second person: Writing in the second person uses words like you, your, and yours. Here the author will be directly addressing the reader. Some examples of sentences using second person are,

"You should never write when your brain is tired."

"You should improve your style of writing."

Non-fiction and advice types of books should be written in the second person to make the book resonate with the reader. Sentences written in second person will appear as if your book is advising or speaking to the reader. For example, reading a sentence like, "You should take two large glasses of water when you are stressed," sounds much better to the reader than "I take two large glasses of water when I am stressed."

Third person: The third person refers to others. Writing in the third person uses words like he, she, they, them, it, him, her, etc. Some examples of sentences using third person are,

"He hit her with a brick and she started screaming. When the neighbors noticed this they started chasing him."

"As soon as they started running the police started chasing them."

Novels are usually written using third person method. However, a book may use all the three types depending on the story or what you are trying to explain.

Avoid beginning every sentence with letter I

Starting every sentence with an I looks childish. Rearrange the sentences so that it looks better like the examples below.

Bad way: I ran down the stairs with my heart pounding. I could hear the monster running after me. I reached for the door. I could not open it. I got frightened.
Good way: My heart pounded as I ran down the stairs with the monster galloping behind me. A few feet ahead was the escape door, but to my horror it was locked.

Bad way: I looked at the clock. I thought it was 4 but it was already 5.
Good way: My eyes glanced at the clock and it was already 5 and not 4 as I had thought.

Avoiding BUT and AND in starting a sentence

Bad way: Watching TV is popular at our house. And we never miss any evening episodes.
Good way: Watching TV is popular at our house and we never miss any evening episodes.

Bad Way: No job is perfect. But often young people grumble about the working conditions.
Good way: No job is perfect, but people often complain about the working conditions.

Article Author - Thejendra B.S

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