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How to Write Dialogue (Level I)

Mr. Klingensmith's Online Writing Guide

An easy to understand Online Writing Guide for beginning writers.  Here you will find a list of various writing models, general tips and hints to help guide you to writing success.

The big idea

Dialogue--characters talking--is the spice that can make a good story become a "WOW!" story.  It brings a story to life.  It makes the difference between hearing ABOUT what characters are saying and actually having them say it.  It makes everything more immediate.

The Bad News

There are about twelve zillion rules about punctuating dialogue.

The Good News

You can write pretty good dialogue if you're willing to learn and follow just three of those rules.

How to do it

Here are the three rules:

  1. Put quotation marks around anything someone ACTUALLY SAYS.
    • "Stop!" screamed Bob.
      • Not "Bob told people to stop."
      • Not "Stop!  screamed Bob."
      • Not Stop!  "screamed Bob."
    • "Why should I stop?" asked Suzy.
      • Not "Suzy wondered why she should stop."
      • Not "Why should I stop?  asked Suzy."
      • Not Why should I stop?  "asked Suzy."
  2. Make a new paragraph each time you switch speakers.
    • Even if the "he said" phrase comes before the quote.
    • Even if it means that your paragraph is one word long--that's okay in dialogue.
  3. Change periods at the ends of quotes to commas IF THE QUOTE IS FOLLOWED BY A "HE SAID" PHRASE.
    • "You're standing on my foot."
      becomes "You're standing on my foot," said Bob.
    • "Geez, I'm sorry."
      becomes "Geez, I'm sorry," said Suzy.
    • "Get off my foot!"
      becomes "Get off my foot!" shrieked Bob. 
      (Remember: exclamation marks don't change.)''
    • "Did you say something?"
      becomes "Did you say something?" asked Suzy.
      (Remember: question marks don't change.)

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Copyright 1996-2004 by Michael Klingensmith