General Rules of Dialogue Usage

Author:
Publish date:

Fundamentals of Fiction Writing from Writer's Online Workshops

Here are some essential rules for dialogue mechanics:

  • Start a new paragraph with each new speaker.
  • Don't put thoughts in quotes, it confuses the reader as to which lines are being spoken and which are being thought. Use underlining or italics to indicate a character's thoughts without attribution (Like that's really going to happen) or simply include a tag that indicates thought (Like that's really going to happen, he thought).
  • Terminal punctuation (commas, periods, question marks) goes inside the quotation marks.
  • Beginning writers sometimes wait until the end of a long speech to add the tag line. If you are going to use a tag line, do so as soon as stylistically possible. If you wait too long, the reader won't know who the speaker is until the end, and not knowing distracts the reader from what is being said.
  • Avoid using too many tags. This includes padding with a lot of description or gestures. Sometimes the dialogue must flow without interruption, with minimal tags. If only two characters are speaking, you can let several lines go without any tags.
  • Avoid adverbs in the tag lines (i.e., "Stop!" she shouted urgently.) The characters urgency is implied in the dialogue and by the fact that she shouted. The adverb distracts the reader.
  • Keep your tags simple. The longer and more elaborate the tag line, the more the actual dialogue becomes smothered.
  • Don't overuse names when characters address each other: "Hi, Jim, how are you?" "Fine, Sam." "Say, Jim, is that a new watch?" "No, Sam, same old one." This constant use of their names makes the dialogue stiff and robotic-sounding.
The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

The Problem of Solving a Mystery When You're the Prime Suspect

Mia P. Manansala, author of Arsenic & Adobo, explains how writers can help their main character solve a mystery when they're the prime suspect.

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

Mistakes Writers Make: Not Using Your Spare 15 Minutes

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is not using your spare 15 minutes.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unexpected Visitor

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, invite an unexpected visitor into your story.

7 Tips for Writing a Near Future Dystopian Novel

7 Tips for Writing a Near-Future Dystopian Novel

In this article, debut author Christina Sweeney-Baird explains how writers can expertly craft a near-future dystopian novel.

Pam Jenoff: On Writing About Isolation While Isolated

Pam Jenoff: On Writing About Isolation While Isolated

Bestselling author Pam Jenoff shares how she explored themes of isolation in her latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, while writing during the 2020 pandemic lockdown.

8 Ways to Add Suspense to your Novel

8 Ways to Add Suspense to Your Novel

Authors Mark and Connor Sullivan are no strangers to utilizing suspense in their novels. Here, they share their top 8 tips for writers to do the same.

Lynn Painter: On Rom-Coms and Escapism

Lynn Painter: On Rom-Coms and Escapism

Author Lynn Painter discusses the strengths of the romantic comedy genre and how she utilized them in her novel Better than the Movies.

On Mining Humor From Family Dynamics in Your Writing

On Mining Humor From Family Dynamics in Your Writing

Humor often stems from things that are not humorous. Can you mine your family's dynamics for inspiration? Author Jesse Q. Sutanto believes you can, and gives you her top 3 tips for doing so.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 563

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an after poem.