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Rules for using Dialogue
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- Every time you switch to a different speaker, start a new paragraph.
- Each speaker’s actual words and any actions and attribution associated with those words form a single paragraph.
- Even if the speaker says only one word, with no accompanying attribution or action, it is a separate paragraph.
- Start a new paragraph when you draw the reader’s attention to a different character, even if that character doesn’t actually speak.
- Don’t change paragraphs while one character is speaking. (If the paragraph is getting lengthy or the character changes the subject, you can shift the focus momentarily to the other character–- putting in a paragraph showing that character’s reaction–- in order to add a break.)
- Attribution is the way you tell your reader who is speaking. If you’ve paragraphed properly and started a new paragraph with each new speaker, then you won’t need to tell the reader who’s speaking in every single paragraph. Every third or fourth paragraph will be often enough.
- There are several ways to tell the reader who’s speaking.
- Said: The simple verb "said" (he said, she said) has the advantage of almost disappearing from the narrative. It accomplishes the purpose without being intrusive.
- Other verbs: Some verbs (whispered, shouted) help to clarify how the words are said.
- Adverbs: Some adverbs (she said slowly, he said wryly) help to clarify how the words are said and can illustrate non-literal meanings which may not be evident from the words themselves, as when a character is being sarcastic.
- Actions: Adding a character’s action to a paragraph containing his speech can help the reader picture the scene as well as showing who’s speaking.
- Using character’s names: Occasionally, one character may call the other by name, but it’s better not to overuse this technique.
- Use a combination of attribution methods, so no one method becomes rhythmic and
- Don’t attribute more than once in a paragraph.
- The exact words of the speaker are enclosed in quotation marks. Double quotes are standard in the United States, single quotes in the United Kingdom.
- If the speaker didn’t say those exact words, then there will be no quotation marks. A direct thought will be marked in italics or underlined in the manuscript. An indirect thought will be part of the narrative. A paraphrased or summarized comment substituted for the exact words will be part of the dialogue.
About this Document
Here are rules (and examples) for students to follow when using dialogue in their creative writing assignments (or any assignments, really).