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.
Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Accepting Feedback on Your Writing

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 is not accepting feedback on your writing.

Writer's Digest Best Creativity Websites 2021

Writer's Digest Best Creativity Websites 2021

Here are the top creativity websites as identified in the 23rd Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2021 issue of Writer's Digest.

Poetic Forms

Englyn Proest Dalgron: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the englyn proest dalgron, a Welsh quatrain form.

What Is a Palindrome in Writing?

What Is a Palindrome in Writing?

In this post, we look at what a palindrome is when it comes to writing, including several examples of palindromes.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's time to set a trap.

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

Children's author Christine Evans shares how repetition is good for growing readers and gives you the tools to write your story's perfect refrain.

From Our Readers

Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers ask: Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World. Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

Your story belongs to you but will involve other people. Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Editor-in-chief Amy Jones navigates how to know your target audience, and how knowing will make your writing stronger.