1. Each time a new conversation or speech begins, you start a new paragraph. Additionally, every time there is a new speaker in a conversation, there is a new line. You do not include multiple speakers in one paragraph, so if one person asks a questions and another person responds, the question and the answer must be on two different lines. The use of this technique allows your reader to keep straight who is speaking.
Victoria asked, “When is Adam leaving for America?”
“On Thursday,” Grandpa replied.
2. Learn to use single and double quotation marks. Double quotation marks are used to indicate dialogue unless it is a quote within a quote, in which case single quotation marks are employed.
3. Understand the placement of quotation marks. Tradition dictates that punctuation falls inside the quotation marks. You may find some editors and professionals who are changing this practice but I would encourage you to stick with tradition.
4. Use commas before dialogue tags, for instance:
“I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house,” Helen said.
5. Dialogue Tags are the he said/she said of quotations. Don’t use these as forms of descriptions.
“I don’t want to leave,” Adam whimpered.
Instead of telling the reader he whimpered, spend your time describing the scene so we can see the image of Adam whimpering. It is perfectly acceptable to use he said/she said multiple times or not at all. The idea is your tags should be invisible and the focus should be on the dialogue.
6. With that being said use dialogue tags sparingly. You don’t want a string of he said, she said, he said, she said cluttering your story. If you know your characters and have given them a distinct voice, your reader will know from the dialogue who is saying what.
7. Capitalize only the first word of a dialogue sentence. If your dialogue is interrupted by a dialogue tag or description, you do not need to capitalize the second part of the sentence.
Today’s free writing exercise was to write a conversation and practice formatting it correctly. I tried to remember the details of the conversation I’d had with my Dad not long before but I could only remember a couple of exchanges about the weather. We also talked about the history but I couldn’t remember the words that we used. So I went to Facebook looking for a short video and I found this one.
Here is the dialogue I wrote from the video. Feel free to let me know where I’ve messed up on formatting.
Walking across the deck, Dad follows the carefully laid out string to where it ends at Jimmy’s tooth. He can’t help but let out a little laugh as he looks at Jimmy’s face but he puts on his serious face and says, “Hi Jimmy.”
“Hi,” Jimmy replies with the string hanging out of his mouth.
“What are you doing? Huh.”
“I’m just getting my tooth out,” Jimmy says.
“And how are you going to do that,” Dad prompts.
“Gonna fire a rocket.”
“You’re going to fire a rocket? And it’s tied to your tooth?” Dad asks.
“Yeah,” says Jimmy.
“All right. Are you ready for this? Yeah? You gotta push that button real hard until that lights up,” are Dad’s final instructions. “You ready?” Jimmy gives a slight nod.
Jimmy focuses on the control box then up at the rocket and back again several times. His face finches. For a moment nothing happens. Suddenly Jimmy smiles and touches the empty spot in his gum. It worked!
This was a good exercise and one I’ll use in lots of places. I’ve wondered about how to format dialogue before and just pretended I knew what I was doing. I was also reminded that my memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Not sure it was ever that good at remember things like conversations though. Did you learn anything new from Lynn’s 7 tips or did you know them all already?