Dialogue in literature is an academic text that captures a conversation between two or more fictitious characters. Basically, these characters are speakers and the main focus of a writer. In this case, everything that an author writes in dialogue should be focused on speakers – their speech, language colloquialisms, and characters. Like any academic text, writing a dialogue involves adhering to specific rules. In turn, these requirements include giving each character a new paragraph, indenting each paragraph, enclosing speaker’s words within double quotation marks, and using end quotation marks in the final paragraph in case the speaker’s speech extends beyond one paragraph. Hence, writers need to learn how to write a good dialogue by using tips and examples provided in this article.
General Guidelines on Writing a Dialogue
Writing takes different forms, and authors utilize different writing strategies to make their works exciting to read. Basically, the use of dialogue in a text, such as a book, novel, play, or an essay is among these strategies. However, dialogues must be relevant to written works and strong enough to transform characters into truly believable individuals. In this case, dialogue in most texts involves fictitious characters that a writer uses to put an idea across. Moreover, one of the effects of a poor dialogue is that readers may discontinue reading the text in disgust. In essence, a healthy dialogue provides exposition through the use of distinct language between speakers and moves the story along. As such, dialogue plays a critical role in developing the thesis or plot in a text.
Purpose of Dialogue
Irrespective of the genre, writers use dialogue to inject a sense of character dynamics or interpersonal drama into their texts. Basically, dialogue creates and advances plots of books, novels, stories, narratives, or essays. About the former, dialogue helps the audience to learn much about a character by studying a manner of speech. Regarding the latter, dialogue indicates the level of interaction between or among characters, which gives the audience insight into the storyline. Besides these two purposes, dialogue also makes a text realistic, as it captures what real people do – interact and have conversations.
Definition of Dialogue
By definition, a dialogue is a spoken or written conversation between two or more persons. In works of literature, such as proses, plays, and novels, a dialogue is a literary device that authors use to advance the narrative, philosophical, or didactic purposes. In some instances, authors write in a form of dialogue where characters converse with themselves. For example, this type of dialogue is known as inner dialogue, which takes place in the mind of a character. Moreover, individuals can converse with themselves out loud, just like a dialogue between two or more characters. Although both types of dialogue enable authors to advance their text’s storylines, it is the dialogue between two or more speakers that helps them to develop characters.
Organization Rules for Dialogues
Authors should write their dialogues to make it strong and supportive of their primary purpose. As mentioned, this purpose can be narrative, philosophical, or didactic. Like any other form of writing, a dialogue has a structure and features that make it an essential component of strong writing. Basically, some of these features include character’s words, the author’s voice, and the speakers’ body language. Collectively, these elements give dialogue with its unique structure. Moreover, irrespective of the length, a dialogue maintains the same structure, and it involves indented paragraphs.
The most prominent feature of dialogue is the conversation between two or more characters or speakers. For example, rules of academic writing dictate that every character should start the conversation in a new paragraph, regardless of the length of words. In this case, whether characters speak only one word, a sentence, or a paragraph, their conversation should start in a new paragraph. Then, the basis of this rule is to make readers not lose track of which character is speaking; a new paragraph is a signal to them that a new speaker has picked up the conversation. In short, paragraphs in a dialogue distinguish characters with each paragraph, exposing each character’s cadence, vocabulary, and communication style. Therefore, by following the conversation keenly, a reader can identify who is speaking even without having the name attached to the paragraph.
2. Author’s Voice
Naturally, a dialogue indicates the voice of speakers. For instance, the evidence of this voice is the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax, all of which help to develop phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. In this case, a reader can identify a speaker by keeping track of the voice of all the characters in a dialogue. Then, authors introduce their voice in a text to make their work unique. Basically, the way that a reader can separate the author’s voice from the voice of the speakers is by identifying which voice is outside quotation marks. Also, every word from characters must be under quotes to indicate their speech. In contrast, words that authors use in a text, including a dialogue, are never quoted unless they are quoting someone else.
3. Body Language
Like a conversation between or among individuals in the physical realm, dialogue in a text utilizes body language to bring out the aspect of character dynamics or interpersonal drama. Ideally, this feature enables authors to reveal the intentions, feelings, or mood of characters. Moreover, there are five main types of body language that authors use in constructing a dialogue in their text. In turn, these elements are gestures, postures, movements, facial expressions, and tones of voice.
Formatting of Dialogues
Dialogue in literature should indicate a high level of writing standards, meaning that formatting should align with applicable rules. Basically, a writer should ensure to enclose spoken words with double quotation marks. Moreover, where the speech or character is long enough to require a new paragraph, writers should open a new paragraph with quotation marks. However, they should use closing quotation marks only at the end of the final paragraph. In turn, if authors write about other characters within dialogues, they should use single quotation marks. Also, when arranging words in a dialogue, writers should indent the first line of paragraphs, indicating a new conversation, and ensure that the open end of a quotation mark faces the character’s words. Where an action interrupts a speaker, authors should write in the lower case to begin the second fragment of the sentence.
Punctuation in Dialogues
As a rule, authors should ensure the punctuation of a speaker’s words in a sentence or paragraph goes inside quotation marks. In other words, they should put a period or comma before the end quotation mark, not after. Where a dialogue closes with an ellipsis, they should not put any punctuation, just end with a closing quotation mark. Then if authors quote something within dialogues, they should use single quotation marks. In turn, transitions in dialogue help writers to indicate a constructive engagement between characters. Moreover, transitions indicate a speaker’s response to the words of another character. In this case, explanations or descriptions help an author to give readers sufficient backstory on dialogues. As a result, this backstory serves as an introduction to the intention, feelings, or mood of speakers.
15 Samples of Dialogue
Based on the rules of writing a dialogue discussed in previous sections, it is essential to use examples that exemplify those rules. Basically, provided examples used concern each rule, meaning the use of different samples of conversations between or among characters. However, some examples may be sufficient to exemplify a couple of rules. In this regard, the excerpt from The Savior’s Champion by Jenna Moreci below is useful in exemplifying a few examples of discussed rules.
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
“Yes.” She scanned the surrounding people. “Does anyone have a blade?”
“You can’t just carve Her apart. It’s an abomination!”
“Would you have Her Daughter die too?” The woman spat. “Is that
What you want?”
An old man wriggled through the crowd and plopped a worn knife
into her palm. “Does this work?”
“It’ll have to.” She turned toward the body, trying to keep herself
from wincing. Before her lay The Savior. Bloody. Dead.
Example 1: The Use of Double Quotation Marks
As discussed in the previous section that talks about the formating of a dialogue, an author should ensure to enclose a speaker’s words within double quotation marks. In the example above, Moreci has observed this rule by enclosing words of speakers within double quotation marks, such as “Do you know what you’re doing?” and “It’ll have to.” In doing so, Moreci enables readers to follow conversations and separate the author’s voice from the speakers’ voice.
Example 2: The Use of Indented Paragraphs
As discussed previously, authors use indented paragraphs in dialogue to indicate every time a new character begins to talk. In the example above, the first paragraph reads: “Do you know what you’re doing?” In this case, the paragraph is indented, denoting the speech of one speaker. Moreover, the second paragraph reads: “Yes.” She scanned the surrounding people. “Does anyone have a blade?” Basically, this paragraph is also indented, denoting the speech of another character. However, since the speech is long, it takes another sentence line, which is not indented. Therefore, the second line is neither a new paragraph nor the words of another character.
Example 3: The Use of Punctuation
As discussed in the previous section on punctuation, an author should ensure to use punctuation, such as a period, comma, question mark, or an exclamation mark before the end quotation marks. In the example above, author Moreci writes: “Do you know what you’re doing?” Here, the question mark comes before the end quote and not after. Also, Moreci writes: “Yes.” Here, the period goes inside the end quote and not outside. Then, Moreci writes: “You can’t just carve Her apart. It’s an abomination!” Basically, this speech has two sentences. In this case, the first sentence ends with a period. However, since the character continues talking, it does not end with a quote. In turn, the second sentence closes with an exclamation mark, which the author puts before the end quote, not after.
Example 4: When a Dialogue Ends with an Ellipsis
Sometimes, an author can close the words of a speaker with an ellipsis. Hence, an example is as follows:
“Every time I think about what my mother has put up with to see her children succeed in life, I…” His voice drifted off.
In this example, the author does not use any punctuation before the end quote. However, the author picks up and offers an explanation that enables readers to understand why the character ended his speech the way he did.
Example 5: When the Speaker’s Speech is Long
In some contexts, a writer can use a speech from an author that is so long that it requires a second or even third paragraph. In this case, subsequent paragraphs, which must be indented, do not indicate the beginning of a speech from another character. However, to make sure readers are not confused about who is speaking, the author does not use end quotes to close the first paragraph, while using them to end the final paragraph. However, each new paragraph opens with a quote. As a result, the excerpt below from Mudbound by Hillary Jordan makes it clear:
Tom explained the details. “The thread is a remarkable silk-wool blend, a new fabric named Allurotique. Some people compare it to the most expensive commercially available silk, Pashmina Silk; but that comparison is off base. Pashmina silk is made by weaving wool from pashmina goats with a silk produced by worms that eat only mulberry leaves.
“Allurotique is blended, not woven. And it’s made from the most expensive silk and exotic wool spun into a fabric with extraordinary qualities.”
“The silk in Allurotique is muga silk, which has a natural shimmering gold color. It absorbs water better than other silks, making it more comfortable to wear. It has a number of other nifty features: it’s more durable than other silks, it’s almost impossible to stain and it gets shinier with wear.
“The wool in Allurotique is harvested from vicuñas, a South American animal related to llamas. Vicuña wool is softer, lighter and warmer than any other wool in the world. Since the animals can only be sheared once every three years, it’s rare and outlandishly expensive.”
Example 6: Quotes within a Dialogue
As discussed earlier, when authors quote something within a dialogue, they should use single quotation marks. Hence, an example is as follows:
Jameson started laughing uncontrollably after hearing his best friend say, “When I sat next to him, I could not help imagining ‘What on earth made him do that’?” Here, the statement ‘What on earth made him do that’ is a quote within the dialogue that the author encloses within single quotation marks.
Bill laughed and pointed at him. “When that ghost jumped out and said, ‘Boo!’ you screamed like a little girl.”
Example 7: The Use of Cut-offs
Sometimes, in dialogue, authors write about an action that interrupts a speaker’s speech. In such a case, they should use lower case when beginning the second fragment of the interrupted speech. Thus, an example is as follows:
“What are you suggesting I should do, considering” — Steve took a deep breath— the fact that I don’t know any person in the governor’s office?”
In this example, Steve’s action of taking a deep breath when talking is a cut-off, as it interrupts his speech. Basically, rules indicate that in such a case, an author should use an em dash (—) to indicate that interruption in dialogue.
Example 8: The Use of Body Language – Gesture
When writing a dialogue, authors use body language to reveal the speakers’ intentions, feelings, and mood. Ideally, body language enables an author to avoid relying on dialogue tags — such as he asked, she said, he responded — because a reader understands speakers who are talking. In turn, a gesture is one of the most common types of body language that writers use in dialogue. Basically, a gesture is a bodily action that accompanies a speech. Hence, an example of a gesture in a character’s speech is as follows:
He pointed to the door next to the principal’s office. “He’s inside.”
In this example, a gesture is the speaker’s act of pointing to the principal’s office door.
Example 9: Body Language – Posture
Besides gesture, authors also use the body language of a posture in a dialogue. Just like a gesture, a posture is a bodily action. Therefore, an example of a posture in a speaker’s speech is as follows:
She stood with her legs apart. “Try to push me to the ground and see that I can’t fall.”
In this example, a posture is an act of standing with legs apart. In the speech, characters seem to suggest that being in that posture makes them stable and cannot fall easily, even when pushed.
Example 10: Body Language – Movement
Another body language that authors use in dialogue is movement. Here, writers indicate an action that speakers engage in as they converse with another or others. In the above excerpt from Moreci’s text, an example of a body language of movement is the statement:
“It’ll have to.” She turned toward the body, trying to keep herself from wincing.
In this example, a body language of movement is the act of turning toward the body.
Example 11: Body Language – Facial Expression
Facial expression is among the most widely used body languages in conversations. Like all other body languages, a facial expression is a physical act that indicates the feelings and mood of the character. Thus, an example of facial expression in a speaker’s speech is as follows:
His eyes narrowed. “How could she do that to him?”
In this example, the facial expression is the act of narrowing the eyes.
Example 12: Body Language – Tone of Voice
Sometimes, in a conversation, speakers use a tone of voice to indicate their feelings and mood, such as excitement or displeasure. Therefore, an example of a tone of voice in a conversation is as follows:
“In the longrun; I will have my revenge.” His voice was deep like that of a roaring lion.
In this example, the tone of voice is the deep voice that the author likens to that of a roaring lion.
Example 13: Author’s Voice
In dialogue, there are two voices: the author’s voice and the speaker’s voice. Basically, the speaker’s voice is how a character constructs his speech by using body language and style of communication. On the other hand, the author’s voice entails vocabulary, tone of voice, point of view, and syntax. Also, this voice helps the author to shape conversations through phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. In the above excerpt from Moreci’s text, the author’s voice is captured in the statement:
Before her lay The Savior. Bloody. Dead.
None of the speakers gives this statement. It is the author describing the situation to give readers a deeper understanding of the context.
Example 14: Transitions
Like in essays, writers use transitions when constructing a dialogue. Basically, the difference between two types of papers is that transitions in a dialogue are words and phrases that speakers use to respond to other speaker’s words. In essays, transitions help readers to move logically from one argument to another. In the above excerpt from Moreci’s text, an example of a transition is captured in the following conversation:
“Do you know what you’re doing?”
The word “Yes” is the transition, as it denotes the response given to the preceding statement.
Example 15: Explanations/Descriptions
Authors write explanations to enhance the readers’ understanding of the context of a conversation between or among speakers. In essence, explanations are words that the author uses to explain or describe the speakers’ intention, feelings, or mood. Also, one can argue that explanations denote the author’s voice in dialogue. In the above excerpt from Moreci’s text, an example of an explanation is captured in the following conversation:
“It’ll have to.” She turned toward the body, trying to keep herself
from wincing. Before her lay The Savior. Bloody. Dead.
In this example, the author explains the situation to make readers understand why the character behaved the way he did. In turn, one can argue that explanation in dialogue is an author’s way of arousing the emotions of the audience, who end up developing empathy or hatred towards certain characters.
How to Construct a Dialogue: A Step-by-Step Guide
Like any academic text, dialogue in literature has a structure that an author must follow. Ideally, the basis of this structure is the rules of formatting and punctuation described in the preceding sections. When writing a dialogue, a writer must adopt a structure that enables adherence to these rules. For instance, the most prominent features of a dialogue that informs its structure are the indented paragraphs, speakers’ speeches, transitions, and explanation. In turn, these features incorporate body language and the author’s voice to make the dialogue interesting and understandable to readers.
Step 1: Preparation
The first step in constructing a dialogue in literature is planning or preparation. Here, writers should decide on the focus of the conversation, which becomes the topic area. As already discussed, a poor dialogue can be disgusting to readers and cause them to discontinue reading the text. Then, choosing a topic is necessary to make a dialogue exciting to read. Deciding on the topic area makes it easy for authors to generate ideas about their text. Moreover, words that make up the speakers’ speech must be thought-provoking. In turn, used words should indicate a level of sophistication in the use of language. Besides, authors must decide on the audience and speakers or characters. Basically, these two features must align demographically. Ultimately, the chosen audience helps authors construct a dialogue that reveals the speakers’ characters in the conversation.
Step 2: Seting Up
After preparation, authors should set up the stage for writing a dialogue. Basically, the first step should start with finding examples of dialogue in literature to understand a healthy conversation’s features. Here, writers should create notes regarding the use of indented paragraphs, body language, transitions, explanations, and cut-offs, among other features. Moreover, the focus of authors should be to make the words of each character unique. In this regard, writers should choose speeches that move the conversation in the direction they want. Also, the topic area should inform this direction chosen in the preparation stage.
Step 3: Writing a Dialogue
The next step after preparing and setting up the stage is writing a dialogue. By considering notes taken during the stage set-up stage, authors should write the first draft. Here, writers put everything together – the indented paragraphs, character’s speeches, transitions, explanations, and body language. Basically, these features are critical in creating a working dialogue, flowing smoothly and logically from one paragraph to another paragraph. In turn, by using the speaker’s speeches and voice, authors construct the speaker’s characters so that readers can understand who is speaking even without a name attached. Also, writers should employ the “they say, I say” technique by taking what speakers have said to construct explanations. Ultimately, authors should use all the above features to ensure consistent dialogue, such as consistent characters and arguments.
Step 4: Wrapping It Up
Writing academic texts, including dialogue, involves many mistakes that should be corrected for a perfect text. For example, typical mistakes that authors make when writing a dialogue in literature include using a lot of extras (such as “hello”) and wordcount fillers. Basically, the latter involves words and phrases that bear no significance and only help authors to satisfy the expected word count. Also, one can argue that dialogue tags are an example of wordcount fillers. Then, the use of body language helps to avoid such unnecessary words in dialogue. Sometimes, authors are biased about their work, and this aspect might affect their ability to see mistakes. In turn, giving their work to a friend or mentor can help resolve this challenge. Moreover, proofreading is an essential exercise that helps authors to identify grammatical mistakes for correction.
As already discussed, transitions in written or spoken dialogue differ from those used in essays. While transitions in essays connect arguments within the text, those in a dialogue indicate responses to speeches. Basically, every time a speaker talks, another character should start a conversation by responding to those words. Ideally, such transitions help authors to create a logical flow of the conversation, which is also the case in the use of transitions in essays.
Like any other academic text, writers should ensure to use the right format when writing a dialogue in literature. For example, standard writing formats are APA, MLA, Harvard, and Chicago/Turabian. Although the arrangement of words in a dialogue differs from that of other texts, such as essays, authors still need to ensure that the arrangement adheres to academic writing standards. Basically, one of these standards involves formating. In turn, every time when authors write a quote within a dialogue, they should enclose it within single quotation marks.
The essence of peer review is to ensure an academic text meets the highest standards of academic writing. Basically, these standards include being credible and of high-quality. In this case, credibility comes by ensuring the text can withstand evaluation and emerge as authentic. Also, the text should not be a reproduction of another author’s work. On quality, the text should be free of the mistakes described above. Therefore, peer review is the process through which authors ensure that the text is free of these errors. In turn, one can argue that it involves ensuring that noted individuals, such as mentors and tutors, have analyzed and evaluated the text and found it high-quality. Besides, it means a paper is polished and fit for publication.
Major Mistakes in Organizing a Dialogue
There is a way that authors write dialogues in literature that undermines the quality of texts. Basically, these mistakes include dumping information, using too many names, unnatural conversations, and repetitive phrases and styles, among many others. Moreover, writers may not recognize these mistakes, partly because they tend to be biased about their work. For this reason, writing the first draft is essential to enable friends and mentors to point out such mistakes. In turn, after authors are satisfied that their texts are of high-quality, they should proceed to write final drafts. Even then, they should submit the text to vigorous review to identify any mistakes.
When writing academic texts, authors tend to use different strategies to satisfy the word count. Sometimes, writers may not even be aware that they are using such strategies. Basically, one of these strategies is information-dumping, which involves giving information clumsily and inappropriately. In turn, the best approach to writing a dialogue in literature is to provide readers with explanations that tell the backstory or contextualize the conversation. Moreover, a great dialogue is one in which authors use the information to help the audience understand the characters of speakers. Hence, information-dumping makes it hard for the audience to understand dialogues, mainly the intentions, feelings, and mood of a character.
2. Unnatural Dialogue
Authors should know speakers that they use in a dialogue – their characters, backgrounds, language colloquialisms, and social temperament. For example, experienced writers develop speakers to appear as real people to the audience, studying their language patterns and body language. Then, an unnatural dialogue is when this critical aspect is missing. In other words, the conversation lacks the human touch, and the audience cannot tell which character is talking without a dialogue tag. Also, an unnatural dialogue relies too much on these tags, which, as described above, is unnecessary. When people read through an unnatural dialogue, they can hardly recognize the speakers’ style and language, including slang words.
Sometimes, authors of academic texts, including dialogue, write about unnecessary information. For example, a text characterized by irrelevant information has too many sentences and paragraphs with irrelevant content or content that can be summarized with few words. In dialogue, information-dumping involves the use of too many dialogue tags. As explained, writers can use body language to eliminate such information.
4. Too Many Names
Sometimes, authors may write too many things in dialogue, an aspect that undermines the quality of texts. Traditionally, writers have relied on dialogue tags to avoid repeating the speakers’ names on every occasion. However, the use of body language is slowly eliminating the need for these tags. In turn, some writers ignore tags and body language and keep on repeating the speaker’s name in every sentence. As a result, such dialogue sounds repetitive and boring and indicates a lack of creativity on the part of the author.
5. Repetitive Language
Occasionally, writers run out of vocabulary when writing academic texts and resort to using repetitive words and phrases. In dialogue, such words include the names of speakers and dialogue tags. Consequently, authors write words that have the same meaning – synonyms. Also, these words indicate the use of repetitive ideas in a dialogue text.
6. Impacts of the Above Mistakes
Collectively, the above mistakes undermine the quality of dialogue in literature. Individually, they impact how the audience approaches the text. For example, information-dumping makes it difficult for the audience to understand which of the speakers is talking, as the author fails to construct the identity (language and style) of each character in the text. In turn, an unnatural dialogue creates the same problem – speakers lack a language identity as individual human beings. As a result, too many names and repetitive language makes a dialogue disgusting and boring to read.
Summing Up on How to Write a Good Dialogue
Dialogue in literature is one example of academic texts that require the use of the highest standards of writing. Basically, these standards include using the right format and punctuation. Unlike other texts, such as essays, the dialogue has a unique set of rules that writers must adhere to organizing healthy conversations. In turn, these rules include indenting paragraphs, enclosing speakers’ words with double quotation marks, and enclosing quotes within a dialogue with single quotation marks. Then, another rule includes using punctuations before the end quotation mark, not after. In summary, a writer should master the following rules of dialogue in literature:
- Give each character a new paragraph.
- Indent each paragraph.
- Enclose the speaker’s words within double quotation marks.
- Use end quotation marks in the final paragraph in case the speaker’s speech extends beyond one paragraph.
- Enclose quotes in a dialogue within single quotation marks.
Besides the above rules, the following tips are essential in writing a dialogue:
- Keep it brief. Ensure each speaker’s words do not extend beyond a paragraph and ensure the entire conversation is within a page or two.
- Avoid small talk. Avoid words that add no real value to the conversation, such as descriptions of surroundings. Keep the focus on speakers and their characters.
- Maintain consistency. It is essential to pick up a style or character and make it consistent throughout the conversation. Basically, this aspect is essential in developing the speakers’ character and language style.
- Create suspense. Use words and phrases that create suspense. In this case, it makes the audience eager to know what happens next, thus continue reading.
- “Show, don’t tell.” Ensure not to rely on telling the audience about speakers, but rather show them through their speech. As such, the use of explanations should be limited, even as transitions abound.
- Avoid dialogue tags. Rather than using too many dialogue tags, use body language — gesture, posture, movement, facial expression, and tone of voice — to show the speakers’ intentions, feelings, and mood.