Dialogue Format & Form


Dialogue defined

When two or more characters are engaged in conversation, it is called a dialogue. When you are merely expressing your thoughts aloud without truly expecting an answer, it is called monologue. Regardless of how many people are talking, there is proper dialogue format and form to be used when writing a book.


Dialogue Format

Quotation marks and punctuation

When writing dialogue for a single speaker that runs to multiple paragraphs, put an open-quotation mark at the beginning of each paragraph, but no close-quotation mark until the end of the final paragraph. Terminal punctuation (periods, exclamation marks, and question marks) go inside the final close-quotation mark. In other words, the spoken words and punctuation belonging to those spoken words, go inside the quotation marks.

Example: "This is punctuated correctly."
Example: 'This is punctuated correctly.'

Depending on the country (each has its own format rules), you use single (‘) or double (“) marks to open and close dialogue.

Speech-Attribution tags

Get your speech-attribution tags in as early as possible. There’s nothing more frustrating than not knowing whose dialogue you’re reading. Slip the tag in after the first completed clause in the sentence. This way it is clear who is speaking and the reader continues reading the next sentence spoken, which ensured the reader stays engaged in the story without becoming distracted by narration.

Example: "You know, it's raining all day anyway." said John.
Example: "You know," said John, "it's raining all day anyway."

And when alternating lines of dialogue, make sure you identify speakers at least every five or six exchanges; it’s very easy for the reader to get lost otherwise.

Dis-fluent speech

When someone is interrupted or cut off abruptly or restarts his sentence, end the dialogue with an em-dash (which you type in manuscript as two hyphens); when he or she trails off without completing the thought, end the dialogue with ellipsis points (three periods).

Example: "We went to Toronto -- boy, I hate that city -- and found ..."
(you’re right and dumb) duh
(disgust) ew
(I-told-you-so laugh) ha
(confusion) huh
(negative) huh-huh
(thinking) hm
(geesh) jeez
(pleasure sound) mm
(agreeing, positive) mhm
denial nah
realization /  surprise oh
realization ooh
(agreeing, positive) uh-huh
(bad sign) uh-oh
(whoa-slow down!) whoa
(relief) whew
(mistake made) whoops
(celebration) yay
(agree) yeah
(agree) yep
(agree) yup

Examples from professionals

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse #5

I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, ‘Is it an anti-war book?’ ‘Yes,’ I said.I guess.”You know what I say to people when I hear they’re writing anti-war books?’ ‘No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?’ ‘I say, “Why don’t you write an anti-glacier book instead?”‘

Terry Pratchett’s Witches Abroad

Then she raised her head, and said:Kettle boiled just now. Would you like a cup of tea?
NO, THANK YOU, said a voice right behind her.
How long have you been waiting?’
Not keeping you am I?
I’m making a cup of tea. I think there’s one biscuit left.
If you feel peckish, it’s in the jar on the mantelpiece. That’s genuine Klatchian pottery, you know. Made by a genuine Klatchain craftsman. From Klatch,’ she added.

‘And your granny‘ said Nanny Ogg. ‘I guess she’s a bit bed-bound at the moment, right?’
‘That’s why I’m taking her this basket of goodies‘ the child began.
‘Thought so.’
‘Do you know my granny?’ said the child.
‘Yeesss,’ said Granny Weatherwax. ‘In a way.’

Example dialogue from Harry Potter 1

Situation: someone overhearing part of someone else’s conversation

“The Potters, that’s right, that’s what I heard —”
“ — yes, their son, Harry —”

Situation: unsure/hesitant speech

“Er — Petunia, dear — you haven’t heard from your
sister lately, have you?”
“Er — no,”

Situation: emphasis on a particular word

So?” snapped Mrs. Dursley.
“Really, Dumbledore, you think you can explain all this in a letter?
These people will never understand him! He’ll be famous — a legend — 
I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in 
the future — there will be books written about Harry — every child 
in our world will know his name!”
“About our world, I mean. Your world. My world. Yer
parents’ world .”

Situation: a strong accent

“But I c-c-can’t stand it —Lily an’ James dead — an’ poor little 
Harry off ter live with Muggles —”
“I’ll be takin’ Sirius his bike back. G’night, Professor
McGonagall — Professor Dumbledore, sir.”
“Las’ time I saw you, you was only a baby,” said the giant. “Yeh 
look a lot like yer dad, but yeh’ve got yer mom’s eyes.”


“ALL WHAT?” Hagrid thundered. “Now wait jus’ one second!”

Catch mistakes before sending out your manuscript!